Friday, July 13, 2007

The U.S. Department of Justice is seeking to fine the D.C. government up to $100,000 in connection with a lawsuit challenging city zoning decisions for a youth group home that sought to open on Capitol Hill.

Justice Department attorneys also want an injunction to force the District to provide training on the Fair Housing Act to all current and new employees in the city’s zoning office.

The request, filed recently with a judge in federal court in the District, is the latest development in the Justice Department’s civil rights lawsuit against the District.

According to the complaint, the District, which has denied wrongdoing, broke civil rights laws by discriminating against the nonprofit Father Flanagan’s Girls and Boys Home, also known as Boys Town.

The group sued the District in 2001, saying city officials blocked the group from opening a home for disadvantaged youth at Potomac and Pennsylvania avenues in Southeast.

The lawsuit says the city imposed “unreasonable and unlawful” conditions on building permits amid fierce community opposition to the project.

As one example, the lawsuit says officials told the group it needed to get an archaeological survey when other homes under similar zoning faced no such requirement.

The Justice Department later intervened in the case. A judge granted a mistrial in December after jurors said they were deadlocked on a verdict.

U.S. District Court Judge James Robertson ordered a new trial and recently ruled against a motion by attorneys for the District who sought to dismiss the suit.

The District also argued that Boys Town, which abandoned plans to open the home amid delays and controversy, eventually sold the property for millions in profit.

One of the Justice Department’s key witnesses in the case was former D.C. Deputy Mayor Carolyn N. Graham, who testified in a deposition that she perceived racial undertones to the community’s opposition.

But D.C. attorneys argued that one civic group that criticized the project, Southeast Citizens for Smart Development, is racially diverse and chaired by resident Will Hill, who is black.

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