Our View: Attempts to stall Square 54 plans undermine residents’ credibility
The Foggy Bottom Association, backed by two other citizens’ groups, is threatening to file for an injunction on the development of the old hospital site at Square 54. While the FBA is protesting a technicality in the hearing process, its real complaint is with the Square 54 proposal itself. Opposition by these community groups to virtually all University development plans marginalizes their position and minimizes their credibility in advocating for their goals.
The concerns of community members are valid.
GW’s expansion encroaches on their traditional concept of the area as a quiet neighborhood. As stakeholders in Foggy Bottom, residents have the right to present their positions at community hearings. However, continually espousing the same anti-development rhetoric – regardless of the situation – undermines their arguments.
Square 54, thanks to its prime location, promises increased income for GW. Any attempts by small community groups to fight construction – when faced with GW’s legal and financial resources – will end in failure.
One of the groups’ main concerns, increased congestion, is moot. The site was formerly occupied by a major hospital, is adjacent to a busy Metro stop and is contained within the boundaries of campus. It is already a hub of pedestrian and vehicular traffic.
The FBA also argues that GW should not be permitted to construct a large mixed-use development on the site because the University is not able to provide adequate housing for its student population within campus boundaries. However, the University has plans to utilize funds gained through the development of the site to finance other projects that will meet this goal. The new Campus Plan focuses on developing the center of campus, reducing the need for further outward sprawl. The FBA might consider a less contentious position toward a plan that serves its own future interests.
GW has shown a commitment to fulfilling its responsibilities for student housing, as evidenced by the construction of Potomac House on F Street and the revamping of the Hall on Virginia Avenue as graduate student housing.
The student residence requirements should not be an omnibus issue that the FBA consistently uses to attack the University. There is a drastic need for a more nuanced debate about the University’s development.
Overall, community members need to refocus their efforts on a pragmatic agenda for Foggy Bottom-GW relations. The FBA and other community groups will not succeed in drastically reducing the size of the University – which seems to be their only aim. Instead, these local activists should stop focusing on suing GW over every technicality and instead craft a practical approach to inevitable University development. Otherwise, they will continue to expend funds in a losing battle.
Development on Square 54 will move forward regardless of the concerns of opposing community groups. Constant opposition to any University development initiative just for the sake of opposition may hinder development but does not have other realistic benefits.
These groups should seek a more focused and meaningful dialog with the University. Continued lawsuits and broad demands only ensure minimal or no cooperation for years to come.