Community group may sue to block campus development plans

The Foggy Bottom Association will likely file a lawsuit Friday to stop GW’s 20-year proposed development plan from moving forward in the city approval process.

Representatives from the group were backed by the Federation of Citizens Associations of the District of Columbia and the Committee of 100 on the Federal City at a news conference. The conference took place Tuesday morning at the Melrose Hotel, on 24th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, where the FBA announced its intentions.

The FBA said at the news conference, attended by about 30 people, that it would file the suit Friday based on the outcome of Thursday night’s city Zoning Commission meeting. The commission will be considering GW’s planned unit development application, which requests an increase in the overall density and height restrictions on campus buildings. The application is needed to implement the proposed 20-year Campus Plan that outlines development.

The meeting will determine whether there is enough information to schedule a hearing on the PUD issue. The FBA is demanding public input at the Thursday meeting and has pledged to file an injunction request on Friday if the residents are not given a say in the matter. An injunction, if granted by a city court judge, would presumably stop the University from proceeding in its development approval process.

FBA President Joy Howell said the commission is not considering letters she has written opposing the development projects and is not looking at resolutions passed by Foggy Bottom’s Advisory Neighborhood Commission, a local group that makes zoning recommendations to the city, against the plan.

“None of that stuff is going to be considered,” Howell said in an interview Tuesday night. “To us, that is a denial of us having an input in the plan. We shouldn’t be proceeding with a set down hearing if GW is not in compliance with the current Campus Plan.”

Sara Bardin, special assistant to the director of the city’s Office of Zoning, said that typically there is no public testimony at Zoning Commission meetings. She added that the FBA will get the chance to present its case at the hearings that will occur later this summer if the commission decides to move forward with them.

The FBA believes GW is not in compliance with enrollment caps and housing requirements stipulated in the current plan, set to expire in 2009. By law, its members say, GW cannot move forward with a new Campus Plan if it is out of compliance with the current one. GW maintains that it is in compliance with enrollment caps because it does not include Mount Vernon Campus residents or students at other campuses in Virginia in its enrollment total for Foggy Bottom.

“We don’t have confidence that the city will take action. We are going to have to go to the courts,” Howell said. “Because they’re not going to stop GW, now that means the burden is going to be on us – the neighbors.”

Initially Thursday’s meeting was scheduled to consider two separate cases – one for the Campus Plan and one for the PUD application. On Tuesday night, the commission altered the schedule to only include the case concerning the PUD application. Howell said Tuesday night that the Zoning Commission is “trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes” by changing Thursday’s meeting schedule at the last minute.

Bardin said that having the Campus Plan case on the Zoning Commission’s agenda in the first place was a mistake. It does not require a meeting to determine whether to move forward to a hearing, because it falls under the Board of Zoning Adjustment process and not the Zoning Commission’s. She said the Campus Plan application will automatically go to the hearing stage later this year.

Despite the FBA’s threat to do everything in its power to stop GW’s development plan for the next 20 years, University Media Relations Director Tracy Schario said Tuesday that GW has no plans to alter the new Campus Plan in response to the threatened lawsuit.

“They’ve been saying all along they were going to sue us,” she said. The University typically doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

Schario said GW has implemented a “community-based planning process” on the new Campus Plan for more than a year in cooperation with D.C.’s Office of Planning. The Foggy Bottom Advisory Neighborhood Commission unanimously passed a resolution Wednesday night protesting the Zoning Commission’s refusal to take submissions from ANCs and other entities at its meeting. ANC chair Vince Micone said, “For us to be full players in the process we need to participate in every step of the process.” n

– Kaitlyn Jahrling contributed to this report.

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