“Can’t we build a shelter that contributes to the character of a neighborhood instead of being a monstrous eyesore?”

by Prince Of Petworth January 5, 2017 at 1:45 pm 47 Comments

Rendering of 1700 Rhode Island Ave, NE via DC Department of General Services

“Dear PoPville,

I thought your readers might find the BZA submission for the Ward 5 family homeless shelter to be of interest. They are requesting multiple zoning exceptions including height, loading zone, and parking. Not sure where the other shelters’ plans are in their process, but if the board approves this, it could set the tone for zoning leniency with the other shelters’ plans. Needless to say, several neighbors are very unhappy with the exceptions. Can’t we build a shelter that contributes to the character of a neighborhood instead of being a monstrous eyesore?”

  • anonymous shaw dweller

    Looks like a prison. Uuuuuuggglllyyy.

    • Linc Park SE

      Speaking of… The District needs to build a new jail. When will they consider that.

      • Truxtoner

        Does the city actually keep people in jail long enough to bother?

  • AJ

    It also looks like its ready for its Jedi training

  • anon

    I live two blocks away. Given the history of the Ward 5 shelter plans and other shelters across the city, I simply don’t believe there is a design that neighbors wouldn’t complain about. I’m not an architect, but this looks fine. If they don’t need the parking, they shouldn’t be wasting money on building the parking. If they can have this necessary piece of city infrastructure take up a smaller footprint by having it be taller, that’s good too. Do all that. Please. Get this over with.

    • anon

      Also, I appreciate that new building only sits on land currently occupied by an antenna power substation and surface parking. This leaves the old MPD building there intact (for use as additional square footage for the facility). This is quite a bit of historic preservation, that is decreasing the average height of the facility and preserving a building that likely has some historical value (while not being explicitly protected as such). If people don’t stop complaining, they’ll probably end up losing that long-standing piece of neighborhood character too.

  • a82neb

    We could have built something better. We didn’t. Now let’s give the future resident’s their dignity back and out of DC General and off the street.

    • Woodridge Res

      I think you missed that this is not yet built. It won’t be built for several years. These are just renderings of what is planned for the building.

  • David

    Oof. That is ugly! The one in Ward 6 is really nice looking, which makes this monstrosity even less acceptable.

  • Anonymous

    I think that the OP really has two issues: an ugly building, and zoning leniency.

    This building is ugly. While this is likely a very preliminary rendering that can be gussied up later, it doesn’t bode well for having a building that looks nice. The city has put it in nice supportive housing before: 1448 Irving Street NW. While I understand that the city is on a budget and that this building, being a shelter, means that the city won’t make money off of rent, but at least make something look nice.

    As for zoning leniency, I think that this is a more contentious issue. It’s widely-established that height restrictions are making it difficult for DC to add more housing, and that the interests of the people in the immediate vicinity of the building are trumping the interests of the city as a whole. (Think of the SunTrust debacle in Adams Morgan). The city should push the limits when it comes to the height of this building, as it will be much easier to add capacity now than go through the entire process of finding more land and building another building later.

    • anon

      I agree that it’s too issues. I think it’d be wise to stick to making the building look better rather than making it clear that you would suppress any housing from being built too high up in the sky when the city only has so much land.

  • Truxton Thomas

    This is really going to be a blight on the roadside tire shop next door.

  • Tsar of Truxton

    It is not the best looking building, but it is pretty far from a “monstrous eyesore.”

    • ET

      And to my eye looks no better or worse than anything any of the developers are doing.

  • FridayGirl

    My first thought upon seeing this rendering: It looks like any other new large apartment complex (minus a few windows). I don’t understand the problem.

    • anon

      The lack of retail space on bottom is really the only jarring part to me. Not sure how that would’ve been incorporated into a shelter, though.

      • stacksp

        Retail space at a shelter where people have trouble making ends meet?

        • Anon

          Is this too close to the new Lululemon on 14th?

        • diffanon

          The one in Ward 6 has a health clinic on the ground floor, which is essentially a retail space. Retail is pretty broad.

          • stacksp

            Point taken….

    • textdoc

      Many of those renderings look pretty ugly too.

  • textdoc

    Ugly. I don’t blame the OP for being disappointed.

  • B-land neighbor

    As a neighbor within 2 blocks of this site, I am far more concerned with the zoning variances. There are no 6 story buildings anywhere near this site. (Almost?) all of the houses on that block of 17th St NE are cute small-ish bungalows. All the mass of the building (i.e. the 6.5 story height) is along 17th St, not RI Ave. The building uses almost every square inch of the lot, except for a small play area and some easement along RI Ave.

    As for the tire shop, I don’t think we would mind seeing that go, but the city has decided they won’t even try to buy that property to give them the space to build a reasonably-sized building.

    • anon

      There is a 5-story building being built almost across the street at 1515 Rhode Island Ave. NE. We can’t solve the housing crisis while catering to this type of concern. Nobody is using eminent domain to take anyone’s bungalows away, but property should be developed in accordance with the market (or, in the case of the shelter, the city’s needs).

      • Shawnnnn

        I say build every shelter in downtown DC amidst the government offices and law firms. They are only open at night anyway, so it isn’t like those poor people trailing in from VA and MD would need sully their eyes to look upon them any more than they already do.

        Just take a look at the wonderful sights you see at that new shelter at 6th between H and I at about 7:30pm – 9:30pm at night. Drugs being sold and done in the alleys and who knows what else.

