Court strikes GW housing limit

A federal judge last week lifted zoning restrictions that would have required GW to create at least 1,500 new beds for students in the next six months, clearing the way for building projects on campus to continue as planned.

U.S. District Court Judge Louis Oberdorfer called the D.C zoning rules requiring GW to house 70 percent of undergraduates in on-campus housing “arbitrary and capricious.”

The ruling is only a partial win after the judge rejected its argument that the campus plan and special zoning restrictions unconstitutionally violate its academic freedom.

The court noted in the April 12 ruling that the BZA unfairly ignores residence halls under construction or in planning for 2004-05 and buildings such as the Aston, Pennsylvania House, Hall on Virginia Avenue and City Hall that the BZA considers to be “off-campus housing.”

The court found no “rational underpinning” for the BZA’s refusal to allow GW to count these facilities toward the 1,500 additional on-campus beds it must acquire to meet the 70 percent on-campus rate imposed by the board, according to court documents.

The court said GW should have enough time to develop housing to meet the 70 percent requirement. The ruling will give GW until 2009, when its next campus plan must be passed, to comply with the rule.

Oberdorfer ruled that prohibiting GW from counting the 1,400 beds in the four “off-campus” buildings meets the standard for denial of due process. The Elliott School of International Affairs, planned for completion in the fall, will add almost 200 beds, and the 23rd Street
“Super Dorm” will provide 900 beds, according to court documents.

The court said a BZA attempt to put a moratorium on GW building projects such as a new business school was also a violation of due process.

“In general, we are very pleased with the rulings,” said University Senior Counsel Charles Barber. Barber declined to comment further on the case, which is still pending other decisions.

Several issues introduced at the April 12 action will be ruled on in a status conference with Oberdorfer April 24. In one of those, GW will challenge a motion to require all students who house vehicles on-campus to pay D.C. vehicle registration.

The University did not succeed in all its claims against the BZA. GW claimed that requiring a university to submit a campus plan every 10 years treats it differently than other land owners. GW also asserted that a requirement to house all freshmen and sophomores on campus is arbitrary and capricious. Both arguments were struck down. Oberdorfer said universities are different because they use land “more intensely.”

GW also attempted unsuccessfully to show that the BZA restricts its academic freedom. The University said it would have to slant the admissions process toward students who were willing to live in on-campus housing.

The court did not rule on the 20,000 total population cap that the University has agreed to maintain.

No injunctions were filed against the BZA because Oberdorfer said he expects the BZA to accept his ruling. BZA compliance will be assessed at the April 24 status hearing.

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