Representatives of Boys Town yesterday said neighborhood resistance to the charity group’s construction of four group homes for troubled youth in Southeast is little more than “a case of ‘NIMBY’ gone too far.”
“The number of neighbors opposed to this is small and not representative of the feelings of the neighborhood at large,” said Boys Town spokesman Jack Sheehan. “Unfortunately these neighbors have been wasting their time making up things about our organization that simply are not true.”
For more than a year, neighbors have fought to halt construction of the group-home complex at 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue SE in the middle of what many, including D.C. Council member Sharon Ambrose, Ward 6 Democrat, have called an extremely fragile neighborhood with a history of problems controlling open-air drug markets.
About 25 angry residents gathered yesterday at a D.C. Board of Zoning Adjustments hearing on the fate of the group-home complex. The residents are represented by Southeast Citizens For Smart Development Inc. (SCSD), which is appealing to the BZA to revoke permits granted in September to Boys Town for the construction of the $5 million complex.
SCSD argued that permits for the complex, which will house 24 troubled youths, were granted in violation of a law that prevents such community-based residential facilities from being built within 500 feet of existing ones.
SCSD attorney Andrea Ferster said Boys Town is trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the neighborhood by calling the four homes in the complex, which will hold six youths each, separate youth facilities because group homes with just six residents legally can be built within 500 feet of existing ones.
Boys Town needs a special permit to build a compound like this, she testified at the hearing, which lasted more than four hours and adjourned without a conclusion. BZA officials said Boys Town is scheduled to present its side during the next two weeks.
“I don’t think this is a ‘not in my back yard’ issue at all,” Miss Ferster said. “Our appeal is a legal argument. It’s a question about whether a development is going to evade plain and existing zoning principles.”
If the BZA required Boys Town to apply for a special permit, it would warrant a community input hearing on the project. “This whole situation is pushing the envelope for the lengths that a developer would go to avoid that community input hearing,” Miss Ferster said.
“If their appeal is granted, we will take whatever steps are necessary to build on that sight,” Mr. Sheehan said of the group homes, which are expected to be ready for occupancy by the spring. “We think the D.C. government specifically wants us to come into the neighborhood because there’s a great need for these types of facilities.”
In 1999, Nebraska-based Boys Town received $7.1 million in the D.C. appropriations bill to develop small group homes in neighborhoods.
Of the $8.2 million the group paid in March 2000 for the 1.6-acre lot in Southeast, Mr. Sheehan says none of it came from federal money. “We bought it with money from selling off a plot of land we owned in Omaha,” he said. “The $7.1 million is still sitting around waiting to be spent on troubled youth in the District.”
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, Neb. His outreach program for troubled young men, and eventually young women, has since become a national operation.
Representatives say the new group-home complex in Southeast will provide surrogate families for the youths headed by a married couples and assistants who live in the homes and work for Boys Town full time. Most of the children in the homes would be from Wards 6, 7 and 8, and would attend neighborhood schools.