Everyone has a price. GW discovered that some neighbors could be bought for a $500,000 donation to a local charity. Toss in concessions regarding GW’s planned use of the future Elliot School of International Affairs, and a deal was struck that will most likely allow construction on the facility to continue over the objections of neighborhood groups.
While this deal appears tawdry and cheap, it nonetheless represents an improvement in GW’s relations with its neighbors. At least this time, both groups did the right thing by coming together to settle their differences through negotiation rather than lawsuits.
The issues surrounding GW’s desire to expand its facilities are complex. Several levels of D.C. government agencies, commissions and boards are involved with no one quite sure who has responsibility for regulating the University and its construction plans. A “campus plan” review system is in place, but it lacks enforcement mechanisms allowing GW to ignore its provisions. The uncertainty and ambiguity coupled with the University’s need to expand contributes to a feeling among a vocal group of neighbors that GW will displace their community. In this paradigm, lawsuits have been an inevitable result of even the most minor disagreements. Such is the climate in which the University operates and Foggy Bottom residents live.
All of this negative history is why the present negotiations – unseemly as they may appear – are so important. Restricting housing in the new building to upperclassmen and graduate students, including retail space that local residents can use and making a charitable donation are small concessions when one considers the costs of a protracted legal battle. In the future GW should look for ways to incorporate similar provisions into development projects to ameliorate the concerns of its neighbors before reaching an impasse as happened here.
But the neighborhood must face reality too. Compromises that benefit the neighborhood are preferable to losing. Stubbornly opposing any University expansion will only serve to weaken the credibility of GW’s neighbors, as has occurred with the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, who refused to participate in the recent negotiations.
Hopefully this latest deal signals a new era of cooperation between GW and the neighborhood that will avoid the costly and tiresome legal wrangling of the past.