Federal officials are concerned about initial plans for a new on-campus residence hall, saying the proposed structure’s height will upset the “aesthetic quality” of the neighborhood.
The U.S. Commission on Fine Arts, an independent agency that determines how new structures will affect the District’s appearance, said GW might have to go back to the drawing board if it wants to build a residence hall in the parking lot adjacent to Francis Scott Key Hall on F Street.
Kristina Alg, the commission architect who handles the Foggy Bottom area, said she has “concerns about the height” of the building, because at 120 feet tall, the proposed structure would tower over neighboring buildings such as FSK hall and the townhouses lining the 2000 block of F Street. It would also violate District zoning laws that limit construction of new buildings on F Street to 90 feet.
Alg said the District has asked GW to present its plans at a public meeting in September.
University Senior Counsel Charles Barber said GW has agreed to a meeting, but has not yet set a date for it.
Barber said GW would ask the D.C. Zoning Commission in September to grant an exemption that would allow the University to build the 535-bed, 14-story structure.
“We think this deserves special merit because it provides extra beds on campus,” said Barber, noting that there are other buildings in the neighborhood – such as the 130-foot International Monetary Fund building on 20th Street – that are taller than the proposed residence hall.
Barber said while the IMF building is subject to different zoning regulations that allow it to be taller, it isn’t fair that the proposed residence hall is hobbled by parameters that only affect F Street.
A new residence hall would help GW cope with a burgeoning undergraduate student population that has increased by 53 percent since 1998. It would also help the University comply with a city order that requires it to house a majority of its students on campus.
Barber said the city’s actions run counter to its demand that GW house more of its students on campus.
“Not only do we need to provide a residence hall, but we need to provide more beds,” he said. “And the extra height is a way to maximize the number of beds.”
The District’s Board of Zoning Adjustment, an independent panel that sets zoning regulations for the city, issued an order requiring GW to house 70 percent of its students – including all freshman and sophomores – on campus.
While GW has failed to come into compliance with the order, a new on-campus residence halls under construction – the Ivory Towers – will bring it closer to the 70 percent mark. The University is fighting to reverse the order in local court, and has secured a temporary stay until the court makes a final decision on the issue this fall.
Some Foggy Bottom residents who have been urging GW to house more of its students on campus oppose the construction of a 120-foot residence hall.
“We agree with the city that the building is inappropriately tall,” said Barbara Spillinger, vice president of Foggy Bottom Association.
She said the building should be “scaled down” from 14 to 10 floors.
Barber said if the city enforced the 90-foot limit, GW would adjust its plans accordingly.
“If we end up with a 90-foot building, that’s what we’ll do,” said Barber, noting that a smaller residence hall would house fewer students.
Construction on the residence hall is scheduled to begin in the fall of 2004, with a finishing date set tentatively for the summer of 2006, according to a zoning application GW has filed with the District. Ronald Cocome, FBA president, said the underlying problem is University’s increasing student population, which forces it to construct new facilities that destroy Foggy Bottom’s residential character.
“The problem with the University is one of too many students in a small area,” he said. “Additional campus housing is important but only part of the picture.”
While neighbors are appreciative of the University’s efforts to make more housing on campus, Spillinger said they feel other measures should be taken to provide students with more beds.
She said GW should convert the old hospital on 23rd street into a residence hall.
GW officials have talked about making the hospital a commercial and academic facility, but no specific plans have been determined.
-Michael Barnett contributed
to this report.