Use of land by D.C. court questioned Boot camp for youths may be violating zoning, county says

Property is residential

Officials to check if federal program on U.S. site is exempt

October 11, 1995|By SHIRLEY LEUNG | SHIRLEY LEUNG,SUN STAFF

The District of Columbia may be violating Anne Arundel County zoning laws by opening a program for nonviolent juveniles and young adults on land designated for residential use, county officials said yesterday.

The announcement came as 25 juveniles arrived from the district for the first day of the D. C. Superior Court's Urban Services Program at Forest Haven. The district plans to run a monthlong, quasi-military boot camp eight times a year at the site.

County Executive John G. Gary has asked the county attorney's office to determine if the program must follow county zoning laws or if it is exempt because the D.C. Superior Court is a federal court, said county attorney Phillip F. Scheibe.

The site, a one-time mental institution off Route 198 in Laurel, is federal property bordered by Route 32, Route 198 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. For decades, the District of Columbia has leased the area for its juvenile detention centers and a maximum-security jail.

Ulysses B. Hammond, chief executive officer of the Courts of the District of Columbia, said district officials discussed the zoning issue and did not see any problem because the Superior Court is a federally created court and the Urban Services Program is on federal land.

But if the Urban Services Program is not exempt, the county must craft emergency legislation. County officials considered filing a temporary injunction against the program but held off because they did not have enough details about the arrangement, said Mr. Scheibe.

One reason that the jurisdictional question remains unresolved is that county officials weren't told of the program's starting date or invited to the open house Thursday at Forest Haven, county spokeswoman Lisa Ritter said.

"John Gary supports the program and the concept," she said. "The administration's only concern is proper land use."

District officials, however, say they informed federal, state and local communities of the starting date and the open house.

"We have been bending over backwards to make sure everyone was fully apprised," said Mr. Hammond. "We made a very pointed effort to meet with the community. We made sure we had the support of the entire community."

Those efforts reportedly have paid off, with civic leaders in western Anne Arundel County publicly welcoming and praising the program. In the past, residents had condemned the district's youth jails and forced one to close in 1993.

Still, Ms. Ritter noted that the county expects district officials to make final a written agreement drafted over the summer. That document outlines several issues, from local law enforcement agencies' role in capturing fugitives to zoning.

Though no written agreement with the county has been signed, Mr. Hammond said, "we have a working understanding of what we need to do." He said the district will give the county quarterly reports and establish guidelines for handling escapes.

The Forest Haven boot camp is the starting point of a yearlong $1.4 million Urban Services pilot program to help about 150 youthful offenders. The young men and women, ages 14 to 26, will live in Jones Hall, a renovated two-story brick building at River Road and Center Avenue.

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