D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams discussed GW’s campus plan and proposed plans to hold universities more accountable to the boundaries the set at a Foggy Bottom Association meeting Monday night. About 200 Foggy Bottom residents, GW students and neighborhood officials attended the meeting at the Melrose Hotel, almost a week before the Board of Zoning Adjustment is scheduled to vote on GW’s plan.
The tone of the evening was set as the mayor welcomed the crowd.
How’s Foggy Bottom tonight? Williams asked.
What’s left of it! answered Advisory Neighborhood Commission member Dorothy Miller, who has worked with the ANC and FBA to oppose GW’s campus plan since it was proposed last April.
The mayor and D.C Director of Planning Andrew Altman answered residents’ questions dealing primarily with GW’s impact on the neighborhood.
I’m a believer that you don’t have to sacrifice historic preservation for economic development, Williams said.
In light of controversy surrounding the GW plan and the campus plans of other D.C. universities, Williams said his office plans to revise regulations for submitting campus plans to give the city real traction.
The changes would transfer the campus plan approval to the Zoning Commission instead of the BZA and create a separate institution or university zone to file campuses under instead of residential zones as they now are. The package of changes will be proposed in December or January, Altman said.
Current campus plan regulations are insufficient and do not protect the neighborhood, Williams said.
A recurring theme at the various public meetings the mayor has attended has been the expansion of universities at the cost of the surrounding community, he said.
This is not a (not-in-my-back-yard) concern, it’s a city-wide thing, he said.
Universities get special exceptions from the BZA because the BZA normally does site-specific projects, said Michael Thomas, FBA president. The Zoning Commission is more capable to review a campus plan and to enforce boundaries, he said.
The body that sets land use policy for the District – that should be the same body that deals with something large enough to have a University, Thomas said.
Williams said he recognizes the tremendous economic value GW brings to the city, but he hopes the BZA will consider concerns he shares with Foggy Bottom residents about the University’s effects on the neighborhood. In September, the mayor’s Office of Planning recommended the BZA reject the plan.
I’m very disappointed we’re at the impasse we are at with the plan, Williams said.
Williams said Washington can handle town-gown issues like any other city.
The plan has to outfit all different dimensions about institutional development, he said.
Thomas emphasized the need to enforce boundaries set by the campus plan, which he said GW has not adhered to by purchasing land outside the designated perimeter, including the Hall on Virginia Avenue and Aston Hall.
Most of the acquisitions in the past eight or nine years have been outside the boundaries, Thomas said.
Other Foggy Bottom residents expressed concern over GW’s purchase of property outside the campus plan boundaries, which they said allows the University to expand while bound by fewer regulations and with less need for city approval.
In eight years, the BZA never once saw permits for GW buildings, Miller said.
The mayor and area residents said the regulation changes were necessary to change the University’s practices.
GW (wants) to proceed knowing they have the right to operate the way they operate under the current law, Thomas said. It’s part of a pattern that’s been very successful.
Thomas said GW’s pattern of expansion outside its campus boundaries explains why residents believe the University has not completely acquiesced to neighborhood demands.
Until they lose on that issue, they won’t internalize ideas to change, he said. They have a very valuable set of rights under current law.
Williams said there is a middle ground that would benefit GW and the surrounding neighborhood.
We can have a healthy, thriving West End and Foggy Bottom and a healthy and thriving GW, he said.
Junior Carl Benincasa, SA vice president for community affairs, attended Monday’s meeting as part of the SA’s attempt to bridge the gap between students and the Foggy Bottom community.
The reason there are conflicts is because of a lack of understanding, Benincasa said. Students don’t know their responsibilities (in the community) or their rights.
Benincasa said the SA is working to form a joint committee of student representatives chosen by the SA and Foggy Bottom residents to address common community matters, including student behavior and University expansion.
All District colleges located in a residential area are required to submit a campus plan every 10 to 15 years to outline campus boundaries and plans for land use and expansion.
The BZA is scheduled to vote on GW’s plan Dec. 12. The board postponed the decision from Nov. 15 because the Office of Planning submitted a revised report to the BZA too late for review.
The vote on GW’s campus plan could be postponed again if the BZA approves a petition from one of its commissioners who is unable to make the Dec. 12 vote, Thomas said.