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Possible halfway house site emerges

September 30, 2009|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN -- A downtown property owner said he might lease part of his building for a federal halfway house.

Alan Greenwald said Wednesday he's considering leasing 2,800 square feet at 24-26-26 1/2 E. Franklin St.

Bannum Inc., a Florida-based company, has expressed interest in Greenwald's property as part of a contract proposal to the federal Bureau of Prisons, he said.

The bureau wants 12 to 24 beds for inmates, mostly men, nearing the end of their sentences. The facility must be within 40 miles of Martinsburg, W.Va.

Greenwald had no agreement with Bannum as of Wednesday. Proposals are due to the bureau by Thursday.

Bureau spokeswoman Traci Billingsley said she thinks a company needs a specific site in its application, but she couldn't verify that.

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Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith, who opposes adding a halfway house in the city, has said Bannum also has considered 29-33 E. Washington St.

Mike Deming, whose development company owns that building, said last week the proposal wasn't a good fit and he no longer wants to lease to Bannum.

A message left at Bannum's headquarters Wednesday was not returned.

Although Hagerstown's zoning allows residential care facilities downtown, city officials are fighting the halfway house.

Greenwald said it would help inmates starting over, and he called for a public meeting on the idea. But city officials, worried about downtown's revival, have written opposition letters to the bureau and Bannum.

In other states, Bannum's halfway house proposals have sparked controversy and court cases, according to news accounts.

The Washington Post reported in 2005 that a Bannum halfway house resident in D.C. was fatally shot inside his facility.

Smith has cited the strain of three nearby state prisons and the downtown's rebirth as reasons to turn away the halfway house.

"How did Hagerstown become the dumping ground for all of this?" Councilwoman Ashley C. Haywood asked at Tuesday's meeting, as elected officials discussed their opposition to the plan.

"I feel like we're in 'Lost' and they're The Others, encroaching in our space," she added, referring to hostilities on a popular TV series.

Haywood urged the city to make halfway houses illegal downtown.

The city's planning commission on Wednesday put off a discussion about differentiating residential care facilities and appropriate areas for them.

A text amendment would take "at least six months," Planning Director Kathleen Maher said Wednesday before the meeting.

Greenwald said the city should welcome back local inmates trying to get their footing.

"I'm 100 percent into rehabilitation," he said.

It would be easier for federal inmates from Hagerstown to find a job and re-enter society at a halfway house in their home community, he said.

But Smith has said Hagerstown has few federal prisoners and inmates are more likely to be from Martinsburg, more than 20 miles away.

Billingsley said Hagerstown and the rest of the 40-mile radius is considered close to Martinsburg, the inmates' release point.

It wouldn't be hard for a West Virginia inmate to live and be supervised in Maryland, she said.

Addressing other questions, Billingsley said inmates' names and criminal records wouldn't be shared with the local government, but the bureau would give some background information to local police.

Some inmates convicted of violent crimes might be kept from a halfway house, but others might be allowed, Billingsley said.

Last year, Greenwald wanted to turn his East Franklin Street building, the former Meda's Tavern, into a restaurant with live music, a deli, small retail spaces and condominium units.

On Wednesday, he accused the city and the county's liquor board of hindering his effort.

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