BZA revisits project design

A D.C. board this month asked GW to make design changes for the new Elliott School of International Affairs after neighborhood residents objected to plans passed last December.

The Zoning Commission should not have approved plans for the 11-story academic and residential facility because GW altered a design drafted by the original property owner, the Board of Zoning Adjustment ruled June 5.

While original plans called for housing open to the public, GW’s plans include student-only housing. The BZA ruled that GW could limit the units to student housing, but asked GW to return to an agreement for two garage doors instead of one and balconies on rooms, among other changes.

If GW does not comply with the BZA requests, the board could halt construction. University Senior Counsel Charles Barber said GW still has a building permit and plans to proceed while it negotiates design changes.

The original owner of the 1957 E St. lot received an exception to build on all of the site by agreeing to provide more long-term housing for the District.

Associated General Contractors planned to build an office and residential complex on the property but sold it to GW before construction began. Because of the property’s zoning classification, the entire space cannot be developed without special approval.

D.C. grants a “planned unit development” agreement, a zoning exception that allows construction on all of a property, to owners who offer a special benefit to the city, such as more residential housing. Without PUD status, GW can only build on 80 percent of the lot.

The Foggy Bottom/West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission, a board of elected neighborhood representatives, filed an appeal in January of former Zoning Commissioner Michael Johnson’s decision to allow GW to build the Elliott School under the original owner’s agreement. Residents said GW stretched the terms of an agreement only meant for AGC.

“The whole point was to keep AGC in the District, have community condominiums or retail,” Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Elizabeth Elliott said. “They all went when GW took it over and decided to make it into the Elliott School.”

The BZA ruled that GW can use the previous owner’s PUD agreement, but must conform more closely to the agreed design. GW plans call for concrete instead of limestone on the building’s exterior, one garage door instead of two and exclude balconies because of liability.

“The citizens’ appeal questioned the right of GW to house students, the BZA did not agree,” Barber said. “The only valid concern the citizens groups raised were the design changes.”
Foggy Bottom residents consider the BZA’s decision a victory, Elliott said.

“The order is 10 years old and being used for different purposes, it should have been rendered null and void two years ago,” Elliott said. “(GW is) trying to gerrymander the PUD to make it fit.”

Barber said the residents are claiming a limited victory because the BZA turned down many of the neighborhood’s requests, including opening the units to all D.C. residents.

A D.C. regulatory commission issued a stop-work order on Elliott School construction last October, shutting the site down for six days. Workers were reportedly working outside the scope of GW’s demolition permit to tear town a parking lot on the site.

Barber said the city should allow GW to continue construction because D.C. officials already agreed to the plans.

We’ve had the permit since December,” Barber said. “That’s part of
the unfairness. We followed the law.”

The University could submit design changes to the BZA, ask the board to reconsider the decision or petition the Zoning Commission to approve plans resident groups argued do not fit under zoning regulations for the site at 1957 E St.

-Kate Stepan contributed to this report

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.