FBA threatens to use legal means to block Square 54 plans

A local community group is trying to halt GW’s plans to use Square 54 for commercial use and has signaled it is prepared to use legal means to do so.

Members of the Foggy Bottom Association, a group of community residents, have asked the mayor to refuse to let D.C. zoning agencies review GW’s plans for the old hospital site across from the Foggy Bottom Metro because the University is not in compliance with the Campus Plan, a legal agreement between the school and the city regarding land use.

FBA members said a decision made by a court in September makes the Campus Plan legally enforceable, and they announced at their Oct. 25 meeting that they are prepared to sue GW if it does not comply with all stipulations of the plan, such as enrollment caps and housing requirements.

Joy Howell, the association’s president, said she hopes the city will do its job.

“I sent a letter on behalf of the board and members of the Foggy Bottom Association to the mayor … asking Mayor (Anthony) Williams to do what is right: enforce the law,” Howell said.

FBA members said that a stipulation within the plan prohibits the University from requesting zoning adjustments from the city unless it is already in full compliance with the agreement. The land for Square 54 is currently zoned for residential use, and the city would have to approve a zoning change to build commercial venues.

A decision made Sept. 16 by the U.S. Court of Appeals for D.C. dismissed GW’s appeals to Campus Plan stipulations – specifically those that require all freshmen and sophomores to live within the campus boundaries.

While GW has until August 2006 to comply with the housing requirement, the FBA believes that GW’s Square 54 plans should not be reviewed until the school complies with the plan. A spokesman for Williams’ office said the office received the FBA’s letter Monday but is not prepared to comment yet.

Last month Williams told The Hatchet in an interview that he supports GW’s plans for Square 54 and thinks commercial development on the site will be beneficial to the city.

“It’s easy for me to say this because I’m not running for re-election, but I think the community has been a little hard on the University,” Williams said in an Oct. 5 interview.

Tracy Schario, GW’s director of Media Relations, said the University has tried to comply with the Campus Plan since it was established in 1999. GW has appealed aspects of the plan since 2000. She said, “The University was disappointed but not surprised by the decision” of the court not to grant GW a reversal.

Howell said the letter also requests the D.C. Office of the Inspector General to investigate GW’s enrollment reporting. According to the Campus Plan, the University cannot enroll more than 20,000 students each semester, but GW has been doing so since 1999, Howell said, citing IRS reports. Schario said that such allegations are misguided because the Campus Plan states that enrollment for each semester cannot surpass 20,000 in Foggy Bottom, but the reports include students at the Mount Vernon and Virginia campuses.

“We’ve been operating in good faith to comply with the Campus Plan ever since the conditions and provisions were established,” Schario said.

The association also decided last week to permanently bar all non-residents from its meetings, turning away Michael Akin, GW’s director of Foggy Bottom/West End Affairs.

“For years we have let anyone who wanted to come to our meetings. We’ve even tolerated a fair amount of disruption. But the FBA board has decided that it is time to enforce our bylaws,” Howell said.

Since the members of the association are not elected, they are not required to have open meetings. Schario said she thinks that employees in the area should be allowed to attend community meetings since they are a part of the neighborhood.

Schario said, “It’s disappointing that they have chosen to shut themselves off from the community.”

-Katie Rooney contributed to this report.

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