- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 6, 2002

A group of angry Southeast residents yesterday fought to stop the nonprofit Catholic organization Boys Town from building a compound of homes for troubled youths in their community.
At a hearing of the D.C. Board of Zoning Adjustments, several community members appealed permits granted by the city in September to Boys Town for the construction of four separate homes at 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue SE.
The appeal was filed by the Southeast Citizens For Smart Development Inc. (SCSD) and Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6B. "This appeal is important because the public should have an input on this proposed project because of where it is located," said SCSD Chairman Will Hill.
Boys Town, based in Omaha, Neb., paid $8.2 million in March 2000 for the 1.6-acre lot, where it intends to build the homes side-by-side to house six troubled youths each. In 1999, the organization received $7.1 million in the D.C. appropriations bill to develop small group homes in neighborhoods around the District.
Representatives of the nonprofit group say the proposed $5 million complex 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.
During the hearing, SCSD argued the city issued permits to Boys Town in error, in violation of a law that prevents group homes from being constructed within 500 feet of existing group homes. SCSD argued that Boys Town needs a special permit to build the compound that will house 24 youths within 500 feet of a group residential facility that is already in the neighborhood.
"We are asking that the zoning regulations be implemented consistent with their intent," said SCSD member Ellen Opper-Weiner.
Yesterday's hearing, which lasted more than five hours, was adjourned without a conclusion. It is set to continue at 10 a.m. next Tuesday.
For more than a year, neighbors have fought to halt construction of the group-home complex, which would be located 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.
"Boys Town is not looking at what's right for the children," said the Rev. William Johnson, who lives in the neighborhood. "Most of these kids probably already have a history with drugs, and now they're being put in a neighborhood where they can step out the front door and get drugs."
Other neighbors said the push to appeal the building permits came "not because we're not in support of Boys Town, but because what they want to do here is just not the highest and best use of the land," said Bobbi Krengel, a real estate agent who also lives in the neighborhood. "We're using this hearing as a venue to have our view heard."
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. Father Flanagan's outreach program for troubled young men, and eventually young women, has since become a national operation.

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