One of the District of Columbia’s leading administrative law attorneys has filed a lawsuit trying to stop a halfway house being built in the city without the proper consultation of community and political leaders.
Attorney Donald Temple filed a complaint in the District of Columbia Superior Court on Dec. 18 against the District government for approving a halfway house in Ward 5 without going through the normal channels of community consultation and for the D.C. Zoning Commission for giving the project a green light using ambiguous standards.
On Nov. 1, the Federal Bureau of Prisons awarded a five-year, $60 million contract to Core DC, LLC for a 300-bed residential re-entry management center (RRMC) commonly known as a halfway house. The proposed halfway house sits on 3400 New York Avenue NE.
However, Temple alleges that prior to the contract award, neither the BOP or Core communicated with D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5) or the Ward 5 residents that are in the immediate neighborhood.
Temple said the BOP’s solicitation requires the contractor to notify local government officials of its plans to open and operate the halfway house and that D.C. zoning regulations are so vague that they don’t protect residents who don’t want a halfway house in their neighborhood.
“Our lawsuit challenges the location of a halfway house in Ward 5 but specifically challenges the vagueness of amended Zoning Commission regulations,” Temple said in a statement to The Informer. “The new rules no longer define the term halfway house clearly enough for citizens to protect their rights, which I believe is unconstitutional.”
Temple received his bachelor’s degree from Howard University in 1975 and a juris doctorate from the Santa Clara University School of Law in 1978 and a master of laws from the Georgetown University Law Center in 1981. He has received recognition for his work in successfully suing the D.C. Office of the Chief Financial Officer and the University of the District of Columbia for unfairly firing a Black female law professor and denying her tenure, both in 2016, and in 1997, suing retailer Ed Bauer for racism against Black customers.
In his statement, Temple said that Bannum, an offender rehabilitation agency based in Port Richey, Fla., for federal inmates, tried a few years ago to build a facility in Ward 5 but the residents protested vehemently and the project ended.
In the District, public and private sector projects generally are vetted for community approval before a groundbreaking begins. It usually starts with the advisory neighborhood commissioner and then it will go before the advisory neighborhood commission for approval.
If that project meets the commission’s approval it can proceed before the D.C. Council and/or the affected District agency with a “great weight” recommendation, meaning that the commission’s decision must be considered strongly. District statutory law strongly encourages commission support for projects and actions.
Regarding federal projects, it is the practice that the U.S. House of Representatives member receives notification of the project and their support secured.
It would appear that Core didn’t go through this process and that has upset Temple.
McDuffie has voiced serious reservations about the halfway house and made that clear in a Nov. 28, 2018, letter to Hugh Hurwitz, the acting director of BOP.
“Core is required to ensure that ‘at least two levels of local government officials have been notified of their intent to open and operate a residential re-entry center,'” McDuffie said. “As the Council member for Ward 5, I have received no such notification. Furthermore, I have spoken with Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Jacqueline Manning, whose single-member district, 5C04, includes the [3400 New York Avenue NE] location and she too received no notification of Core intent to operate a [halfway house].”
As a result, McDuffie said, he requested that the BOP rescind Core’s contract noting that Core previously refused to engage the community of its intentions on an earlier project. McDuffie sent a copy of the letter to Norton, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) and Manning.
McDuffie also wrote a letter to Hurwitz on Nov. 14 noting his concerns about Core’s lack of interaction in the past regarding community consultation.
While Temple appreciates McDuffie’s actions, he said “that is the political side and we are focusing on the legal side.”