GW plan passes with restrictions

The Board of Zoning Adjustment passed GW’s campus plan Tuesday, imposing a freeze on undergraduate enrollment until GW builds more on-campus housing.

The BZA ruled 3-1 to pass GW’s plan with several conditions. The campus plan outlines the University’s borders and use of campus property. About every 10 years, colleges in the District must submit a campus plan for approval by the BZA.

Conditions include maintaining a full-time undergraduate population of about 7,380 – almost 200 students more than GW’s current enrollment – until 70 percent of this population is housed on campus, said University Senior Counsel Charles Barber.

A list of GW’s academic priorities distributed at a board of trustees meeting last week listed a planned undergraduate enrollment of 7,880 students, an increase of 680 students from this year.

Under BZA restrictions GW cannot apply for future construction permits unless plans provide at least 50 percent of building space for on-campus housing, Barber said. Once the University reaches the 70 percent goal, it may resume new construction, Barber said.

He said this restriction makes it difficult to provide the required housing.

“When we looked at it, we were somewhere between 60 to 65 percent,” he said. “What makes it difficult to say is that the board also included some housing facilities . and excluded others.”

The BZA did not count the Hall on Virginia Avenue or Aston Hall as on-campus housing, Barber said, which makes the percentage of on-campus residents smaller.

“We would have to recalculate that,” said Barber, referring to the total number of undergraduates who live in all other residence halls. The Aston and HOVA house about 520 students.

University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg said he was not discouraged over the plan’s conditional approval, which took about a year of revision and deliberation for the BZA reach.

“There will always be some issue, it is the nature of where we are located,” he said. “Nothing is easy.”

Barber and Trachtenberg said they would not discount the possibility that they will appeal the decision to restrict enrollment.

“Some of the conditions (the BZA) did were reasonable,” Barber said. “Among those, however, the board went a bit further.”

Once GW houses 70 percent of students on campus, the University can expand enrollment by one student for every bed added to campus housing under the plan, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.

Foggy Bottom residents who have opposed the approval of GW’s plan since last spring said they considered the decision a victory for the neighborhood.

“I was pleasantly surprised,” Foggy Bottom Association President Michael Thomas said.

Thomas said GW must wait until the BZA issues an official written order before pursuing legal alternatives regarding the freeze in enrollment. Thomas said the order could be handed down as soon as a few weeks, but could take months. The BZA passed Georgetown University’s campus plan in early December but has not formally issued an official order.

“Every day is a victory. Now we go to the next stage,” Trachtenberg said. “It’s a never-ending drama.”

Some residents said the plan is only as good as its enforcement.

“I think they’re rational, I think they’re reasonable,” Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Dorothy Miller said. “But if you can’t enforce the provisions in there, nobody wins.”

BZA Secretary Beverly Bailey said the board imposed about 30 conditions on the plan approval, which will expire in 2009, two years shorter than expected.

-Katie Warchut and Jason Steinhardt contributed to this report.

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