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Ward 7 Residents Lose Court Battle over Fire Station

Several activists who live in the Deanwood section of the Ward 7, led by well-known political figure Dorothy Douglas, fell short last week in D.C. Superior Court in a bid to stop a fire station from being built in their immediate neighborhood.

Douglas and Jane Zara, attorney for the Deanwood neighbors protesting the station at 4409 Minnesota Avenue NE, appeared Friday before D.C. Superior Court Judge Kelly A. Higashi, requesting that she impose an injunction on further plans to develop the property that the D.C. government and Valor Minnesota LLC supports.

At the hearing, Douglas and Zara stood together before Higashi while the defendants, Mayor Muriel Bowser (D), Valor and the D.C. Council, had attorneys representing their interests.

Over a decade ago, Valor expressed interest in building affordable housing units at 4409 Minnesota and through community outreach and engagement, residential and advisory neighborhood commissioners supported their effort. However, because the District government had issues with the zoning of the property and unpaid taxes, Valor nixed the affordable housing units and decided without any public input to build a fire station.

The advisory neighborhood commission rejected Valor’s fire station proposal on Oct. 26, 2017. However, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) introduced the Valor lease to his colleagues on June 14, 2018, without the consideration of an approval or disapproval resolution.

The plaintiffs argued on Feb. 19 in D.C. Superior Court that Mendelson’s introduction and the process that shortly followed it violated city law, as did the legislative body’s failure to take the advisory neighborhood commission’s “great weight” recommendation into consideration.

“[Valor] has already posted a flyer about a job fair for this project,” Zara told the judge. “We have never had a public hearing about this fire station.”

Zara pointed out that the lack of a solid environmental study on 4409 Minnesota Avenue and a D.C. attorney general opinion on the process of the council having to approve a lease that has the value of $1 million emphasized that city officials didn’t follow the proper procedure.

The defendants’ attorneys argued that the injunction lacked merit since no permits have been issued by the District government, an argument that seemed to sway Higashi.

“The question before us is should the court impose an injunction right now?” the judge said. “Is there any evidence of imminent danger or irreparable harm? The plaintiffs are asking the court to grant an extraordinary measure. This is not a hearing to decide the ultimate issue of whether the firehouse should be stopped.”

Higashi denied the motion for the injunction but subtly reminded the neighbors that plaintiffs can refile the motion later. The judge said no evidence of irreparable harm existed “at this stage.”

The judge said the next hearing on the matter will be May 24.

While the neighbors didn’t get the injunction, they did not appear overly disappointed.

“There is ongoing irreparable harm going on,” Zara said. “We are going to try to get a jury trial and the defendants don’t want to do that.”

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