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West End property owners, GW spar in suit to block conversion of the Aston to shelter

Danielle Towers | Assistant Photo Editor
The Aston, pictured in April 2022.

An unincorporated group of unnamed local property owners is suing D.C. in a bid to stop the sale of a GW residence hall to be used as a shelter for medically vulnerable unhoused people.

The West End D.C. Community Association, an unspecified group of locals with “property interests” in West End, filed the suit July 18, alleging the District failed to provide community members with adequate time to comment on the purchase of the Aston, a former GW residence hall on New Hampshire Avenue. GW intervened in the suit Tuesday, filing a motion stating that the community association lacks the authority to sue and prevent the sale.

The suit, which names both the D.C. government and Mayor Muriel Bowser as defendants, accuses D.C. of bypassing regulations in its bid to purchase the building and asks the D.C. Superior Court to halt or delay the acquisition.

“The District’s actions are likely to impact Plaintiff and others in close proximity to the Aston by an escalation in security issues, an uptick in crime, increased traffic of automobiles, delivery trucks and rescue service vehicles, inaccessibility of the bike lane, and property devaluation,” the suit states.

The suit does not specify who any West End D.C. Community Association members are, and the group doesn’t have an online presence. Various residents and activists within the Foggy Bottom community have said they don’t know who is behind the suit.

The group’s lawyers, of the prestigious law firm ArentFox Schiff, did not return a request for comment.

The suit claims the city failed to properly consult the Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission, a local governing body. The Foggy Bottom ANC held public meetings on the District’s plan to convert the building into a shelter June 21 and June 28, and the panel expressed its support for the plan in the second meeting.

GW officials announced its intention to sell the Aston in May 2022, and the District purchased the building July 6 in a $27.5 million contract.

Bowser did not immediately return a request for comment. D.C. Attorney General Brian Schwalb did not immediately return a request for comment. 

The University did not immediately return a request for comment.

In its motion to intervene in the suit, GW’s attorneys said no “irreparable injury” has been done to the plaintiffs and asked the court to issue a judgment against the community group.

The lawsuit alleges that District officials did not respond to “important” questions the ANC proposed to the District’s Department of General Services and the Deputy Mayor of Health and Human Services, including the types of medical services offered to residents in the Aston and training required for security personnel.

DGS provided answers to the ANC’s questions in a document dated July 18, the same day the West End D.C. Community Association filed the suit. At the ANC’s July 26 meeting, residents complained that these documents were not shared with them until shortly before the meeting.

Foggy Bottom ANC Chair Jim Malec said in an email that while he cannot speak on behalf of the whole commission, the ANC “has nothing to do with” the suit. He said he was “disappointed” the suit “misrepresents” the ANC’s process.

“We held more than 10 hours of public meetings on this matter and operated within the timeline defined by the law,” Malec said in the email. “When we voted on Commissioner Causey and Commissioner Omictin’s co-sponsored resolution in support of the proposal, I do not recall a single commissioner objecting to the timing of that vote or requesting that we ask the District for an extension of the comment deadline.” 

The lawsuit alleges that D.C. government officials did not provide pertinent information about the proposed conversion of the Aston, including building access for emergency and medical vehicles and delivery trucks and the construction of dining and kitchen spaces.

D.C. officials and Ward 2 Councilmember Brooke Pinto reached an agreement at the request of the ANC that would require the creation of a community advisory team that would advise the Aston’s staff. The ANC adjourned its July 26 meeting without appointing members of the community to the community advisory team after disruptions from the audience and arguments between commissioners. 

The lawsuit alleges the D.C. government failed to provide an environmental impact statement on the conversion of the Aston to a shelter. D.C. Code states that the government must provide an environmental impact statement within 60 days of its approval of “a major action that is likely to have substantial negative impact on the environment.”

Associate Judge Carl E. Ross will preside over the case in the D.C. Superior Court, and an initial hearing has been set for November 17, according to the court docket.

Zach Blackburn contributed reporting.

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About the Contributor
Erika Filter, News Editor
Erika Filter is a senior majoring in international affairs from Carson City, Nevada. She leads the Metro beat as one of The Hatchet's 2023-2024 news editors and previously served as the assistant news editor for the Student Government beat.
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