Halfway houses and other homes for people who cannot legally or responsibly live alone will be allowed in all single-family residential zones if the D.C. Zoning Commission approves a proposal by the city's planning office in its agenda today.
After two years and 27 public meetings on the explosive issue of where such community-based facilities should be located, the zoning commission last week debated 89 pages of recommendations made by city planners and postponed action on them until today. The facilities were mandated by court decisions ordering that mentally retarded and disturbed persons be "de-institutionalized" or removed from large institutions and placed in the community.
The new regulations are intended to place them "in the least restrictive setting possible while making sure no one area of the city is overly impacted," James O. Gibson, assistant city administrator, said.
Halfway houses and other residential facilities currently are allowed in multi-family rowhouses and apartment areas. According to the planning office, most of these facilities are concentrated in Ward 4, east of Rock Creek Park, and War 1, in Adams-Morgan, Kalorama, Columbia Heights and Mount Pleasant.
Although the planning office attempted to lump all such facilities under the term "community-based residential facilities," and tried to use the size of the facility as the main criterion in deciding where it should be located, the zoning commissioners indicated they might reject that approach.
"From a social work point of view, maybe you're not supposed to make distinctions (about the types of residential facilities), but from a political point of view, it's hard not to make them," commissioner Walter R. Lewis said.
Lewis tentatively proposed dividing the facilities into three categories -- according to the adverse impact they are likely to have on the community. The commissioners generaly agreed that facilities housing up to four non-delinquent children, mentally retarded persons, persons in need of nursing care or physically incapacitated persons in need of assistance should be allowed in all zones.
There was less agreement, however, as to how emergency shelters -- which run the gamut from havens for battered spouses and burned-out families to homes for street people -- and correctional facilities for adults and juveniles should be regulated.
The planning office recommended that all facilities housing five to eight persons be allowed in all zones, providing there is no more than one such facility in any square block. Facilities housing nine or more persons would have to get permission from the Board of Zoning Adjustment, which would hold a public hearing on each case.
The zoning commissioners, however, indicated they might require a BZA hearing before allowing any correctional facilities or homes for drug abusers in any zone. They also expressed concern about the proposed method of spacing the facilities by allowing only one in each square block.
Commissioner John Parsons expressed fears that this might result in the placement of halfway houses on each of the four corners of an intersection.