Community group files complaint over GW gates

The Foggy Bottom Association filed a complaint against GW with city officials Friday, claiming the University unlawfully built gates on the I Street pedestrian mall.

The complaint, lodged with the D.C. Corporation Counsel, alleges that the erection of open iron gates on the mall’s east and west ends is illegal under an agreement the University signed with the city when it took control of the mall in 1979.

“It’s like a cat marking its territory,” FBA President Ron Cocome said.

The FBA has asked the city to force GW to remove the gates.

“Ultimately, we want to see the gates taken down as soon as possible,” Cocome said.

The mall, which lies between Ross Hall and the GW Hospital, is the section of I Street between 23rd and 24th streets that is closed to vehicular traffic. The ceremonial gates stand in the middle of the mall and two pedestrian walkways lie on either side.

The D.C. City Council gave GW the mall in March 1979. In July of that year, the University entered into an agreement with the city, promising to make the space an unobstructed pedestrian walkway, according to council documents.

University Senior Counsel Charles Barber said it was GW’s right to build the two gates, which were dedicated in August 2002.

While the 1979 agreement states that the University may not build any structures on the site, Barber said D.C. zoning officials reviewed the agreement and gave GW clearance to put gates on the mall.

“We got specific approval to build the gates from the (city),” he said.

Although the gates have been standing for more than a year, the FBA waited until now to file a complaint because it had been “naive” in thinking the University was complying with the agreement it signed with the city, Cocome said.

Peter Lavallee, spokesman for the city’s Corporation Counsel, said the complaint has been referred to officials in the D.C. Department of Transportation, who could not yet comment on the case.

Some Foggy Bottom residents who live near the mall said the gates should be taken down.

Steve Timlin, who lives on the corner of New Hampshire Avenue and I Street, said he supports the FBA’s efforts to get the gates removed.

“I find the gates to be offensive and just another example of the University trying to claim more real estate,” he said.

Other residents don’t think the gates are a problem.

“I thought they were a little pretentious at first, while they were building them, but now I don’t think they look bad,” said Alan Alper, who has lived on New Hampshire Avenue for five years.

Cocome said the University has been irresponsible for allowing vehicles, especially those belonging to the GW Hospital, to park on mall space he said should be reserved for pedestrians.

Michael Akin, a government relations assistant in the University’s Government, International and Corporate Affairs office, said GW does not park vehicles on the mall.

“Sometimes you have emergency vehicles there or trucks to repair the Metro, but as far as I know GW does not park any vehicles there,” said Akin, adding that emergency and maintenance vehicles sent by the city are necessary for the upkeep of the mall.

Some Foggy Bottom residents who frequent the mall said vehicles parked on the mall weren’t a problem.

FBA member Jacqueline Lemire said a wheelchair user was unable to use the pedestrian mall and was forced to circumvent the hospital to gain access to the Metro station when the hospital held an event on the mall in August.

Bernard Demczuk, assistant vice president of D.C. Affairs, said the University accepted blame for the inconvenience posed by the event and “promised to make sure that it would never happen again.”

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