GW presents appeals zoning case

Judges for the District Court of Appeals listened to arguments on GW zoning restrictions from University and D.C. attorneys Thursday morning, but set no time frame for a final decision.

Representatives for the District Board of Zoning Adjustment appealed an April decision that shot down their provision requiring the University to house 70 percent of students on campus. Meanwhile, GW attorneys argued that such restrictions violate the University’s right to academic freedom.

“The judges had some very tough questions for both sides, so we won’t know who made the better argument until they release a decision,” said Charles Barber, GW Senior Counsel.

GW first filed suit against the city in March 2001 after the BZA attached a series of conditions to the University’s campus plan. The University is particularly opposed to a condition that would force it to house 70 percent of students on campus and provide 1,500 new beds outside of Foggy Bottom.

The University claims that under the order, GW’s four off-campus residence halls in Foggy Bottom – HOVA, City Hall, Pennsylvania House and The Aston – and their 1,401 beds would go unused.

GW and D.C. officials decided to appeal the district court’s split decision last April.

Chief Judge Douglas Ginsberg, Circuit Judge Karen Henderson and Senior Circuit Judge Stephen Williams presided over the hearing where Lutz Prager argued the BZA’s position and Deborah Baum represented the university. A crowd of about 30 people including university officials and Foggy Bottom residents attended the 9:30 a.m. hearing.

Throughout the hearing judges interrupted the attorneys with questions and criticisms on their reasoning.

Prager opened by calling the University’s arguments for a due process violation ‘insubstantial.'”

GW has argued that, like all other district landowners, it should be free to develop its land without arbitrary interference from the government and should be forced to submit 10-year campus plans.

Lutz Prager used his 15 minutes to argue that the University does not have enough of a property right on campus land to claim such a violation.

“This is a land use case and as such it belongs in a local court,” Prager said. “There is no violation of due process unless one can demonstrate an egregious offense, which the university has not done.”

Prager also said that the BZA is trying to regulate land and not students.

“There is no discrimination against students here,” Prager said. “They can live wherever they want. We are only trying to compel the university to offer students housing so they have the option to live on campus.”

Deborah Baum argued that the BZA’s order would force many students to live off campus. She said this type of regulation is outside the BZA’s mission of “stabilizing District neighborhoods.”

“The BZA’s job is to look at the incremental impact of the campus plan on the surrounding neighborhood, not the geography of students who decide to live off-campus,” Baum said. “The BZA is trying to use land use criteria to get rid of students.”

Foggy Bottom residents in attendance said there was no clear winner to the hearing.

“I was pleased with what I saw today,” Foggy Bottom Association Vice President Barabara Spillinger said. “The judges seemed well informed and challenged each side to defend their argument. As for how it will turn out, I don’t know.”

Another resident said that students should not feel the neighborhood is against them.

“I hope that after today it’s clear that we are against the university’s policies and not the students,” Marilyn Rubin said. “We’d like the students to have an on-campus life instead of being forced to live off campus.”

The judges did not set a time frame for when they will release a decision.

“Since they scheduled this hearing relatively early in the year, they might get a decision out sooner. But we really don’t know,” Barber said.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.