University petitions city to change campus plan

Some area residents and city officials are urging a D.C. zoning board to deny GW’s request to amend regulations that forbid the school from housing freshmen in the Hall on Virginia Avenue in the future.

On Thursday, GW asked the D.C. Zoning Commission for an exception to the Campus Plan, an agreement about land use that the University made with the city in 2000. The plan requires the University to house all freshmen and sophomores within campus boundaries.

HOVA’s location on Virginia Avenue places the dorm outside GW’s campus, but it has been used as a freshman residence hall since it was purchased in 1998. The exception would help save the University from being forced to either change HOVA into an upperclassman dorm or sell the property, which was formerly a Howard Johnson hotel.

Initially, GW petitioned a D.C. court to overturn the order requiring it to house upperclassmen in HOVA. Last year, the court abstained from making a decision and referred the order to the zoning commission.

At Thursday’s zoning hearing, representatives from the Advisory Neighborhood Commission, a local board that makes zoning recommendations to the city, complained about excessive noise and beer bottles being thrown from the dorm’s windows as reasons why the board should not approve the exception.

GW Senior Counsel Charles Barber said data from Student Judicial Services indicates that freshmen living in HOVA have fewer violations compared to students living in other dormitories. Michael Akin, GW’s director of D.C. and Foggy Bottom/West End Affairs, said the complaints cited by the ANC could not be found in University or Metropolitan Police records.

Barber and Akin offered a presentation at Nov. 10 ANC meeting to gain the commission’s support before appearing at the zoning commission, but the ANC opposed the school’s plan.

“I think it’s time that the campus plan is enforced,” ANC chair Dorothy Miller said following the Nov. 10 presentation. “It was GW who said that they would put their students on campus, and this is outside the campus boundaries.”

Since the ANC and the D.C. Office of Planning suggested to the board that it reject the GW amendment, University officials offered a compromise that would allow GW to continue using HOVA for freshmen until fall 2006.

“There was the belief that we should offer a compromise because it gives us two more years to figure out how we can reconfigure things so that we can have all freshmen living within campus boundaries,” Akin said. “We offered it in the spirit of cooperation and threw it on the table so when they are debating they have another alternative.”

Barber said the compromise, which was also rejected by the ANC and the Foggy Bottom Association, was well received by the Office of Planning. He thinks the zoning board will likely approve the compromise instead of the original amendment at its January meeting.

If the compromise is approved, Barber said the University has no plans at this time about how HOVA will be used in fall 2006. Akin said the completion of a freshman residence hall on F Street before 2006 should help ease problems with housing freshmen.

Barber said HOVA is only suitable for freshmen because of its dormitory-style setup. Upperclassmen typically want apartment-style dorms that include a common room and a kitchen, and would likely not agree to living in HOVA.

“HOVA works well as a freshman dorm, but if we tried to make upperclassmen live there students would elect to live in the community,” Barber said. “That doesn’t suit our purposes and it doesn’t serve in the community’s interest either.”

In fall 2003, the University decided to include HOVA as an upperclassman housing option – a move that received little enthusiasm.

“We announced that HOVA would be an upperclassmen residency and a number of people chose not to participate in the housing lottery out of fear that they would end up in HOVA,” he said.

Akin said some ANC members see granting any exceptions to the Campus Plan as “giving in to GW” and will oppose any University initiatives for amendments even if they are in the residents’ best interest.

Several students, including former Student Association President Kris Hart, testified at Thursday’s hearing in support of the University’s amendment. They also cited HOVA’s unattractive qualities to upperclassmen.

Community members Rita Champagne, a former member of the Foggy Bottom Association, a community group, and Don Linkin, a Watergate resident, also spoke in support of the University.

“We had by far the largest number of supporters for this hearing than any other, and that’s extremely compelling,” Akin said. “That shows that this really isn’t a bad thing that we are putting forward.”

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