ANC opposes construction of SMPA building

GW administrators, architects and students who support the construction of a new School of Media and Public Affairs building testified Wednesday before the D.C. Board of Zoning Adjustment.

Local Advisory Neighborhood Commission Chair Dorothy Miller presented the ANC’s opposition to the construction of the six-story building, which will replace the parking lot on the corner of 21st and H streets.

Students and SMPA Director Jean Folkerts urged support for the building, which they said would enrich the experience of students in the program. Folkerts said the current facility, a renovated church located on 20th Street between Pennsylvania and H streets, is inadequate for the program.

“This academic building will allow our faculty and students who are now in separate facilities to engage in a more regular and productive intellectual exchange,” Folkerts said.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to leave an overcrowded and inadequate renovated church space and convert a surface parking lot of no aesthetic value to a challenging educational environment for our students,” she said.

The BZA is scheduled to announce Dec. 2 whether it will approve the construction. Colden Florance, the architect who designed the building, said if the plan is approved, construction of the facility would take 18 to 24 months to complete.

Plans for the building drew mixed reaction from ANC commissioners at an emergency ANC meeting Oct. 14 to determine an official position to present to the BZA.

The ANC voted 3-2 to pass a resolution to recommend a delay in the construction of the SMPA building until GW reconfigures its campus plan. The campus plan outlines the use of University buildings and property within the campus borders. Commissioners said the present plan is “out of date,” though it does not officially expire until 2000.

Miller said at the BZA hearing that the ANC is waiting for a ruling on whether the campus plan expires in December 1999 or December 2000 before it can make further recommendations on potential construction at GW. That decision is scheduled to be announced at the next BZA meeting Nov. 4. (see related story)

The ANC is concerned the large number of renovations and construction plans GW is undertaking will create traffic and parking problems for the surrounding community, Miller said.

Al Ingle, GW’s associate vice president for business affairs, said a contract with the Kennedy Center to use 150 of the facility’s parking spaces from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and valet parking at the Marvin Center garage will make up for parking spaces displaced by the construction. It also will ensure 2,700 to 3,000 parking spaces will be available, as specified in the campus plan.

Miller reminded BZA members that the ANC recommendation should carry great weight in their decision. While Ingle agreed, he said the ANC continually has fought construction plans by the University.

“The ANC is supposed to carry great weight,” Ingle said. “But we have proposed a number of buildings that meet campus plan criteria, including New Hall, the Marvin Center renovations and the health and wellness Center. In each case the ANC wrote a resolution against it.”

“We’ll get GW to come to the table and plan what they are going to do so the community can live with it,” Miller said.

ANC commissioner Sara Maddux, who voted against the resolution, said she approved of GW’s plan, calling it “reasonable” compared to a blueprint presented earlier to the ANC. She said the opposing commissioners made their decision based on what she called an “anti-GW” perspective.

“They continue to push the issue to freeze any development until there is a new campus plan,” Maddux said. “One side is simply and only anti-GW and the other side takes a more balanced look at the variety of issues.”

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