D.C.’s Historic Preservation Review Board denied a historic designation Thursday for a former slaughterhouse building where a federal contractor wants to build a halfway house for 300 men.
CORE DC wants to open what would be the city’s only facility for men returning from prison, in a vacant warehouse in Northeast Washington behind a strip mall. A historic designation could have blocked the halfway house from opening, but the board’s decision Thursday cleared a path for its move to the neighborhood.
It was the latest delay in the company’s two-year battle to open a halfway house in the city.
Advocates say the facility is needed to accommodate D.C. inmates who are sent to Maryland or Virginia reentry facilities ahead of their release, or are held too long in institutions ravaged by the coronavirus.
In September, a neighborhood advisory commissioner filed a National Register of Historic Places application to have the building at 3701 Benning Road — once part of a thriving meatpacking industry — declared historic.
The application said the property was built about 1915 for A. Loeffler Provisions and is “the last remnant of the once vibrant industrial meat packing complex” that later fell victim to the Great Depression, a fire and congressional efforts to beautify Washington.
Ahead of Thursday’s meeting, a Historic Preservation Office staff report opposed the designation, calling the building “a remnant of a remnant.”
At Thursday’s meeting, Tyrell M. Holcomb, the neighborhood commissioner who filed the application seeking the historic designation, said he learned of the building’s significance from his mother when he was a child. The neighborhood commission hired a consultant that was able “to uncover a whole history of our neighborhood that had long been lost,” he said.
“We believe it is important to honor the entire history, pretty or not, of our neighborhood,” he said Thursday. “Too often changes have happened in our community where we had little or no say in the outcome.”
Jack Brown, CORE’s chief executive, argued against historic designation, which would have complicated the company’s plans. He said he had “seen firsthand how socially responsible reentry services, when done right, have been a positive force for change.”
“This is less about the preservation of a slaughterhouse and more about stopping the future of a halfway house,” he said.
After experts on historic places offered dueling assessments of the property, the board voted 7 to 1 to deny the designation. Board members said they were focused on the building’s poor condition, rather than the possibility of a corrections facility in a fast-developing corner of the city.
“The future use of this site is not part of this designation,” board chairwoman Marnique Heath said.
Brown said in a statement that the decision was “an important step forward.” It isn’t clear when construction would begin or when the halfway house might open.
Though originally slated to begin operations Oct. 1, the CORE DC facility does not appear likely to open soon. Run under a $60 million Bureau of Prisons contract, it would be the largest of its kind in the nation, according to data on the agency’s website. The Bureau of Prisons did not return requests for comment.
Before the meeting, Chiquisha Robinson, co-chair of the prisoner advocacy group DC Reentry Action Network, said about 2,000 people return to the city from prison each year.
“It is critical that we have a local halfway house that will offer residents high quality programs and services to assist with securing housing, finding employment, receiving health care treatment and rebuilding their lives and communities,” she said in an email.
“We deserve a say in the matter,” Holcomb said Thursday.