City officials denied a request from members of a Foggy Bottom community group that would have prevented non-students from eating at Ivory Tower’s dining venues at a meeting Tuesday night.
The Advisory Neighborhood Commission, a community group that makes zoning recommendations, urged the D.C. Zoning Commission to stop area residents, businesspeople and other non-students from using the dormitory’s eateries. After listening to University and Foggy Bottom officials’ claims, the Zoning Commission unanimously ruled against the ANC recommendation.
“They decided the case, which was unusual because there is usually a period of time when they deliberate,” GW Senior Counsel Charles Barber said. “Our case was so persuasive that they decided to vote and deny the ANC.”
The clash over the new residence hall’s venues reached a peak on Dec. 1, when D.C. Consumer and Regulatory Affairs officals issued several citations to Pita Pit, Gallery Caf? and Coggins’, ordering the restaurants to stop serving non-students. The University was able to obtain a delay in the order’s implementation that was in effect until zoning officials reached a decision Tuesday.
Members of the ANC filed a complaint against Ivory Tower in September. ANC members argued at the hearing that the University’s non-profit status, and the residential zoning classification of the Ivory Tower, makes it illegal for the venues to service anyone other than students. The ANC members also protested outdoor seating and a sidewalk entrance for Coggins’.
“The issue is that the building is zoned for residential use,” said Ron Cocome, president of the Foggy Bottom Association, another community group. “To open it up to the community has problems. It would be violating the zoning law and also prevent fair competition to other restaurant owners who have to pay taxes.”
Cocome said that opening the Ivory Tower venues to the public is another example of the University’s disregard for city policy.
“This could be dealt for in a more rational manner,” he said. “It’s respect for the law and the role of a non-profit. It’s another example of an abuse of power. The University does it and the city lets them.”
Although the majority of the ANC members opposed the University at the hearing, commissioner David Lehrman said he thinks the venues should be allowed to serve community members as well as students.
“I don’t see any disadvantage to walk-in trade,” Lehrman said. “I can’t think of anything wrong with it.”
“In this particular case, these merchants have to pay sales taxes, so revenue is still going to the city,” Lehrman added.
Michael Akin, GW’s director of D.C. and Foggy Bottom/West End Affairs, said the University has always allowed community members to use eateries at locations such as the Marvin Center and 1957 E St.
“From past practice we have seen that there is nothing wrong with how we do things,” Akin said. “We see it as part of the benefits to living next to the University. There really is no downside.”
Akin said the University’s primary concern is for the venues to offer better service to students, not to attract patrons from the community.
“At the end of the day they are there to serve the students,” Akin said. “But it’s part of being a good neighbor to open them to the community.”