Neighborhood group gets $2.4 million

The Foggy Bottom Association has $2.48 million that it may use for legal purposes following a deal it negotiated with developers of the new Columbia Condominiums. Though FBA leaders have yet to decide how the money will be used, GW officials said they are concerned that the $2.48 million will be put toward counterproductive legal battles with the University.

On Monday, the Trammell Crow Company wired the money to the FBA to finalize a deal it made with the neighborhood group. The company, which until this year managed some of GW’s residential and academic facilities, is constructing a condominium complex at 25th Street and Pennsylvania Ave. – the former site of the Columbia Hospital for Women.

When the company purchased the land in 2002, it was designated for hospital use only, but the developer compromised with FBA officials to amend such provisions. While the FBA has no authority over zoning issues, it had a 16-year-old agreement with the hospital’s owners to restrict the use of the land.

In a written agreement that eliminated the restrictions, the contractor agreed to reserve 80 percent of the condominiums for permanent residents and include space on the street level for retail use, in addition to contributing money to the neighborhood trust fund.

“When Trammell Crow bought the property, they wanted to convert it into residential use,” FBA President Ron Cocome said. “We then negotiated for other things important to the neighborhood, and Trammell Crow was good in doing what we asked for.”

Before Monday’s transaction, the 300-member FBA had little money in its coffers. Cocome said the money will be managed by the FBA’s new Defense and Improvement Corporation, an elected body that aims to defend the interests of the Foggy Bottom and West End residential communities. He said the neighborhood could use the funds in a variety of ways.

“It could be legal, it could be tree planting,” said Cocome, an adamant critic of GW’s expansion into residential Foggy Bottom. “It could be put towards anything that will improve our vibrant community.” Cocome did not elaborate on how the money could be used for legal purposes.

University officials, who have long been criticized by community groups for constructing buildings on sites that previously featured quaint townhouses, said they fear the money may be used to wage legal battles.

“It would be a shame if the majority of that money was used for legal fights that have nothing to do with the community,” said Michael Akin, the newly appointed director of the D.C. and Foggy Bottom/West End Affairs office.

“(Two and a half) million dollars is a tremendous amount of money, and a lot can be done with the community,” he added.

Akin said he was also concerned that the money’s uses will be determined by a small group of FBA members on the group’s Defense and Improvement Corporation.

But FBA Vice President Barbara Spillinger said the new committee only recommends ideas on how to spend the funds and that FBA members must first approve any decisions.

Spillinger also said it is likely that at least half the money will be invested in stocks to accrue interest income. The remainder will probably be used for immediate projects that have yet to be decided on by the committee.

Cocome said the other benefits of the housing project are just as important to the betterment of the community as the $2.48 million.

At Monday’s FBA meeting in the Melrose Hotel, residents cheered when Trammell Crow project manager Jeff Sherman announced that supermarket chain Trader Joe’s had agreed to install a store on the condominium complex’s ground level. Other retail stores might include Logan’s Hardware, a coffee shop, a bank and a video store.

“By the time we are all done we will have a nice mix of retail agencies that will serve the community,” Sherman said at the meeting.

Cocome said requiring that 80 percent of condominiums are owner-occupied will mean that those residences will increase the amount of taxpayers within the community and push out college students whose parents typically sign the leases of off-campus apartments. Sherman announced that 219 of the 223 condos have already been sold.

“The city is going to have the same budget no matter how many people live in the area, and the burden for making up those tax dollars falls on all of us,” Cocome said. “The more residents you get, the more evenly the burden is distributed.”

“We lost so many residents because of expansion of the University and the city not providing defense for our residential area,” he continued. “This allows us to get permanent residents and helps stabilize the neighborhood.”

Cocome added that the primary goal of the FBA is to maintain the residential aspects of Foggy Bottom and the West End in an area where GW is the largest landholder and is always seeking to expand.

“We want to stabilize the neighborhood to include both a campus area and a vibrant residential community,” he said. “We believe that both can be done, but that hasn’t been the University’s response or the response of the city government.”

Sherman said Trammell Crow expects to open the condominiums in 2006. Retail stores, including Trader Joe’s, are expected to open by April of that year.

-Michael Barnett contributed to this report.

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