GW looks to settle suit

University officials said they are looking to reach a settlement with a Foggy Bottom resident suing GW for allegedly constructing part of a residence hall on his property.

In May, Donald Kreuzer, who owns three townhouses on the corner of 23rd Street and Virginia Avenue, filed suit against the University claiming that part of the Ivory Towers residence hall is being arched over his property.

Since the filing, GW has successfully thwarted Kreuzer’s attempts to halt construction of the Ivory Towers and weakened his lawsuit by winning dismissal requests for three of the suit’s seven complaints.

Last week, District Judge James E. Boasberg said there was no evidence that GW engaged in “bad-faith dealing” in its attempt to acquire Kreuzer’s property and GW did not violate his rights under the D.C. Human Rights Act.

Associate General Counsel Linda Schutjer, who is overseeing the case for the University, said GW’s strategy is to chip away at Kreuzer’s remaining claims and pursue an out-of-court settlement. She said GW would eventually ask the judge to throw out all of Kreuzer’s claims.

“The judge is clearing away the claims that have little or no merit,” she said. “That doesn’t mean the other claims are also not without merit.” Schutjer would not discuss the status of the settlement talks or what a settlement would entail.

“We’re always in negotiation for any resolution in the case,” she said.

While GW is still looking to acquire Kreuzer’s townhouses, his property is now worth less to the University since it has not been incorporated into the Ivory Towers construction plans, said Schutjer, adding that “there is still some value” to the property.

Kreuzer’s townhouses are worth $366,600, $258,000 and $289,990, according to the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue, which performs yearly assessments on city property. University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg said GW has repeatedly tried to buy Kreuzer’s property and offered “something in the neighborhood” of $2 million, according to a May 12 Hatchet article.

Schutjer said if GW bought the 23rd street property, it would probably demolish the townhouses and create a small park.

“It’d be a nice entrance to the University, maybe have a nice George (Washington) bust or something,” she said.

J. Michael Hannon, Kreuzer’s lawyer, said there are currently no settlement talks being conducted. Asked about GW’s wish to settle the lawsuit out of court, Hannon said, “That’s prudent, but I expect this case to go to trial.”

Hannon said he is optimistic that the judge will affirm Kreuzer’s contention that the Ivory Towers extends over the northern wall of one of his townhouses. On Aug. 8, Boasberg said Kreuzer’s trespassing claim has a “likelihood of success” of being upheld when the D.C. Superior Court hears the case next summer. But construction of the Ivory Towers was not halted because Kreuzer presented no “tangible or reliable evidence” that he plans to build on his townhouses in a way that would be impeded by the construction of the residence hall.

“(The judge has) already said we’re going to win on the primary element of the claim,” Hannon said of the trespassing charge.

Hannon said his client would not necessarily accept monetary compensation if the judge rules in his favor, adding that GW might have to “lop off” any part of the building that his found to arch over Kreuzer’s townhouses.

Schutjer said if the judge rules in Kreuzer’s favor – which she said is unlikely – GW will be penalized no more than $100,000 and would not have to halt construction or excise part of the building.

Construction of the Ivory Towers has continued unabated since ground was broken on the 10-story building in August 2002. The facility, which will house 710 students and feature a food court and two levels of underground parking, is scheduled to open in fall 2004.

Hannon said Kreuzer’s townhouses have flooded and experienced other damage as a result of the construction, but said a definitive damage estimate would be made by engineers he has hired to inspect the property.

Schutjer said all construction projects result in damage to surrounding areas, adding that the University has paid for repairs to Kreuzer’s townhouses. She estimated that GW has spent $100,000 making repairs, which she called “not a huge amount of money.”

“That happens. Things do happen and we knew about that,” she said of the damages.

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