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The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

West End property owners file second lawsuit to block conversion of The Aston

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

An unincorporated group of unnamed local property owners is suing D.C. in their second bid to stop the conversion of a former GW residence hall into a shelter for medically vulnerable unhoused people.

The West End D.C. Community Association — a group of anonymous locals “within very close proximity” of The Aston property in West End — filed the suit Oct. 30, alleging the District cannot build a medical clinic in The Aston space on New Hampshire Avenue due to zoning constraints. The group withdrew a near-identical lawsuit in August, which allowed the D.C. government to purchase The Aston from GW for $27 million.

The newest lawsuit names the D.C. government and Mayor Muriel Bowser as defendants but does not list GW, like the July suit did. GW intervened in the former lawsuit in August, arguing the community association lacked the authority to sue and prevent the sale. The same month, more than 150 people gathered in support of the proposed shelter, voicing opposition to the first nameless lawsuit.

Attorneys in the law firm Katten Muchin Rosenman filed the second suit — a departure from the July case, which was filed by representatives from ArentFox Schiff LLP. Associate Judge Maurice Ross will preside over the case in the D.C. Superior Court, and an initial hearing has been set for Jan. 26, 2024, according to the court docket.

The association’s attorneys did not immediately return a request for comment. A representative for Bowser and D.C. Attorney General Brian Schwalb also did not immediately return a request for comment.

Like the one before it, the suit argues that the D.C. government did not give community members the legally required period of time to submit feedback on the proposed conversion. It requests the D.C. Superior Court prevent the government from operating a medical clinic in The Aston and restart the public comment period if they make any changes to the proposed plan.

The suit also claims D.C. failed to properly consult the Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission, a local governing body, on the proposed conversion. Ward 2 Councilmember Brooke Pinto filed a disapproval resolution on the plan in June to give residents the allotted amount of time to comment on the resolution.

She subsequently withdrew the resolution after Department of Human Services officials agreed to requests she and commissioners made following community input over the proposal, like the establishment of a community advisory team. The ANC selected members of the team last week.

ANC commissioners held public meetings on the District’s plan to convert the building into a shelter June 21 and June 28, and the group expressed its support for the plan in the second meeting.

The suit also claims the D.C. government failed to comply with zoning regulations and that the District is not allowed to run a medical clinic in the residential area The Aston is zoned for.

“Despite the District’s efforts to conceal and obfuscate the full nature of its plans for the Aston, it has become clear that, in addition to the short-term housing and case management services to be provided in the proposed shelter at the Aston, the District intends to construct and operate a full-service medical clinic,” the suit reads.

The Department of General Services’ original Request for Space sought proposals from buildings that could house an exam room, but officials have not announced other plans to add clinical spaces to the Aston.

“I know there’s been a lot of conjecture, rumor or misconception,” said David Ross, the chief of staff for DHS, at the ANC’s July 26 meeting. “We are not setting up a medical facility in your neighborhood.”

The suit also claims the D.C. government’s use of The Aston must comply with GW’s campus plan because the building is part of GW’s Foggy Bottom campus. The suit claims that under GW’s campus plan, building owners must seek zoning approval for any changes outside of minor renovations, which they allege the D.C. government has not done.

Since June, the client 22 West A Condominium has paid $80,000 this year in monthly retainers to ArentFox Schiff LLP for “services relating to the purchase and use of a building by the District of Columbia,” per reports to the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability.

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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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