District office rejects GW campus plan

The mayor’s Office of Planning recommended in a report Friday that the Board of Zoning Adjustment deny GW’s campus plan because the plan does not conform to District code.

Although the BZA makes the final decision regarding the campus plan, a negative endorsement from the planning office could sideline the proposal. The BZA, which is required to give great weight to the recommendation of the Office of Planning, could vote on GW’s plan as soon as Wednesday.

The campus plan is a contract the University must create with the city every 10 years under District law. It outlines GW’s expansion plans for the next 10 years, including all construction projects and their neighborhood impact, and lists the expected number of enrolled students.

The 40-page report from the Office of Planning included two recommendations to resolve the office’s major objections – on-campus housing and undergraduate enrollment policies that would violate D.C. code if enacted.

The first recommendation is to conduct a census for the purpose of establishing a baseline of all GW students in the Foggy Bottom area. Then, the University would cap enrollment of undergraduate students at that baseline number.

Because of housing considerations the total student population at GW has a self-imposed cap of 20,000 students for graduate and undergraduate programs, said Charles Barber, the University’s senior counsel. The current University student population is 16,657, according to the proposed campus plan.

The Office of Planning’s second recommendation restricts the University’s development of off-campus housing in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood.

University officials said they hope to expand the number of on-campus beds from 4,450 to 6,608 by 2005.

Officials from Foggy Bottom’s Advisory Neighborhood Commission said they are pleased with the recommendations.

We are very pleased with the Office of Planning’s report and the fact that it has supported the concept of viability of the community as being the city’s primary goal, said Barbara Spillinger, chair of the Foggy Bottom ANC. We’re not anti-student. We’re not anti-University. It’s just we are opposed to their continued encroachment into the residential neighborhood. We feel the Office of Planning’s report would stop the encroachment and help preserve the residential nature around the University.

GW’s plan has caused controversy within the Foggy Bottom neighborhood because residents have said the University’s plan to continue expanding would destroy one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods.

The plan includes a proposal to house at least 70 percent of the University’s undergraduate population on campus, identifies specific sites for housing and has an extremely aggressive building plan, Barber said.

GW officials said they are surprised the Office of Planning did not support the GW plan.

We made every accommodation the Office of Planning asked of us, except that we move out of the District into the Commonwealth of Virginia, GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg said sarcastically.

I saw the Mayor on Friday . at a public event, Trachtenberg said.

When he got up to the microphone he complimented GW for its extensive contributions to the city and then said about me that I was one of the presidents who not only talked about cooperation with the city but also demonstrated the earnestness of that persistently and visibly. I thought he was saying that he was pleased with the progress that we were having in our conversations with the Office of Planning.

Barber said an official at the Office of Planning gave him verbal confirmation the city would support the plan.

We think it’s a balanced approach, Barber said of the concessions the University had reached with the Office of Planning and the ANC. The University made its latest concessions to the Office of Planning Sept. 7, the day before the Office of Planning released its recommendations, Barber said. The concessions include a promise to house 70 percent of all undergraduate students on campus and refrain from purchasing any residential property for the next five years.

It’s too bad because we thought we had met every reasonable objection and addressed every plausible concern that the authorities raised, and then some, Trachtenberg said.

Barber said he hopes the BZA will vote on the plan during Wednesday’s meeting.

The campus plan could take a minimum of six additional months to finalize if the BZA approves the plan after Wednesday’s meeting, Barber said.

Trachtenberg said the University will continue to push its plan despite Friday’s setback.

It’ll all work out in the end, Trachtenberg said. Whenever this sort of thing happens, everyone is a loser, because there were a whole variety of concessions that the University agreed to. And those are all off the table. Either you agree or you don’t.

I’m never surprised by anything that happens in Washington. I was disappointed, but I’m confident that in his own way the mayor is disappointed also.

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