Resident groups to talk with GW for first time in four years

After refusing to meet with GW administrators for four years, two Foggy Bottom community groups recently agreed to enter formal development discussions with the University.

Over the next six months, representatives from the Advisory Neighborhood Commission, which makes zoning recommendations to the city, as well as the Foggy Bottom Association, GW and the D.C. Office of Planning will attend regularly scheduled meetings to review the use of campus space. The group of representatives will also discuss the development of the former GW Hospital site at 22nd and I streets.

Under the stipulations of the Campus Plan, a 2001 agreement between the University and the community, the two sides are supposed to hold quarterly meetings to discuss any conflicts. Michael Akin, director of GW’s Office of D.C. and Foggy Bottom/West End Affairs, said that while GW had already chosen its representatives, the ANC and FBA refused to elect their own because “they didn’t think meeting would do any good.”

All of that changed at a Feb. 16 ANC meeting when Vince Micone, a newly elected ANC commissioner, was made chairman of the group, replacing the often-acerbic longtime chair Dorothy Miller. Micone drafted a resolution supporting discussions with the University that passed 4-1, with Miller being the lone dissenter. The FBA announced at its December meeting that it would also participate in discussions.

Micone said that despite the disagreements between the community and the University about expansion into historic Foggy Bottom, engaging in discussion is the only way to induce change.

“We’ve got nothing to lose,” he said. “The situation can either stay the same or we can come together and try to improve it. I believe all parties are coming to the table to make the situation better.”

Akin attributed the ANC’s willingness to discuss campus land use to the three newly elected members of the board, whom he said are more open to GW. After the November 2004 elections, former commissioners Maria Tyler, James Lewis and GW senior Graham Long, all of whom decided not to run for re-election, were replaced by newcomers Anne Savage, James Morris and Micone. Veterans Richard Price, David Lehrman and Miller remain on the board.

“It’s a positive step to solving the town-gown and community issues that we’ve been struggling with,” Akin said. “The new make-up is a representation of the shifting dynamic in the community.”

In the ANC resolution, Micone appointed himself and Price to represent the commission in discussions, with strong opposition from Miller, a longtime critic of GW policy. Despite Miller’s objections, the board confirmed Micone’s representatives.

“I believe that all of the commissioners on the ANC have a strong opinion about the role of the University and what should go on the old GW Hospital site,” Micone said. “I looked to someone who had experience negotiating and who would be a good person to sit down with GW, the FBA and the Office of Planning. I don’t believe we need to have three commissioners at the table.”

Akin said he agrees that Micone and Price will be a good combination to represent the ANC in the discussions.

“I think you need people at the table who are interested in finding common ground,” he said. “I think we have that in Commissioner Micone and Commissioner Price.”

Both Micone and Akin agreed that one of the most important decisions to come out of the discussions would be how to develop the site of the old GW Hospital.

“This is a huge parcel of land and in a prominent place,” said Micone, whose single member district encompasses most of GW’s campus.

Tracy Schario, GW’s director of Media Relations, said the University would like to use the site as a mixed-use development property that would include retail, office and academic space. The University would like to get a consensus of what community members would like to see there, Schario said.

In numerous conversations, University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg has said that any structure on the hospital site would primarily house offices and shops.

“It’s very important to get all of the different members of the community to agree on what would go best in the site,” Schario said. “We are looking to develop this prime real estate property with what makes the most sense for GW, what makes the most sense for D.C., and what makes the most sense for people who live and work in the Foggy Bottom-West End community.”

The University will issue a news release with the meeting schedule once dates are set, Schario said, adding that some of the meetings will be open to the public.

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