GW wants to expand its campus boundaries to include off-campus residence halls, re-igniting a longstanding debate with the surrounding community.
The University discussed the inclusion of off-campus residence halls at hearings with the Board of Zoning Adjustment Sept. 17 and 21. Boundaries currently do not include Aston Hall, City Hall, Hall on Virginia Avenue and the under-construction Elliott School of International Affairs. This means students living in these halls are considered off campus under zoning rules.
A BZA order on the Campus Plan freezes enrollment and prevents construction of non-residential buildings until 70 percent of students live on campus. But a judge suspended the condition for one year in June, allowing GW to continue with plans.
Vice President of Student and Academic Support Services Robert Chernak said GW wants the BZA to “recognize the reality” that students in University housing should count toward the BZA’s requirement.
GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg said students should be allowed to live in buildings zoned for residential use. They should get equal housing rights to residents, he said.
“You shouldn’t get fewer citizen rights because you matriculate,” Trachtenberg said.
Off-campus residence halls are the “most civilized of neighbors,” Trachtenberg said. There are no more problems with police there than other halls, he said.
Former Advisory Neighborhood Commission Chairwoman Barbara Spillinger said off-campus residence halls should not be considered on campus.
“We don’t think that’s the right way to go; we don’t think that those are legitimate buildings,” she said. “There are campus boundaries, and what in the world are they for if they don’t mean anything?”
Campus boundaries are established in university campus plans, which outline what a university owns and plans to own, as well as the uses for that property. The plans are renewed every 10 to 15 years.
Trachtenberg said the University does respect boundaries set by its Campus Plan, which was renewed and passed Feb. 13.
“We don’t build anything we’re not legally allowed to build,” he said.
But, residents contest buildings such as the HOVA and Aston which have become official residence halls although they lie outside the boundaries that were set more than 10 years ago and updated this year
The Foggy Bottom Association presented a proposal to the BZA Sept. 21, agreeing to count Aston Hall, International House (formerly Riverside Hall) and The Dakota as on-campus housing. According to the proposal, GW must in turn house 75 percent of students on campus by 2004, when two new properties that will add about 900 beds are completed. The residents also request that the new properties first house students that would live in Columbia Plaza and Pennsylvania House, and that Columbia Plaza be removed from the housing lottery.
“We want to move as many kids back onto campus as possible,” said FBA President Jacqueline Lemire, but “we don’t want any boundary changes.”
Lemire said the properties named in the proposal can count because they are outside the ANC 2A’s limits.
The proposal points out the University will fall about 675 beds short with the changes it requests, but “it is assumed that additional on-campus housing will gradually become available.”
Under the current campus boundaries, GW houses approximately 3,950 of 8,100 or 49 percent of undergraduate students on campus. However, if Aston, City Hall and HOVA are included in the on-campus figure, like GW is seeking, the school would house 5,190 of 8,100 or 64 percent of undergraduate students on campus, closer to the 70 percent BZA figure.
The new residence hall planned for the block across from the HWC and townhouses planned for the Smith Center parking lot which would both fall within the campus boundaries would add more than 900 new beds.
If the University exceeds the cap of its current enrollment, one bed would have to be added for each additional student enrolled to comply with the proposal.
“We want GW to start taking responsibility and not just taking over the neighbors when they suddenly have more students than they have beds for,” Lemire said.
University Senior Counsel Barber said at the very least the new Elliott School at 1957 E St., which will offer 201 beds, should be considered an on-campus property because GW owns everything on the rest of the block, except for Colonial Parking.
A building permit for the Elliott School is still under debate between GW and the ANC, after the commission refused to accept amenities GW offered to the community. The BZA will hold a public hearing Nov. 15.
A judge suspended the condition that restricted non-residential construction in June, after GW discovered its fall enrollment would exceed the cap imposed by the BZA. GW can now proceed with building plans for non-residential academic buildings such as the new School of Business and Public Management, Barber said.
Trachtenberg said there was no reason for objections to the new business school in the first place because it is within campus boundaries and away from neighbors. The proposed location for the new building is the parking lot behind Funger Hall.
“(The injunction) specifically allows University to go forward with projects,” Barber said. “The language says it’s good for the academic year; the District has to process our requests in good faith.”
Spillinger suggested construction of the new business school should be allowed in exchange for 500 beds for students in the GW Hospital building after it is vacated. The new hospital currently under construction is expected to be finished in summer 2002.
Barber said the BZA is reconsidering the suspended condition at a public hearing Tuesday, but he does not know what will happen after the injunction expires.
“It’s not clear,” Barber said. “I expect them to issue another condition, but I don’t know what that condition will be.”
BZA officials were not available for comment.
Office of Zoning spokeswoman Sara Benjamin said a request to extend campus boundaries would have to go through her office, but she was not aware of any plans.
Barber said the University has reserved the right to return to court if they disagree with the BZA’s new condition.
Trachtenberg said GW is trying to cooperate with the community.
“They seem to think we sit up nights trying to think of ways we could make life difficult for ANC/Foggy Bottom,” he said.
The University is doing what the community wants by providing housing for students, Trachtentenberg said.
“We’re building what they want us to build,” he said. “You’re
damned if you do, and you’re damned if you don’t.”
Chernak said the community’s requests to house all freshmen and sophomores on campus is almost a reality. About 96 percent of freshmen and more than 80 percent of sophomores live on campus, he said. The remainder either commute to school or cannot live on campus for other reasons, he said.
“The goal is not that far away,” Chernak said.
GW will hopefully meet the community’s request when the Elliott School is completed, Chernak said.
Trachtenberg said the University’s actions are “not out of spite” and though the University will continue to face resistance from the community, it should be treated just like any other citizen.