        Why shove the homeless up into these quiet residential areas where everyone but a handful of neighbors can avoid them? We should all be forced to see what we accept as acceptable in our society.

    • anon

      “the city has decided they won’t even try to buy that property to give them the space to build a reasonably-sized building”
      Making plans for 7 sites all at once has been a contentious rollercoaster. People favored using land the District already owned. They protested the other Ward 5 site because they thought the lease deal was too expensive and/or sketchy because the developer (like basically all developers) had made political contributions to Mayor Bowser. The Council augmented the plans and included this owned property to address neighborhood ire. Did you know about any of the history before you implied that a casual exploration of buying that tire shop was ever really an option?
      The tire shop will be developed because market forces, driven by new residents in nearby buildings (RIA DC, 2911 17th St, 1515 Rhode Island Ave, 1904 Irving St., 2027 Rhode Island Ave, and others) providing foot traffic (and new transit like the G9) make it so. The biggest risk is whether people can let the housing get built. This particular building is a little different, but the concerns are identical.

    • eva

      Tell me more about your plan to house the homeless in “cute bungalows.”

    • B-land neighbor

      1. I understand the logistics involved in selecting the site. And I certainly give the Council credit for getting away from the Friends of the Mayor contract awards. But when there was a neighborhood hearing about the site, it was to inform the neighbors that this was the site, and that’s that.
      2. When the architect presented a list of neighbor feedback regarding the project, it was like a list of things the city was going to refuse to do, if for no other reason than the neighbors asked for it. They brought up the idea of buying the tire shop, only to say, “And… no.”
      3. A 5-story building is far different than a 6-story building, from both a height standpoint (an extra 10-15 ft) and construction (can’t use wood frame over 5 stories)
      4. I wouldn’t intend to use the bungalows for housing the homeless. I was just pointing out that any lip service to the building being in scale of the neighborhood is ridiculous.

      • Woodridge Res


  • Woodridge Res

    I also live very close to this site. Like the OP, I’m disappointed in this design. One thing that I don’t think has been raised is that this proposal backs directly up to a condo building that has been in development, and would effectively block the windows of that building. That seems to be a fairly significant issue, should the condo owner choose to make it one.

    • Tsar of Truxton

      Eh, if the developer built the condos to the property line, I am not sure what they could do about it. The upper units may have a fight over the zoning variance, but the lower units would probably be SOL.

      • anon

        I don’t think it’s to the property line. The windows will simply not have as much light or a view of the street. That’s life.

        • diffanon

          Also, there are no windows along the edge of the building closest to this building anyway. Just ones that face inward on a pseudo-courtyard.

    • anon

      The developer of that building didn’t own the adjacent property and would have no reason to think such a development were impossible. The bright side is that buyers in that condo building will know before purchasing, although that would have been a risk they’d take as well.

  • herbie

    I like how they include a creeper van in the artist rendering. How fitting.

    • anonymous shaw dweller


  • Sully

    I used to live near a family homeless shelter and it needed to be locked down at all times due to domestic vioence court cases. They also sheltered children and women who were mentally disabled. iIt had police presence 24 hours a day. Due to the securities ad safety issues needed for the shelter this may may be the reason it looks more like a prison

  • I still think the real solution would be to require every apt. building in the city with more than, say, 20 units, have 1-3% of units for assisted housing, and another 1-3% for workforce housing. Even if the city paid the difference in the fair market rent it would still be cheaper. Break up the concentrations of poverty. Have no shelters anywhere with more than 4 apartments, and require every ward/neighborhood to provide one 4 unit building. Let all those giant buildings on Conn. Ave. take on a tiny percentage of the ordinary urban burden of housing those who need assistance. Use the money saved to hire more caseworkers to deal with families in assisted housing.

    • DRC

      I’m pretty sure that’s already a thing. We lived in a condo building in CoHi where there were numerous assisted housing tenants. But sorry, I think it’s absolutely ridiculous to put up the ‘homeless’ in a place where the condo fee is over $600/mo. I think people that paid $500k for their condo are going to have issues with other tenants that pay basically nothing living in the same building.

      • eva

        But surely there are people in those buildings already paying nothing, and no one knows–people on corporate relocation deals, people whose parents bought them condos and people who inherit property. So really what you’re saying is that people who own a home for which they paid more than half a million should be shielded from having the poor as neighbors?

    • diffanon

      You’re describing inclusionary zoning, more or less. This is a homeless shelter. Being in affordable housing and being homeless are different things. Also, the real solution is forcing all those neighborhoods to actually build housing rather than suppress it. Why artificially deflate the cost of housing when simply allowing supply to build up to meet demand is far more practical?

  • Vered

    Throwback to the Edgar J. Hoover FBI building. I thought we were over that kind of fascist architecture.

  • Vered

    I meant J. Edgar Hoover of course.

  • Reality

    Looks fine. From google maps, it looks like there’s already another tall building behind it.

    • B-land neighbor

      The “tall building” right behind it is roughly half the proposed height of this building, and it is bordering on being an oversized eyesore.

  • Langdon

    It’s not a nice looking building. I would like to see something more like Ward 6. Seems like Ward 5 just gets the ugly city architecture (look at the Woodbridge library compared to Shaw or Tenleytown).

  • kwillkat

    Sweet geez that is butt ugly and depressing, too.


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