GW, neighbors make a deal

In an effort to quell neighborhood resistance to a new Elliott School site, GW reached a compromise last week with West End neighbors that will cost $500,000 and exclude freshmen and sophomores from living in the building.

The University agreed to donate money to homeless projects at a local cafeteria and add retail space to the new Elliott School of International Affairs complex while restricting housing there in exchange for an end to neighborhood objections to the construction plans.

But the deal only appeases half the residents who have protested building plans for months, as the local neighborhood commission declined to participate.

The West End Citizen’s Association signed the nine-page deal that will deliver $500,000 to Sholl’s Cafeteria at 1990 K St. The Advisory Neighborhood Commission, which has protested the University’s use of a building permit ruled void this summer, did not participate.

Neighbors object to a permit D.C. transferred to GW from the property’s previous owners. It allows the University to build a larger complex than it would normally but requires the user to provide amenities left out of GW’s plans.

“The University was out of line on this,” ANC Commissioner Elizabeth Elliott said. “They tried to put it through behind the scenes.”

GW agreed to restrict housing in the 1957 E St. building to juniors, seniors and graduate students when it is completed next fall. The building will contain classrooms, living space and offices.

GW lawyers said the ANC is trying to tie its building permit to the Campus Plan, a set of rules that determines campus boundaries and limits building in the area. GW is challenging the plan in D.C. court, alleging it restricts the University’s academic freedom.

“I objected to the linking of the two cases,” said University Senior Counsel Charles Barber.

The protest of the special building permit began when the Board of Zoning Adjustment voided the permit June 5. GW was using a permit belonging to Associated General Contractors, the property’s former owner, but not providing the community amenities promised in it.

The original permit called for neighborhood housing and retail space for the community, Elliott said. The new agreement between the West End and GW includes stores open to the public in the Elliott School and next door in Mitchell Hall.

The BZA urged negotiations between GW and the neighborhood at a July 31 meeting and sent the case to the Zoning Commission, which issues building permits, Barber said. The Zoning Commission plans to host a public meeting in October to present modifications to the permit, he said.

Barber said GW only agreed to the amenities so the University could move ahead.

“We thought then, and we think now, that we are not legally obligated to make concessions,” he said.

Barber, who said the BZA erred in its June ruling, said he considers the original permit a legal document.

“We decided to go ahead because it was a way to move forward and remove the cloud of uncertainty,” he said.

Barber said many concessions to West End neighbors are operational, meaning they will continue for the life of the building and “are not light commitments on our part.”

“Not only were these not what we planned to do, but come at a cost to the University,” Barber said. “The University went above and beyond what it was required to do.”

Former ANC Commissioner Sarah Maddux said she agrees with the compromise between GW and West End neighbors. She said neighborhood residents may push for a hardware store in the Elliott School building.

“To have a vital neighborhood you have to have a mix of uses, otherwise it gets very dull,” she said.

Barber said discussions about the retail space are still very general, but he predicts it will be a food venue.

President of the West End Citizens Association Jack Batham said he unsure what role the ANC will play in future negotiations.

“They were invited to the table and chose not to,” he said. “We have to wait and see what happens.”

Batham said he hopes the ANC will come forward with any further amenities they would like GW to include.

Elliott said she does not approve of the agreements with GW.

“(Sholl’s) really isn’t going to benefit the community much,” she said.

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