University drafts old hospital site plans

After a summer of open meetings with community members, the University is one step closer to developing the empty land of the old hospital site enclosed by 23rd, 22nd and I streets and Pennsylvania Avenue.

In July, GW released a preliminary sketch created by developers Boston Properties, Inc. and KSI Services, Inc. that it plans to present to community groups and the D.C. Zoning Commission in the fall.

The sketch shows the land containing an office complex facing Washington Circle, two apartment buildings with a courtyard, and underground parking and loading docks. The facility also features a retail corridor along I Street with a grocery store.

Tracy Schario, GW’s director of media relations, said the preliminary sketch is not a concrete plan for the site because it will undergo much debate over the next few months during the zoning process.

“There are still lots of other influences which will impact what the final buildings will look like,” she said.

Schario added that the University also plans to meet with the Student Association in the fall to discuss how to get student input for the site.

The developers took the suggestion of land-use experts who said last spring that GW should develop a variety of retail, residential and office facilities on the site. The experts said other campus space should be used to meet its housing and academic needs, a proposition flustering many community members who feel the site should be used to house students within the campus.

Schario said the University has come up against some resistance that will likely intensify as the site’s plans become more concrete.

“We knew that as we listened to the neighbors it would be a combination of suggestions and complaints,” she said.

Schario said the University has been able to get “a tremendous amount of community input” from the summer meetings, but some community leaders have declined to participate.

“This process is totally meaningless. It is a rigged process,” Foggy Bottom Association member Ron Cocome said. “We have no interest in what the University has already decided to do without our input.”

Cocome, the outgoing FBA president, added that when GW is willing to negotiate in a legally binding way, the FBA is willing to talk.

In an Aug. 12 Washington Post article, business columnist Steven Pearlstein denounced the FBA’s decision to boycott the meetings sponsored by both the University and the Advisory Neighborhood Commission, another community group that makes zoning recommendations to the city. Pearlstein also called the FBA a bunch of “obstructionists” who oppose development of any kind.

FBA President Joy Howell said, in the association’s defense, that the group has consulted with several other developers in the community on projects including the construction of the Swedish Embassy on the Potomac River.

“The FBA has worked very successfully with developers in the past,” she said. “They would like to paint a picture of us as anti-development and that’s just not accurate.”

Cocome said that the FBA is analyzing the University’s compliance with the campus plan, an agreement between GW and the community, and could take legal action. The FBA received $2.8 million in a land development deal last year and has said the money may go toward legal costs.

“There is a great deal of speculation that (the FBA) will use their $2.8 million to pursue litigation against GW,” Schario said.

By June 2006 GW is required by a city zoning order and its campus plan to house 70 percent of its students – including all freshmen and sophomores – within campus boundaries; it is currently at 67 percent.

The meetings held about the old hospital site with the community have also produced a variety of other ideas that neighbors asked GW to implement. Ideas generated during the forum meetings included renovating the Washington Circle hotel and planting grass on the roofs of GW buildings.

-Katie Rooney contributed to this report.

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