- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The D.C. Council has given final approval to an ambitious plan that calls for closing the dilapidated homeless shelter at the former D.C. General Hospital and replacing it with seven smaller facilities owned by the District.

In a unanimous vote Tuesday, the lawmakers passed a proposal presented earlier this month by council Chairman Phil Mendelson, who overhauled a previous plan offered by Mayor Muriel Bowser in February.

Despite fireworks between Ms. Bowser and Mr. Mendelson over the schedule for closing D.C. General, the mayor threw her support behind the modified proposal and thanked the chairman for improving her original plan.

“I am also grateful to the residents and organizations that advocated tirelessly for the closure of D.C. General,” Ms. Bowser said Tuesday. “With the debate now behind us, I look forward to working with neighbors across the District to build replacement facilities that we can all be proud of, and that reflect the best of who we are as a society.”

Under the Mendelson plan, the District is to build shelters on city-owned properties, instead of leasing some properties from developers as directed under the Bowser plan. The city already owns two of the proposed shelter sites in Wards 7 and 8, and will purchase five others in Wards 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6.

But several of the plan’s details have changed since the council gave preliminary approval to Mr. Mendelson’s overhaul two weeks ago:

⦁ Mr. Mendelson’s original plan aimed to close D.C. General by 2018; the new goal is by 2019.

⦁ The Bowser administration and community leaders had objected to the proposed site in Ward 6 — 200 K St. NW — with city officials saying it could take 10 years to get federal approval to build there and neighborhood activists decrying the lack of community involvement in picking the site. Responding to pressure, the council opted Tuesday for a new site in Ward 6 — 850 Delaware Ave. SW, a city-owned property that currently houses an aging Unity Health Care clinic.

⦁ The requirements for the proposed site for Ward 1 — 2105—2107 10th St. NW — underwent some changes, as well. The site was part of Ms. Bowser’s original plan, and the council decided two weeks ago to buy it from the owner. As part of a compromise with the mayor, the city now will allow the owner to clean up the site and develop the shelter, but the District still will buy the property.

Technically, the Ward 1 shelter is not one of the replacement shelters for D.C. General, but rather is a replacement for the Spring Road Family Apartments shelter at 13th Street and Spring Road NW. Still, it was included in both the mayor’s and the council chairman’s proposals.

⦁ Ms. Bowser brokered a similar deal for the Ward 4 site at 5505 5th St. NW, which also is privately owned.

Mr. Mendelson has said that his revision dramatically lowers costs for the city and will be implemented faster than Ms. Bowser’s proposal. An independent assessment of the cost of leasing the site prepared for the council showed the city would overpaid by more than $23 million to lease the five sites under the Bowser plan.

Ms. Bowser’s plan would have cost about $27 million per year in leases alone and more than $800 million over the next 30 years. The Mendelson plan calls for the District to move three of the proposed sites to city-owned land and obtain the land for the other two sites either through purchase or eminent domain.

The new plan would cost about $100 million up front for land and construction. The council analysis says it would save the District about $165 million total over the terms of the proposed leases — from 20 to 30 years, depending on the site.

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