Central Union Mission in Talks For New Site in Downtown D.C.

By Paul Schwartzman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 22, 2008

Nearly two years ago, a long-serving District homeless shelter prompted protests when it announced that it was selling its Logan Circle headquarters and building a new home on Georgia Avenue.

Now the leader of the Central Union Mission said he is talking to District officials about finding an alternative location downtown. At the mission's request, a zoning hearing, called to consider the organization's application for a special permit to build its shelter at the edge of Columbia Heights and Petworth, was postponed from last week until fall.

"Because we are weighing options, we need time, we slowed everything down," said David Treadwell, the mission's executive director. "The District, we believe, is sincerely trying to help us find a place that's closer to downtown."

Describing the talks as preliminary, Treadwell cautioned that the mission is prepared to seek a new shelter on Georgia Avenue if it finds no suitable alternative.

"We cannot let go of Georgia Avenue," he said of the property in the 3500 block that it bought as part of the $7 million sale of its headquarters at 14th and R streets NW. "That's our bird in a hand. We have a place zoned for us. We can't let go. We will continue with our planning."

Treadwell has expressed reservations about the Georgia Avenue location since the mission announced the move, saying that he preferred to be closer to downtown, where many of the homeless congregate.

Before moving to Logan Circle, the mission was a block north of Pennsylvania Avenue NW, between Sixth and Seventh streets, a site it had to leave in 1983 after the District seized the building as part of the redevelopment of the avenue.

Central Union was planning to build a four-story structure on Georgia Avenue, with enough space for as many as 100 shelter beds. An additional 70 beds were to serve homeless men enrolled in transitional programs and living in the shelter, Treadwell said.

Community leaders and residents in Petworth and Columbia Heights have criticized the plan, saying the shelter would be too large and that it would impede a long-sought redevelopment along Georgia Avenue. The mission has countered that its presence did not stop Logan Circle property values from soaring in recent years.

More than 100 residents had planned to attend last week's zoning hearing, said Cliff Valenti, among the leaders of the opposition. "We're steadfast against it, we're going to fight this thing to the bitter end, that's all there is to it," he said.

Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who has opposed the shelter, said he wants the mission to build a mixed-income apartment building on the Georgia Avenue site.

A homeless shelter, Graham said, is more needed downtown. He said several downtown parcels are possibilities, though he declined to specify the locations.

Treadwell said the mission must vacate its Logan Circle site by October 2009, according to the terms of its sales agreement with developer Jeffrey Schonberger.

If the mission has not found a new home by then, Treadwell said he is prepared to seek temporary quarters, and has scouted warehouses and other locations along New York Avenue NE.

"We're not shutting down," he said.

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