Zoning Commission gives ESIA green light

GW won a decisive victory last Monday when the Zoning Commission approved the new Elliott School of International Affairs building, allowing the facility to house students in August.

The Zoning Commission will meet again in mid-June to vote on the wording of the final order requiring the University to provide benefits to the neighborhood, such as a feeding program for the homeless, GW facilities for community stores and safety measures, in exchange special zoning of the building.

Set to open in the fall, the 193-bed residence hall will house upper-classman students and the ESIA, which currently uses Lisner and Stuart halls.

Barber said the residence hall is on pace for opening in August while the academic portion of the facility is delayed until next spring.

“This is pretty much the end, (the Zoning Commission) has to approve the wording of the final order,” said University Senior Counsel Charles Barber.

Last week’s ruling comes after months of debate between neighborhood groups and resistance to the project from several community members.

The University had been negotiating with the West End Citizens’ Association on several benefits the community will receive in return for allowing student housing in the facility, which was originally zoned for a multi-use facility that would include Foggy Bottom resident housing. The 1957 E St. building will remain a student-exclusive residence hall.

WECA member Barbara Kahlow, who negotiated the amenities with the University, said while not all of WECA’s demands were met, the key issue – the timeframe of the feeding program – was addressed.

Barber said there was a discrepancy over the wording of the feeding program proposal, which involves the University forming a foundation with WECA members and either creating a new program or donating $500,000 over the next five years to an existing program to feed low-income and elderly residents.

The Zoning Commission rejected the University’s proposal to withhold the money from the program until it has an approved budget. The board said GW must donate the money before receiving an occupancy permit for the building.

Barber said the University will now alter the condition’s wording to state that if the new foundation’s program is not running by the time GW receives an occupancy permit, the money will go to another local program.

Kahlow said the months of legal problems surrounding the construction of the facility were “almost over.”

Barber said GW should receive the occupancy permit in August and that the University was “on track.”

The Zoning Commission criticized Advisory Neighborhood Commission members for refusing to negotiate with GW.

ANC members protested the project from the beginning, disputing the building’s legitimacy because of zoning discrepancies. They called for a halt to the Elliott School construction, which is near completion, and demanded recently that GW create a $2 million dollar legal fund to allow residents to sue the University.

Former ANC Commissioner and GW graduate student Jeff Marootian, who stepped down from the commission last week because of “general frustration,” said the amenities deal was “fair.”

“The Zoning Commission made clear that the ANC should have negotiated and I agree,” Marootian said.

He said he stepped down because he found the ANC “particularly difficult and unproductive.”

“It’s unfortunate that many of the elected leaders are not as reasonable and willing to look at the issues from all perspectives,” he said.

Marootian said he hopes more students will run for the ANC in the upcoming winter elections, because many current issues concern GW.

Chief opponent of the Elliott school building, ANC Chair Elizabeth Elliott was unavailable for comment.

-Mosheh Oinounou contributed to this report.

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