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MidCity's 1,700-Unit RIA Project Clears Hurdle As Judge Rules In Favor Of Developer

An aerial rendering of MidCity's 1,700-unit RIA development

A judge has ruled in favor of MidCity in one of the two lawsuits over its planned 1,700-unit redevelopment of Northeast D.C.'s Brookland Manor community.

U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras ruled Monday in favor of MidCity in a lawsuit claiming its redevelopment discriminated against families at the property. 

The lawsuit was filed in 2016 by two neighborhood residents and advocacy group One DC. The plaintiffs are represented by Covington & Burling and the Washington Lawyers Committee.

The suit alleged MidCity's planned redevelopment of Brookland Manor would disparately impact families in violation of the Fair Housing Act and the D.C. Human Rights Act. The plaintiffs also alleged that MidCity made discriminatory statements against families. 

Contreras said in his opinion the plaintiffs didn't offer statistical analysis or evidence to back up their claims.  

MidCity Senior Vice President Madi Ford, in a Tuesday release, said the company is pleased with the results of the case and the judge's opinion. Steptoe & Johnson partner Michael Edney, MidCity's counsel, said the ruling could set a precedent for similar cases. 

“Redevelopments in Washington, D.C., are subject to almost reflexive litigation by organizations that disagree with a project and want to do it differently," Edney said. "Today’s ruling sends a powerful message about what is required to maintain those cases. MidCity, from the beginning, believed this suit was without merit, and MidCity is proud to have taken this suit all the way to final judgment and to provide an important precedent about the legal standards anti-development lawsuits will have to meet.”  

The plaintiffs still have the ability to appeal the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Covington & Burling's Maureen Browne, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs, said they are reviewing the opinion and assessing their options. 

"The residents of Brookland Manor, as well as community-based organization ONE DC, brought this litigation in an effort to ensure that continued residential development in Washington DC does not displace low-income families like the class plaintiffs," Browne said in an emailed statement to Bisnow. "We are disappointed in the result, and in an interpretation of the Fair Housing Act that does not recognize the modern-day reality that in order to ensure sufficient household income and provide critical childcare, many DC residents depend on the ability to live in inter-generational household units."

The property sits at the intersection of Rhode Island and Montana avenues NE. The planned 1,700-unit development, branded as RIA, would include 341 replacement units for the Section 8 housing on the site, 200 of which would be affordable units for seniors. It would also feature 181K SF of retail.

MidCity is still mired in a second court case that has prevented it from moving forward with the redevelopment. An appeal of its Zoning Commission approval, filed in May 2018 by Minnie Elliott, is still pending in the D.C. Court of Appeals.

The appeal is one of dozens filed with the D.C. Court of Appeals that have delayed thousands of housing units across the District in recent years. The delays come as Mayor Muriel Bowser is pursuing a goal of adding 36,000 housing units to the District by 2025. Ford said MidCity eagerly awaits a decision in the appeal case.

"Today, a single resident, Minnie Elliot, is preventing the construction of best in class Section 8 housing including a 200-unit senior deeply affordable building for the residents of Brookland Manor," Ford said in a statement. "We believe the court will dispose of her meritless claims and we will be able to move forward with our community to reach our shared goal of meeting the District’s housing needs.”