BZA decision divides GW

With the University poised to return to court to fight new D.C.-imposed housing requirements, students and officials have differing opinions on whether city restrictions will benefit students.

Some students said they agree with the University’s position that the latest Board of Zoning Adjustment ruling will hurt housing options for students and delay attempts to add needed classroom space. Others said the restrictions will help GW plan ahead.

GW may require more students to live on campus – something most students interviewed said they disagree with.

“As this order stands, their housing choice will be restricted,” University Senior Counsel Charles Barber said.

For the University to build any more classroom space, it must house 70 percent of its students on campus by September 2002, according to BZA rules. Most residence halls that lie outside official campus boundaries do not count, such as the Hall on Virginia Avenue, Aston Hall and newly added City Hall and Pennsylvania House.

“For the BZA to say, ‘you can own these residence halls but can’t count them,’ we think is unfair, and it puts the University at a huge disadvantage,” Barber said.

Barber said the rules reduce housing choices on campus and private housing options by requiring students to live on campus. The rules also threaten academic success until GW meets the housing requirement, he said.

His position has support among some students.

Sophomore Mike Deshong said he thought the Aston and HOVA should be counted as on campus residences.

“All the places that (the University) owns, they should count,” he said.

But Residence Hall Association President Noel Frame said she thinks the BZA order will help in the long run.

“When it comes down to it, housing 70 percent on campus forces the University to look long term, and that’s good for students,” Frame said. “If we had better long-term planning at this University, maybe we wouldn’t have had 500 students on the waiting list (last year) and had to lease two properties over the summer.”

Marvin Center Governing Board President Ben Getto said while he does not like the city telling the University what to do, it is good to force the University to make more proactive decisions about housing. The decision could also have positive effects for student groups because new residence halls create meeting space, he said.

“By creating more places for students to study, eat and for organizations to stay, we will better be able to meet student needs,” he said.

Barber said he thinks the order is designed to close down the off-campus residence halls and bring those students on campus – something Frame indicated might not be such a bad thing.

“There’s nothing that says we can’t use those buildings for graduate students; the Campus Plan only applies to undergraduates.” she said. “It would help us attract more students if we give them a package deal, just because the real estate market is so tight.”

Frame said she does not think off-campus residence halls are in the best interest of students.

“We’re farther away from classes, equal security measures are not in place and we’re not provided the same services that on-campus residence halls are,” she said. “It’s unlike any other lifestyle.”

First-year graduate student Faheem Larik agreed.

“The more near to the University, the more benefits you get,” he said. “The library is open 24 hours, and if you live off campus, it can be hard to get to.”

Other students disagreed.

“I don’t want to live on campus,” said junior Alex Vajda. “Students are better off trying to find housing on campus than relying on GW, for financial and convenience reasons. My place is better than anywhere on campus, and I pay 200 to 300 dollars less.”

Barber said GW’s academic success is threatened by the rules because the University should be in a constant state of growth.

“Look at college campuses around the country. It’s hard to find one that shrinks because knowledge expands,” Barber said. “If we can’t expand, the quality of the academic programs will stagnate.”

Jeff Marootian, a graduate student who represents students and residents on and off campus with the Advisory Neighborhood Commission, said the effects the BZA decision will have on students is unclear. The BZA, he said, is attempting to find a middle ground to the longstanding dispute.

“It seems to me that in making this decision . they are looking to please both sides as much as possible,” he said.

GW’s plans for 900 beds are not set for completion any time close to the BZA’s deadline of September 2002.

Barber said he does not believe this is a feasible time frame.

“It would be extremely difficult,” he said.
-Becky Guyon contributed to this report

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