- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 15, 2003

Residents in Northeast have filed a lawsuit to stop the construction of a halfway house in their neighborhood.

The residents are suing the D.C. government, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons and Bannum Inc. in federal court, saying the area where the halfway house is planned is not zoned for such a use. The halfway house would be constructed at 2210 Adams Place NE.

The area, near Bladensburg Road and New York Avenue, is zoned for commercial and light manufacturing. However, a halfway house is classified as community residential housing, which makes the construction of the project in that location illegal, residents contend in the lawsuit.

Donald Temple, a lawyer representing the residents, said the city zoning laws prohibit any halfway house with more than 20 persons without approval.

“If Bannum can operate its halfway house here without zoning approval, it will open a Pandora’s box that will allow halfway houses as a matter of right across the entire city and make the zoning board a toothless watchdog,” Mr. Temple said at a news conference Thursday.

The residents filed the lawsuit after they tried to stop what they consider a violation of D.C. zoning laws by Mayor Anthony A. Williams, David Clark, head of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affair, Bannum and the federal prison bureau.

The Washington Times first reported that Florida-based Bannum has a contract with the federal prison bureau to turn an old warehouse into a community corrections center to accommodate as many as 300 sex offenders. Bannum works with the bureau to provide supervised residential programs for sex offenders.

In their lawsuit, the residents argue that the agencies involved ignored D.C. zoning laws to promote their respective agendas and violated the residents’ civil rights.

The District’s Zoning Board has yet to complete public hearings on Bannum’s actions. The next hearing on the issue is scheduled for Tuesday.

Five D.C. Council members, including Vincent Orange, Ward 5 Democrat, said in a letter to the department that zoning laws are being broken. Despite the council members’ opposition, Mr. Williams, Mr. Clark, department officials and Bannum have not changed their minds about the project.

“The government is violating its own zoning laws,” Mr. Temple said. “The law is the law, and it should apply to the mayor, Bannum and the Federal Bureau of Prisons, as much as it applies to the people who make up the District of Columbia.”

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