City prevents SBPM building construction

Construction of the new business school building has been postponed indefinitely, after the city refused last week to grant GW a stay on a housing order it is fighting in District court.

The stay would have allowed GW to temporarily circumvent a Board of Zoning Adjustment order that prevents GW from breaking ground on new buildings that are less than 50 percent residential until it complies with the BZA housing order.

The BZA is an independent body of the D.C. government that can grant institutions relief from zoning regulations. The order requires the University to house 70 percent of its undergraduate student population – including all freshmen and sophomores – in or outside Foggy Bottom. The University currently houses 52 percent of students within the city-defined campus boundaries.

The University will now ask a three-judge panel in the D.C. Court of Appeals to similarly stop the BZA’s order before hearing opening arguments in a case scheduled for June 19, according to the D.C. Court of Appeals Web site.

University Senior Counsel Charles Barber said he was not surprised by last week’s decision, adding that the D.C. Court of Appeals advised GW to file for a stay under the BZA before seeking one in court

“We thought it would be pointless going to the BZA, but the D.C. Court of Appeals said to go to the BZA first and then come back to the court if they deny it,” Barber said. “And, unfortunately, the BZA proved us right. It was a bit futile.”

If the D.C. Court of Appeals grants a stay June 19, the University could still lose the case later this summer and be forced to halt construction again, Barber said.

Carol Mitten, a member of the panel that voted 3-1 against granting the stay, said permitting GW to begin construction on the business school building would divert the University’s attention from complying with the housing order.

Barber said Mitten doesn’t appreciate the difficulties the University has encountered in trying to comply with the housing order.

University officials are looking to build the Ric and Dawn Duques Hall to house the School of Business and Public Management on the 22nd Street parking lot between Funger and Madison Halls. Officials said they were hoping to open the $56 million facility during the 2004-2005 school year, providing needed classrooms and office space.

A Faculty Senate report earlier this year stated that the University would have to hold more classes at nontraditional times, including on Fridays, if GW doesn’t acquire more academic space.

University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg said the restriction on building nonresidential facilities has no effect on GW’s compliance with the housing order.

“How this gets us to build housing any faster than we’re building it I don’t see,” Trachtenberg said. “So it’s a punishment that is unrelated to the outcome that the BZA seeks.”

Last week’s ruling is the latest in a string of defeats the University has suffered in trying to reverse the housing order in both federal and district court. In March, a three-judge panel in the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the BZA order, overturning a previous ruling by a U.S. District Court judge who dismissed the order as “arbitrary and capricious.” The full nine-member panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals declined to hear the University’s appeal in April, paving the way for GW to challenge the BZA order in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Barber said University officials are deliberating whether to file an appeal in Supreme Court, which would allow GW to simultaneously dispute the ruling in federal and District court.

Barber said GW would be challenging the BZA order in the D.C. Court of Appeals under D.C. human rights law, which prohibits discrimination based on matriculation – or status as a student – in addition to age, national origin, religion, sex and sexual orientation and other factors.

“The clear intent (of the order) is to limit the number of full-time undergraduates in Foggy Bottom,” Barber said. “They’ve obviously singled out a category of citizens – students – in a way that would never be justified if it were done to blacks or women or gays.”

Trachtenberg said he expects GW to win the District court case despite the recent defeat in federal court.

“After 180 years, GW has learned that you just have to keep on keeping on,” he said.

Barber said if the three-judge panel of the D.C. Court of Appeals upholds the BZA order, GW can appeal to the court’s full panel.

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