GW unveils new buildings

District agencies supported GW plans for two new residence halls opposed by neighborhood residents at a Zoning Commission hearing Thursday.

The currently unnamed residence halls, located on 23 Street across from the Health and Wellness Center and on what is now a parking lot on the west side of the Smith Center, were presented to the D.C. Zoning Commission for review of their impact on the neighborhood. A decision on whether GW can begin construction is expected in January.

According to plans, the 10-story residence hall on the empty 23rd Street lot would house about 710 students in apartment-style rooms similar to New Hall. It was designed by the same architects who designed New Hall and Wellness Center.

The building next to the Smith Center will house 204 students in eight four-story townhouses in what Dean of Students Linda Donnels called “affinity housing” for student groups, Greek-letter organizations or living and learning communities.

If approved, the townhouses could be completed by Aug. 2003, with the residence hall completion set for Aug. 2004, University Senior Counsel Charles Barber said.

The D.C. Office of Planning and Department of Public Works both supported the University’s proposal.

John Fondersmith of the Office of Planning called the two sites “a step in the right direction” to housing more students on campus.

The 237,000 square foot residence hall, casually dubbed the “Superdorm” by some University officials, will have four food venues to alleviate crowding in the Marvin Center, said Michael Peller, GW managing director for business services.

The other building project, informally called “Townhouse Row,” will replace about 50 parking spaces next to the Smith Center. The “Superdorm” will include two levels of underground parking with about 90 spaces, University Parking Manager Byron Wills said.

While no students attended to the hearing, Residence Hall Association President Noel Frame said in an interview she supports construction of the two buildings.

“The RHA is always supportive of building residence halls rather than buying old buildings,” she said. “These are tailored to the needs of students.”

Neighbors acted as witnesses against the projects, citing pedestrian traffic, noise, University expansion and possible housing alternatives.

Advisory Neighborhood Commission Chair Elizabeth Elliott and other residents said the residence halls could cause more pedestrian traffic in an already congested area.

“It’s phenomenal the amount of people that come into this neighborhood on a daily basis,” Elliott said. “I feel like I’m in midtown Manhattan most of the time.”

Another complaint cited by residents is noise, pointing to noisy parties and disturbances at other residence halls.

Barber said he thinks GW would be able to control students in residence halls better than in off-campus housing like the townhouses that once stood on the new residence hall site. Architects said the design of the residence hall, which includes a large central courtyard, would minimize noise.

Neighbors also said more University expansion would harm both the neighborhood and students.

“(GW) doesn’t have to be big to be good; it could be a smaller city school and have excellent credentials, instead of expanding and saying we’re going to be world class at any expense,” said Marilyn Rubin, president of the Columbia Plaza Tenants’ Association. “Don’t bring in more students; do it better for the ones who are here.”

Neighbors suggested that the proposed site for the new School of Business and Public Management building beside Funger Hall and the old hospital would be better locations for a residence hall.

Barber said these concerns do not match the University’s plan to put academic buildings in the middle of campus and put less intensely used buildings like residence halls on the fringes of campus. He said this goal reflects “sound planning principles.”

Zoning Commission Chair Carol Mitten chastised the ANC’s opposition to the projects.

“It is troubling that the ANC would be opposed,” Mitten said, adding that the buildings help fulfill ANC requests that GW house more students on campus.

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