The District’s Board of Zoning Adjustment voted unanimously Wednesday to approve the University’s plan to build a health and wellness center.
After months of hearing testimony from supporters and critics of the proposal, the zoning board agreed to let GW proceed as long as the center closes by 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and by 8 p.m. Sundays. GW Associate Vice President for Business Affairs Al Ingle said the zoning board could opt to limit the users of the building by restricting the groups of people who have access to the facility.
For example, he said the BZA could stipulate that only students will have access to the wellness center while restricting faculty, staff or alumni from using the facility.
If the board did choose that route, however, Ingle said he is not sure how it would implement the limitations.
Ingle said he expects details on the board’s building use limitations within the next few weeks.
But despite the conditions that the city has placed on the center’s use, members of the GW community said they see the BZA’s decision as an encouraging end to the University’s struggle to build the center at the corner of 23rd and G streets.
“This couldn’t be better news; I’m really excited about it,” said Student Association President Kuyomars “Q” Golparvar.
Golparvar said that while the 10 p.m. closing time is not ideal, it is a worthwhile sacrifice to secure the BZA’s approval.
Ingle said the University will proceed immediately with the design phase of the project, and he said he expects construction to begin by the end of 1998. Once construction begins, Ingle said the building will take 15 to 18 months to complete.
“I’m planning to offer student input at every step along the way,” Golparvar said. “I’m positive that Dr. Ingle will be very open to working with students.”
The battle began when the University’s original plan to build a health and wellness center was rejected by the BZA in 1994 by a vote of 3-2, and the board asked the University to present modifications to the plan.
The push last fall to gain the District’s approval for the building was met with criticism from community members who feared it would create a disturbance in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood.
“This building is going to have intense use and an effect on its surrounding area,” Foggy Bottom Association President Ellie Becker said at an Oct. 1 zoning board hearing. “According to the campus plan, buildings such as this are to be centrally located.”
Members of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission also spoke against the center, citing noise and increased traffic flow among their problems with the facility.
At an Oct. 15 hearing, ANC Commissioner Dorothy Miller, who spoke on behalf of the Columbia Plaza Tenants’ Association, questioned the University’s priorities in campus planning.
“There has been a 40 percent increase in enrollment at GW since 1994. During that time, one new residence hall has been built which houses an additional 400 students,” Miller said. “As a result, Columbia Plaza, as well as other apartment buildings around GW’s campus, have effectively become student dormitories.”
Among those who testified for the University last fall were Ingle, students and architects working on the building’s design.
In early December, the BZA postponed its scheduled vote and planned an additional hearing for Dec. 17. Ingle said members of the ANC and the commission’s attorneys cross-examined the architects, GW’s traffic expert and Director of Architecture, Engineering and Construction Michelle Honey at the hearing.
The facility, which will be built next to St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, will house squash, basketball and racquetball courts, an indoor track, a weight-training facility and multipurpose rooms for aerobics classes.