Wellness center vote postponed

The city’s zoning board postponed its final decision on the University’s proposed health and wellness center for at least another month and scheduled an additional hearing on the issue for mid-December.

The D.C. Board of Zoning Adjustment was scheduled to vote Wednesday on GW’s request to build the center at the corner of 23rd and G streets.

But after opponents of the center objected to additional testimony submitted by the University, the board scheduled another hearing to give the opponents a chance to respond to the University’s latest submission.

The hearing will be held Dec. 17, and the board will vote on the proposal early next year.

After a BZA hearing Oct. 15, GW was asked to submit information to clarify some of the board’s questions.

Opponents said the submission was more than the requested findings of fact, claiming it included revised expert testimony on the capacity and uses of the center and on the additional automobile traffic the center would create.

BZA Chair Susan Hinton agreed that the new testimony submitted by the University was substantially different from the testimony provided by a traffic expert during the public hearing, but said she was reluctant to strike the new testimony from the record.

However, GW Vice President for Business Affairs Al Ingle said the testimony submitted by the University is not new, but is simply a clarification of information already submitted to the board.

“The opposition asked questions in their testimony and we answered them. We didn’t change what we said, we just stated it in a different way to answer their questions,” Ingle said.

Ingle said the one-month delay will not significantly impact the University’s timetable for the center’s completion if the proposal is approved.

The University will incur additional legal fees as a result of the additional hearing, but Ingle is optimistic about the future of the center.

“I am even more optimistic now, because I don’t think the BZA would ask for the things they are asking for if they didn’t want to go ahead with this,” Ingle said. “They would have just denied it. This shows me that they want everything clear and on the record when they make their decision.”

Two zoning board members said the discrepancies between the original testimony and the new testimony by the University will weigh into their decision about the credibility of the experts provided by the University.

Several board members said they were concerned about information presented about spectator sports in the wellness center.

The University said in its proposal that no spectator sports will take place in the center. However, a board member said she recalled hearing evidence that intramural sports like basketball will be played in the new center. She said it was inevitable that friends of the players would come to watch the games.

“(The original plan) says no spectators. No spectators means no spectators. If they’re not participants, then they’re spectators. Either they’re playing or they’re not there,” BZA member Betty King said.

BZA member Laura Richards disagreed and said she thought that although the proposal does not include designated spaces for spectators, it allows for people to watch games from the sidelines.

Ingle said the University’s position is that although no formal space is included in the center for spectators, it is possible that a limited number of people can watch the action in one part of the center from another part.

“The opposition is trying to make a case that there will be as many spectators as players,” Ingle said. “We accept that when intramurals are going on there may be a couple of people in a warm-up area watching, or people waiting to get into the game.”

The proposed health and wellness center will house basketball courts, weight rooms, racquetball courts, squash courts and aerobics rooms.

University officials and student leaders repeatedly have stressed the need for the center, citing the inadequacy of the current Smith Center facilities in serving student needs. Ingle said the center, if approved, would take 18 to 20 months to build.

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