- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 15, 2001

Boys Town yesterday announced it is suing the District and a group of city residents who oppose the nonprofit group's construction of a home for troubled youth in their Southeast neighborhood.
The legal action is a response to "months of obstruction and delay by D.C. officials" in issuing permits to build on a tract at Pennsylvania and Potomac avenues SE, Boys Town officials said.
"You'll never get your permit unless you go to the Department of Justice and sue," said the Rev. Val. J. Peter, executive director of Boys Town. "The suit was filed because of intentional obstruction and intentional intimidation and delaying tactics namely, the demand for an environmental survey and an archeological study of the property."
Boys Town paid $8.2 million in March 2000 for the property, which is located in the middle of what D.C. Council member Sharon Ambrose calls "a very fragile neighborhood that has been plagued by open-air drug markets."
The nonprofit group accuses Mrs. Ambrose, Ward 6 Democrat, along with neighborhood activists Will Hill and Ellen Opper-Weiner, of "conducting a needless, persistent and vindictive campaign" to prevent construction on the land.
Boys Town, based in Omaha, Neb., is seeking to build four Victorian town homes that would house up to 40 abused and neglected children. The $5 million complex would be near the Potomac Avenue Metro Station.
"It's an inappropriate place both for the neighborhood and for the children," Mrs. Ambrose said.
Since Boys Town purchased the land, neighborhood leaders repeatedly have complained the group will usurp one of the area's last spots for new business developments. In March, residents collected more than 1,000 signatures in a petition against building the youth facility.
The homes planned for the Southeast neighborhood would provide a surrogate family, headed by a married couple and assistant who live in the homes and work for Boys Town full time, group officials have said. Most of the children in the homes would be from Wards 6, 7 and 8 and would attend neighborhood schools.
Members of Southeast Citizens for Smart Development (SCSD) maintain that, because federal money is involved, they should have a say in what happens. "Boys Town is getting all of this money per-day, per-child from the federal government and the District government," said Mr. Hill, chairman of the community group.
"They paid $8.5 million for one and a half acres, that's more than the city paid for where they're going to put the mayor's mansion," Mr. Hill said. "For a nonprofit organization, it's an awful lot of money to pay for one piece of land of that size."
Mrs. Ambrose agreed, saying Boys Town paid "an outrageous amount of money" for the land. "It's a sinful amount," she said. "They got $7 million from Congress. It's a waste of money."
Father Peter said his group used no federal money to purchase the land. "We sold a piece of land in Nebraska and used that money to buy the space," he said, adding that anyone claiming that Boys Town used federal money to buy the land is telling a "bald-faced lie."
"They're getting $55,000 for each child from the government," said Miss Opper-Weiner, vice chairman of SCSD. "We in the neighborhood ought to have an opportunity to weigh in on a government-funded project."
The main problem, she said, is that "there is a pre-existing community-based group residential home located within 500 feet of the proposed Boys Town project. … There is a question of whether the spot is properly zoned."
According to Father Peter, Miss Opper-Weiner "lied to the press" yesterday. "This suit is about discrimination against African-American children," he said. "We are trying to help some of the neediest children in one of the neediest cities in America."
Boys Town was founded in 1917, when the Rev. Edward J. Flanagan, a Roman Catholic priest, opened a home for orphaned and troubled boys in Omaha. Father Flanagan's outreach program for troubled young men, and eventually young women, has since become a national operation.

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