HOVA’s future in limbo

The University may turn the Hall on Virginia Avenue into an upperclassman dorm or sell the property following a recent city order that prevents freshmen from living there after August 2006.

University officials said they do not know what will happen after 2006 when HOVA cannot house freshmen. If GW sold the 454-bed hall, they will likely need to acquire other housing units.

The D.C. Zoning Commission ruled at a Jan. 13 meeting that the University must comply with the Campus Plan, an agreement about land use that GW made with the city in 2000. The Campus Plan requires the school to house all freshmen and sophomores within its campus boundaries.

The dorm’s Virginia Avenue location places it outside the GW campus, but it has been used as a freshman residence hall since it was purchased in 1998. Originally the University had hoped to persuade the city panel to amend the Campus Plan to allow HOVA as an exception to the rule.

The Advisory Neighborhood Commission, a community group that makes zoning recommendations, and the D.C. Office of Planning suggested that the board reject the amendment and immediately enforce the Campus Plan. University officials offered a compromise giving them until 2006 to figure out what to do with HOVA, which the board approved.

Michael Akin, GW’s director of D.C. and Foggy Bottom/West End Affairs, said the compromise is more reasonable than immediate enforcement because it allows the University time to figure out another use for HOVA, which was formerly a Howard Johnson hotel.

“It gives us a temporary relief so we are happy with it in that respect,” GW Senior Counsel Charles Barber said. But Barber also said HOVA is not suited for any purpose other than freshman housing.

“We argued from the beginning that HOVA is only designed for freshman use because of its dormitory style set-up,” Barber said.

Robert Chernak, senior vice president for Student and Academic Support Services, said he was satisfied with the city’s decision as well, even though it was not what GW originally requested.

“Our general counsel’s office did some very good work putting forward to the board a set of approaches that led to this compromise solution – a very good sign that the University and city officials can at times see eye to eye on on issues of common welfare,” he wrote in an e-mail.

GW may face difficulty if it attempts to make HOVA an upperclassman dorm. In fall 2003, when the University decided to include HOVA as an upperclassman housing option, many students chose not to participate in the housing lottery at all rather than risk ending up in HOVA.

Tracy Schario, director of Media Relations, said the University is undertaking a community-based planning process to evaluate all of its property uses. HOVA will likely be included in this review.

“We are looking at options,” she said. “It’s a little early to say but we will be evaluating what to do with it. I would say that all options are open.”

Chernak said the University will be discussing HOVA’s situation over the next several months but said GW is not worried about where to put incoming freshmen. He cited the construction of a new freshman residence hall on F Street that will house students in fall 200

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