By James Wright
The D.C. residents who live close to the intersection of Minnesota Avenue and Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue in Northeast want affordable housing in their neighborhood — not a fire station — and they recently went to court to make that point.
Fifteen plaintiffs who live in the city’s Deanwood section on Minnesota Avenue’s northern end made an appearance at D.C. Superior Court on Feb. 19 to stop the city government and a development company, Valor Minnesota LLC, from building a fire station on the property of 4409 Minnesota Avenue NE.
Dorothy Douglas, the advisory neighborhood commissioner for District 7D03 in Ward 7, lives several feet from the 4409 property and is not happy about what is going on with it.
“I am a long-term homeowner of 4401 Minnesota Avenue NE, where I have been a resident for over 35 years,” said Douglas, who once served on the D.C. State Board of Education representing Ward 7. “When I moved into my home, my purpose was to establish a foundation for my children and grandchildren. The neglect and now new proposed use of 4409 has caused me and continues to cause me anxiety and stress worrying if I could lose my home. I am now 70 years old, where peace plays a major factor in my daily living.”
The plaintiffs submitted a motion and memorandum for an injunction to stop the District government and Valor from building the fire station that consists of an Emergency Management Systems and storage facility. The court documents said the construction should cease because of the harm it poses to the residents and the District government should provide an environmental impact study on the property and another on how the project will affect the immediate area, produce a study on the costs of building the fire station when another fire station exists less than half a mile away, and the neighborhood should have the chance through its advisory neighborhood commissioners to have a say on the project.
There has been chemical residue on the property and vehicle explosions took place in November 2018 and in January, according to court documents. The proposed fire station will replace Engine Station #27 located on 4201 Minnesota Ave., N.E., documents say.
The defendants named in the court documents include Valor, Mayor Muriel Bowser (D), Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) and Council members Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7) and Robert White (D-At Large), the latter of whom chairs the council’s Committee on Facilities and Procurement.
D.C. Superior Court Senior Associate Judge Russell F. Canan continued the case because the defendants needed more time to prepare. The next court date is March 15.
In 2006, Valor acquired 4409, a former longtime auto repair facility, and worked with the community for years to build affordable housing units. However, Valor dropped the housing project when it has problems with the District of Columbia Board of Zoning Adjustments over zoning requirements and other constraints as well as a decline in the housing market in the neighborhood.
In addition, Valor failed to pay taxes on the property from 2016-2018 as it became an eyesore in the community with abandoned vehicles, storage pipes and debris, with no fence to protect the residents.
The motion and memo said when Valor decided to build the fire station, it did so without community consultation and with the support of the Bowser administration. Douglas’s commission, 7D, voted on Oct. 26, 2017, to oppose the fire station and communicated its action and views to the Bowser administration.
Nevertheless, Mendelson introduced the Valor lease agreement to the council on June 14, 2018, without the consideration of an approval or disapproval resolution, which the plaintiffs say violates city law. Plus, the court documents state that District officials violated another law that mandates that development projects must be considered by the commission in which it is located, and that the commission’s approval or disapproval must be given “great weight.”
“I hope we can work with the community on this,” Gray said. “I hope that we can come to an amicable agreement on this.”
Numerous attempts to contact Valor for comment were unsuccessful.
Rick Tingling-Clemmons, a plaintiff, said he and his neighbors are prepared to vigorously fight the proposed fire station.
“This community has been under constant siege, from 30-plus-year-old development plans to extend Minnesota Avenue through some of the residents’ homes and yards; through unregulated schemes from area profiteers; to developer Valor and the Department of General Services,” Tingling-Clemmons said. “But plaintiffs are committed to fighting for their homes, and to confronting those agencies that seem to be working in the developers’ interest at the expense of the residents’ quality of life. Land in our city is limited and valuable and we will guard our piece of it accordingly.”
This article originally appeared in the Washington Informer.