City residents will go before the D.C. Zoning Commission Monday to support or fight proposed zoning changes that would allow group homes for mentally disabled people to be placed in single-family neighborhoods like Georgetown and Cleveland Park.
The hearing will be at 1:30 p.m. in room 316 of the Martin Luther King Library, 901 G St NW. If necessary, a second session will be held Wednesday at the same time and place.
Group homes are now limited to neighborhoods, such as Adams-Morgan and Mount Pleasant, that are zoned for rowhouses and apartment buildings. If the proposed changes are approved, group homes could be placed in any neighborhood in the city. Only group homse run by correctional departments are excluded from the proposals. A decision is expected by late summer.
The final outcome of the hearings will climax a decade-long battle between central-city residents, who have complained that the "burden" of group homes should be shared by all, and residents of affluent, single-family neighborhoods, who have bitterly resisted attempts to rezone their neighborhoods for group homes.
Mayor Marion S. Barry has gone on record in support of the proposed changes. The proposals are also supported by various civil liberty groups, as well as local and federal government officials under pressure from the courts to move thousands of mentally disabled persons from institutions into the community.
The proposed changes would redefine residential care programs such as nursing homes, halfway houses, social service centers, charitable institutions and personal care homes as community-based residential facilities. Hospitals and asylums would not be included in this definition.
The text of the proposed zoning changes define a community-based residential facility (CRF) as "a residential facility for persons who have a common need for treatment, rehabilitation, assistance or supervision in their daily lives."
The CRF definition would include, but not be limited to, facilities covered under the city's Community Residence Facilities Licensure Act of 1977, which sets uniform standards for maintaining and operating the homes. The 1977 act does not set standards for correctional facilities and homes for persons under 18 years old.
The proposed changes would allow four-person group homes in single-family, rowhouse, waterfront, commercial and specially zoned neighborhoods without restriction.
Homes for five to nine people would be allowed in single-family neighborhoods, providing the homes were a square block apart. The same rules would apply to homes for five to 15 people in areas zoned for rowhouses and apartment buildings.
Size and spacing limitations for these homes could be waived with the approval of the Board of Zoning Adjustment.
Any of these homes could be opened in commercial areas without restriction, and the number of staff persons living in each home could vary.
Included in the text of the proposals are sections that relate to licensing of the homes and the required number of parking spaces, traffic patterns, noise and daily routine of the homes.
In part, these sections state that the homes shall be allowed in the various neighborhoods providing that "the proposed facility shall meet all applicable code and licensing requirements," and "the facility will not have an adverse impact on the neighborhood because of traffic, noise, operations or the number of similar facilities in the aera."
The proposed zoning changes were rewritten by Barry administration officials following the zoning commission's rejection of a proposal submitted last November by the Municipal Planning Office. That proposal, city officials said, lacked vital information needed to formulate the zoning changes.
James Gibson, director of the Office of Planning and Development, presented the rewritten proposals to the commission after a report from a task force of city officials and residents that was organized by Gibson to study the issue and make recommendations for rewriting the changes.
The D.C. Zoning Commission accepted the proposed changes for hearing April 12, the day following a fire in a Mount Pleasant group home in which 10 elderly outpatients from St. Elizabeths Hosepital were killed. The house, which had been issued a city permit to care for 51 people, lacked fire escapes, smoke detectors and working fire extinguishers.