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2 Churches Take Developer To Court Over Shaw Project

An aerial rendering of MidCity's project at 1200 Fifth St. NW.

MidCity is facing another appeal over a multifamily development in D.C., this time from two churches near its approved project in Shaw.

Beloved Community Alliance, a group represented by attorney Aristotle Theresa, filed a lawsuit with the D.C. Court of Appeals on Jan. 22, contesting the Zoning Commission's approval of MidCity's project at 1200 Fifth St. NW.

Theresa told Bisnow the group is a partnership of two nearby churches: the Miles Memorial Christian Methodist Episcopal Church and the First Rising Mount Zion Baptist Church. The churches met with MidCity multiple times during the Zoning Commission process, raising concerns over the project's impact on parking, but were unable to reach an agreement.

The property sits on the edge of the Shaw and Mount Vernon Triangle neighborhoods, two blocks from the Mount Vernon Square Metro station. It features 63 garden-style apartments built in the 1960s and 1970s that are fully vacant and slated for demolition. 

The project, proposed in August 2019, is planned to include 360 apartments, with 44 set aside as affordable. It includes below-ground parking with 103 vehicular spaces, 40 more than required by zoning regulations, the Zoning Commission noted in its order approving the project. 

The Zoning Commission approved it by a 4-1 margin, with Chairman Anthony Hood voting against it because the developer and the churches failed to reach an agreement. The churches wanted the developer to increase the number of parking spaces to ensure enough street parking would be available for their services. 

"I believe there are some adverse impacts that will definitely happen with this project," Hood said during an April 27 hearing. "Parking spaces are very critical to churches in this city, and I think that could have been worked out."

A rendering of the entrance to MidCity's project at 1200 Fifth St. NW.

Despite Hood's vote in opposition, MidCity Executive Vice President Jamie Weinbaum said he is confident the appeal will not succeed in the court because the developer is providing more parking than legally required. He said he tried to address the churches' concerns in meetings with them. 

"We tried to come up with good solutions, but obviously they were dug in and remained concerned," Weinbaum said. "We're confident based on what we see so far that there aren't grounds that would allow the appeal to be successful."

Theresa, who has represented several groups in similar appeal cases, said Hood's vote against the project makes it clear that the suit can't be called "frivolous." 

"The churches are going to suffer from this," Theresa said. "Parking is already at a premium over there. Their congregation already has a hard time finding parking, and this [project] is not going to improve it."

This case is only the second new appeal filed against a Zoning Commission approval since May 2019, but there were more than two dozen appeals filed in the two years prior. The appeals have caused significant delays for thousands of new housing units across the city. 

As MidCity prepares to argue its case before the D.C. Court of Appeals, the developer is still waiting for the court's ruling on an appeal over its larger project in Northeast D.C.

The developer's 1,700-unit RIA project on Rhode Island Avenue NE was appealed in May 2018, and the court heard oral arguments in September 2019, but it has yet to issue a decision. The developer did receive a favorable ruling in March on a separate suit against the project, but it needs the court to decide on the outstanding appeal in order to begin construction. 

Weinbaum noted that these projects would help D.C. achieve Mayor Muriel Bowser's goal of building 36,000 new housing units by 2025. Bowser earlier this month told the Washington Business Journal she would support rules that would limit who can appeal Zoning Commission approvals. The Comprehensive Plan amendments that her administration proposed are also aimed at mitigating the delays from appeals, but the D.C. Council has yet to pass them. 

"It's disappointing that the housing gets delayed because, for all intents and purposes, people who want to live in these vibrant neighborhoods don't get that opportunity," Weinbaum said.