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DC files second motion to dismiss lawsuit seeking to block Aston shelter opening

Lexi Critchett | Assistant Photo Editor
The entrance to the Aston on New Hampshire Avenue, which is now boarded up.

Lawyers for the D.C. government and Mayor Muriel Bowser requested last week to dismiss a lawsuit from an unnamed group of locals aiming to block The Aston unhoused shelter from opening, four months after a District judge rejected D.C. officials’ previous request for the case’s dismissal. 

The West End D.C. Community Association — an unincorporated and unnamed group of local property owners — filed the complaint in November, alleging that District officials cannot convert the former GW dorm on New Hampshire Avenue into an unhoused shelter because of zoning constraints associated with providing medical services and temporary housing at the shelter. In the motion to dismiss the case, D.C. attorneys argued that the association’s complaint is outside the jurisdiction of the D.C. District Court, where the suit is docketed, meaning the Court “must dismiss the action.”

The motion states that D.C.’s Board of Zoning Adjustment should instead assess whether The Aston would meet zoning regulations. The motion also asserts that the Court of Appeals, instead of the Superior Court, has the right to review zoning complaints. 

“The Board of Zoning Adjustment, with a right of review by the Court of Appeals, not this Court, would be the appropriate forum to entertain it,” the filing reads in reference to the association’s complaint.

Attorneys on behalf of D.C. officials filed a motion to dismiss the case in January, arguing that the D.C. District Court could not rule on the case because the District could not yet violate zoning regulations as alleged in the lawsuit since residents had not yet moved into The Aston. In February, a District judge denied the motion. 

The District’s request to dismiss the lawsuit comes in tandem with its filing of an opposition to the community association’s motion for partial summary judgment, a move that seeks to avoid a trial by asking a judge to rule that there is no factual dispute to a portion of the complaint. The association filed the motion for partial summary judgment in May, asking the judge to agree that “undisputed facts show” that The Aston constitutes as an “Emergency Shelter” under D.C. zoning regulations, meaning the District cannot proceed with the shelter until it obtains a special exception from the BZA. 

The partial summary judgment motion argued that officials’ plan for The Aston to temporarily house people experiencing homelessness and families and provide services from a third-party operator under contract with the District makes it an emergency shelter under zoning rules. The Aston is located in a zone predominantly for high-density apartments with regulations requiring buildings to provide accommodations to residents for at least one month. Because of this, emergency shelters need the BZA to grant a special exception to operate, the motion partial summary judgment filing reads.

But the District’s opposition filing to the association’s motion states that both the motion for the partial summary judgment and the case itself are not ready for a judge’s decision because D.C. officials have not yet received a Certificate of Occupancy for The Aston. Individuals and entities using a building in the District are required to have a Certificate of Occupancy, which the D.C. Department of Buildings issues after verifying compliance with zoning regulations, among other legal and safety standards. 

The opposition filing states that once D.C. officials receive a Certificate of Occupancy for The Aston, the association may then appeal that decision for the BZA and the Court of Appeals to review. The opposition filing also reiterates that the District Court cannot decide on the case because it does not have jurisdiction to make zoning rulings. 

“In bringing this lawsuit and moving for summary judgment, it is the plaintiff who is upending established administrative procedures and thereby circumventing the law,” the opposition filing reads. 

The suit closely resembles a complaint the same association filed in July 2023 and withdrew a month later, which prompted the District to complete its purchase of The Aston from GW weeks after for $27.5 million. The July 2023 lawsuit alleged D.C. officials failed to provide community members adequate time to comment on The Aston purchase.

Officials offhandedly announced earlier this month that they would likely delay The Aston’s opening until October after previously projecting the shelter would open in August. District officials have pushed back the opening date a handful of times since initially planning to renovate and open the building by November 2023, and D.C. officials have said they have not stopped progress due to ongoing legal action seeking to block the shelter. 

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About the Contributor
Rory Quealy, News Editor
Rory Quealy is a sophomore majoring in journalism and mass communications from La Grange, Illinois. She leads the Metro beat as one of The Hatchet's 2024-25 news editors. She was previously the assistant news editor for the Health and Research beat and a research assistant.
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