GW fights campus plan restrictions

GW showed how much it likes its personal space in April by filing a lawsuit against the city for imposing restrictions on its enrollment figures and use of property. Now, the University waits to see if a D.C. court will allow it to keep its admitted students after GW broke a government mandate to freeze enrollment.

In its most recent move, GW filed for a preliminary injunction May 29 to immediately lift an enrollment freeze D.C.’s Board of Zoning Adjustment imposed when it passed GW’s campus plan. The mandate would cap GW’s enrollment at 7,380. GW broke that mandate when it enrolled 2,550 freshmen.

In the filing GW clams officials were already in the middle of the admissions process when the mandate was given for the 2001-02 academic year and could not comply with the order. The BZA warned GW about the restriction Feb. 13 when it passed the plan, and issued the formal order March 29. GW began mailing admissions letters March 23.

A U.S. District Court judge will decide whether to allow an injunction June 12.

GW filed suit against D.C. in U.S. District Court April 25, claiming the BZA’s rules violated the University’s constitutional right to academic freedom, property rights and due process of the law.

“We feel that the BZA has interjected itself into the academic workings of the University,” Barber said in April.

GW’s campus plan, which the BZA conditionally approved in March, was met with more than a year of resistance and negotiation before going into effect.

The University presented its plan to the BZA last April to renew the previous plan for 1985-2000. This version of the plan stated GW would require 60 percent of undergraduates, including all freshmen and sophomores, to live on campus.

The Foggy Bottom Association, a group of area residents, cited concerns about the University’s off-campus expansion and the amount of campus housing for its growing student population. Buildings such as the Hall on Virginia Avenue, Riverside and Aston halls are examples of properties that lie outside GW’s legal boundaries.

The Mayor’s Office of Planning recommended Sept. 8 that the BZA reject the plan, aligning with the testimony of several Foggy Bottom residents at a Sept. 13 hearing.

“GW should be barred from purchasing properties outside of the campus and converting them to institutional use as a `matter of right,” said Steven Mandelbaum at the hearing. Mandelbaum is a GW graduate and was then a member of an elected neighborhood organization, the Advisory Neighborhood Commission.

The BZA heard its third and final day of testimony on the plan Sept. 26, when GW presented three new revisions to its housing proposal. Two of the provisions included a goal to house 70 percent of GW’s full-time undergraduate population and a plan to offer more beds than students on campus by 2005. The third provision said the University would limit the number of students who move off campus to 300 students each year until 2005.

“We’re proposing to do more on-campus housing,” University Senior Counsel Charles Barber said at the hearing. “GW, in combination with the Office of Planning and some of the groups here, can make that happen.”

FBA President Michael Thomas said the wording of GW’s plan was unclear.

“There are some important areas where the University attorneys have been very, very careful to word things in a way that really doesn’t constrain the discretion of the University at all,” he said in January.

The plan passed with a BZA vote of 3-1, with restrictions including one that prevents construction of any campus building that designate less than 50 percent of its space to housing.

Barber called many of the restrictions “heavy-handed.”

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