WEB EXCLUSIVE: BZA postpones GW campus plan vote until February, seeks to clarify details

The Board of Zoning Adjustment did not vote on GW’s campus plan after a day of discussion Tuesday. Board members asked for more clarification from GW on its proposals for on-campus housing and suggested that the plan may pass with the condition that GW create a stricter enrollment cap. The BZA will meet again Feb. 6 to discuss the plan and possibly vote on it.

We are well aware that this particular case is a very complicated case, BZA Chair Sheila Cross Reid said. Obviously it’s not something that is very easy to decide on, given all the issues that must be reviewed to reach a reasonable decision.

The board reviewed issues such as enrollment, parking, on-campus housing and housing locations. At the end of the meeting, BZA members asked GW to clarify the language of the campus plan in several areas. The board also asked the mayor’s Office of Planning to provide a clearer report of how much property GW owns in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood and a timeline of the University’s off-campus acquisitions.

The campus plan as it had been provided to us has changed a lot and the issues of contention are bound up in the language of the campus plan, BZA member Carol Mitten said.

The BZA systematically reviewed all the areas addressed in GW’s plan – a statement of campus boundaries and proposed uses for property within those boundaries for the next ten years. Board members said GW had made efforts to curb noise from students residing in off-campus housing.

Any time we have students, we are going to have the occasional problem with noise, Reid said. She cited University propositions to have a hotline to report disruptive student behavior in off-campus residences and a good-neighbors program to educate students on conduct in the community.

There have been some steps taken in that regard, Reid said. An area the board said the plan did not address fully was enrollment.

GW’s current campus plan provides a cap on total enrollment at 20,000 students, but no limit on the undergraduate population.

Mitten suggested that GW should lower the total cap or implement an undergraduate cap.

The BZA could pass the plan as it is written, reject it or pass it with conditions – the option University officials say is most likely to happen. Reid suggested Tuesday that the BZA could pass the plan with the condition that GW create stricter enrollment cap, possibly even a cap on undergraduate student enrollment.

I think that would be one of the conditions if we decide to move forward, Reid said. Reid said the BZA may ask GW to house a specific percentage of students on campus.

Mitten said the University’s proposals to increase on-campus housing could be detrimental to the neighborhood if clear rules are not set.

Going forward, we need to decide what kind of requirements for on-campus housing will eliminate the possibility that this campus is going to have an adverse impact on the surrounding community, she said.

Included in the plan is a proposal to build 1,350 more on-campus beds, require freshmen and sophomores to live on campus by 2003 and house at least 70 percent of GW’s full-time undergraduate population on campus by 2005.

Mitten said many of those proposed beds are contingent on zoning permits to build new residence halls or convert University buildings into residence halls. She said 500 beds are scheduled to be built where the GW Hospital stands (a new hospital across the street from the old one is scheduled to open in 2002) and 650 beds at the School Without Walls property.

I look at it as it’s 1,350, of which 1,150 are contingent, Mitten said.

The last issue the board discussed was the University’s proposed housing opportunity area, or where GW proposes to house its students in residence halls off campus along F Street. The plan states the housing opportunity area is comprised of all areas on campus and existing off campus residence facilities owned or controlled by GW.

There’s a whole lot of uncertainty as to what that means, Mitten said. She said that by designating buildings and properties in the housing opportunity area, the plan would encourage GW invasion into those areas. I think there’s a lot of ways that compel us to concentrate students on the campus, not just out of Foggy Bottom, because that does not address some of the other problems (such as parking and traffic).

University Senior Counsel Charles Barber said GW will respond to the BZA’s request for more details about its plans for student housing.

It won’t be difficult to respond to those technicalities, he said. I think the board is being deliberate so we will continue to try to work with them.

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