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Planned inmate re-entry housing near National Mall spurs controversy

The Southwest Business Improvement District “strongly opposes” the project as a matter-of-right

Roughly half a mile away from the National Mall and less than 100 yards from the Washington Global Public Charter School, there are plans for a residential re-entry facility, otherwise known as a "halfway house." While D.C. Zoning Administrator Matthew Le Grant argues that the facility is permitted as a matter-of-right, the Southwest Business Improvement District (SWBID) and ANC6D both oppose the project.

T he planned 300-bed facility, which would be located at 475 School Street SW, would serve prison inmates for the final three to six months of their sentences. The site currently houses a vacant office building.

In a letter to Goulston & Storrs attorney Phil Feola, Le Grant argued that a residential re-entry facility site is permitted as a matter-of-right as it meets the definition of a community-based residential facility. The definition he laid for this type of a facility can be seen below:

Community-based residential facility — a residential facility for persons who have a common need for treatment, rehabilitation, assistance, or supervision in their daily living. This definitely includes, but is not limited to, facilities covered by the Community Residence Facilities Licensure Act of 1977, effective October 27, 1977 ... and facilities formerly known as convalescent or nursing home, residential halfway house, or social service center, philanthropic or eleemosynary institution, and personal care home.

If an establishment is a community-based residential facility as defined in this section, it shall not be deemed to constitute any other use permitted under the authority of these regulations. A community-based residential facility may include separate living quarters for resident supervisors and their families. All community-based residential facilities shall be included in one (1) or more of the following subcategories:

Adult rehabilitation home — a facility providing residential care for one (1) or more individuals sixteen (16) years of age or older who are charged by the United States Attorney with a felony offense, or any individual twenty-one (21) years of age or older, under pre-trial detention or sentenced court orders.

In a memorandum, SWBID stated that while the C-3-C zoning does "contemplate" a community-based residential facility, the organization argued that the residential re-entry facility does not fit into the definition of a community-based residential facility.

SWBID wrote, "How does a federally authorized private contractor fit into a ‘community-based’ facility? The proposed School Street [residential re-entry] facility will not be run by a ‘community-based’ organization or a non-profit. In fact, it will be operated by the second largest private prison contractor in the United States, the GEO Group, Inc."

The memorandum further noted that the SWBID "strongly opposes" the project as a matter-of-right.

In a letter sent in June 2016, ANC6D Chairman Andy Litsky further criticized the planned facility. One of the arguments listed include that the facility may impact student safety and enrollment at the Washington Global Public Charter School. The letter further stated that because tourists are particularly vulnerable to petty crime, that any increase in the level of crime would have a devastating effect on the perceived safety and security of the area.

The letter concluded, "At this time, ANC6D believes that the proposed facility is too large, is in a most inappropriate location, and poses a safety risk that far exceeds any reward — except, perhaps, to GEO Rentry itself."

Next month, a new Zoning Code will take effect, and the property will be zoned D-5, which will continue to allow the residential re-entry facility as a matter-of-right, according to the SWBID memorandum.

Curbed reached out to Le Grant for comment, but did not receive contact back by the time of this article.

To see SWBID's full memorandum, ANC6D's letter, and Le Grant's letter, see below.

Le Grant Letter

SWBID Letter