Recently, the D.C. Zoning Commission invited local and federal officials to testify at a hearing on proposed zoning amendments that could allow thousands of institutionalized persons to be placed in community programs throughout the city. However, at the hearing this week, representatives from only two agencies showed up.
If adopted, the zoning regulations, proposed by members of a Municipal Planning Office (MPO) task force, would redefine group homes and allow them to be established throughout the city. At present, most group homes are clustered in low- and moderate-income redevelopment areas. In addition, it would allow the establishment of more non-residential facilities, such as health care or social centers.
Those who attended the hearing in the City Council chambers included citizens, City Council members and government employes. In addition, representatives from two city agencies - the Department of Human Resources and the Office of Aging - testified.
Throughout the three-hour hearing, MPO officals Kenneth Hammond and Roy L. Ross stumbled over written errors and deletions in the proposed regulations and admitted that they did not know about various agency licensing policies. They avoided answering questions about certain proposals, primarily because the agency heads who had formulated the proposals, as members of the task force, did not attend the hearing.
On Feb. 15, at 1 p.m., the zoning commission will hear testimony from citizens and private groups.
Karen Barquin, a representative from the Office of Aging, presented a written report about programs of the office and the needs of senior citizens. She said the agency has five group homes in Ward 3, a mostly white, upper-income area of the city where zoning regulations have helped residents resist the establishment of group homes there.
Bernard Phifer, associate director of planning and evaluation from DHR, said the success of many DHR programs will depend upon the approval of the zoning amendments.
He pointed out that over the past 10 years the department has been ordered by the courts to place many institutionalized persons back into the community. For instance, he said, the DHR now is under court order to return nearly 2,000 mentally retarded persons, now in institutions, to the community.
Another area of the hearing dealt with half way houses and social service centers. Under existing regulations, there is no distinction between a halfway house and a social service center. The proposed amendments would redefine halfway houses as residential group homes. A "health or social service center" would be a non-residential facility.
The proposals also redefine a family by increasing the number of unrelated persons who could live together from six to eight, including house-parents.
A critical part of the proposal includes amendments that would open the way to establish group homes and health care facilities in a wider variety of neighorhoods. The proposal would allow such facilities, with capacities from eight to 30 perosns, to be within 300 to 600 feet of each other in neighborhoods with detached, semi-detached and rowhouse dwellings. There are certain exceptions to the guidelines, which would require special zoning approval or approval by a community facilities committee that the MPO recommended be established to monitor the process.
In areas with apartment buildings, group homes or health facilities can be located within 300 to 600 feet of each other and accommodate more than 16 persons with the necessary zoning and committee approval.
The proposed amendments would only apply to existing group homes only if they moved to another area of the city or closed and tried to reopen.
The zoning amendments grew out of citizen complains of poorly supervised group homes and an over-concentration of homes in certain areas of the city. MPO sought to address these complaints by establishing the task force to develop new citywide group home regulations.
The task force included directors from the Department of Corrections, DHR, the Office of Aging, and the superintendent of St. Eliazbeths