Residents testify against plan at hearing

The Foggy Bottom Advisory Neighborhood Commission voiced concern about GW’s campus plan at a Board of Zoning Adjustment hearing Wednesday afternoon. The hearing was a continuation of testimony begun at an April 26 hearing, at which the BZA heard GW’s presentation of its campus plan.

University and ANC officials presented their views on the legality of GW’s plan, which outlines the University’s plans for expansion and enrollment for the next 10 years.

The Mayor’s Office of Planning recommended Sept. 8 that the BZA reject GW’s campus plan.

ANC members said the plan is inadequate. Steven Mandelbaum, an ANC commissioner, presented the ANC’s positions to the board in a Powerpoint presentation.

While GW claims that they spend a lot of time and money on the campus plan, it and the boundaries are not taken seriously, he said. GW and its students have essentially taken over the Foggy Bottom and West End communities.

Mandelbaum, a GW graduate, said the ANC wants to protect the neighborhood from the University and students.

One of the ANC’s main concerns is to preserve the West End and historic Foggy Bottom communities, he said.

GW should be barred from purchasing properties outside of the campus and converting them to institutional use as a `matter of right,’ Mandelbaum said during his presentation.

The University should decrease the number of students forced to live in the surrounding neighborhood by limiting enrollment until it can provide housing for all students within current campus boundaries, Mandelbaum said.

GW should have a meaningful cap on enrollment, not one that they know is never attainable anyway, he said.

Julie Wagner, special assistant to the director of the D.C. Office of Planning, said the Office aims to prevent the encroachment of the University into the Foggy Bottom neighborhood. If the University continues buying property in the area, Wagner said Foggy Bottom will lose its sense of community and become an extension of the University.

Maureen Dwyer, a member of the University’s legal team, said at the hearing that the University has made every effort to comply with the wishes of the ANC. Despite the Office of Planning’s request to deny the plan, the GW has a very strong case, she said.

Dwyer said students can live wherever they choose off campus. She said the University needs to increase the number of undergraduate students enrolled for economic reasons, citing a decrease in demand for graduate school.

Dwyer said overall undergraduate enrollment has not increased drastically. She said GW’s undergraduate population has gone from 6,391 students in 1985 to 7,185, the current population.

Foggy Bottom residents are exaggerating their situation, Dwyer said, citing the fact that many of them have chosen to continue living in the neighborhood and surrounding area instead of moving.

Richard Sheehey, an ANC commissioner and GW graduate, said he feels the University needs to be considerate of the Foggy Bottom community. Even though GW claims to have set borders, it still has buildings that are used for student purposes outside of the campus borders, Sheehey said. He cited Riverside Towers at 2201 Virginia Ave., the new Elliott School of International Affairs building at 1957 E St. and Aston Hall at 1129 New Hampshire Ave. as examples of GW breaking its boundaries.

He said students who choose to live off campus and other people looking for housing in Foggy Bottom would be forced to move farther away if too many buildings are converted into residence halls.

Sheehey said increasing the number of students would be detrimental to the University campus plan’s first goal of moving GW solidly into the ranks of the first-tier educational institution.

Even though the University claims it is perfectly legal to buy residential property, Sheehey said he believes it is on the borderline of illegality.

What is legal and what is right are two different things, said Sheehey, who also said he remains a proud GW alumnus, but still feels that the University is sometimes too money-oriented.

The rest of the University legal team, GW Senior Counsel Charles Barber and other ANC commissioners, including Dorothy Miller and Commission Chair Barbara Spillinger, also presented arguments at the hearing.

Although the BZA did not vote on the campus plan, Sheila Cross Reid, the chair of the BZA committee, said she does not think the ANC and GW are far from agreement.

Reid said both sides will have to put forth a positive effort and compromise in order to achieve an agreement. The next hearing date is set for Sept. 26.

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