Zoning Commission meeting kicks off GW development process

The D.C. Zoning Commission decided last week that it would consider increasing overall density and altering height restrictions for GW’s buildings. The changes are needed for the University to implement its proposed 20-year Campus Plan.

The commission’s decision Thursday kicks off the city approval process for GW’s future development plans.

During the meeting protesters from the Foggy Bottom community held blown-up photos of the massive Square 54 mixed-use development project, which would include retail, office space and market-rate apartments. The project is proposed on the former GW hospital site across from the Foggy Bottom Metro.

The Foggy Bottom Association, a local residents group, believes GW is not in compliance with enrollment caps and housing requirements stipulated in the current Campus Plan, set to expire in 2009. Members said that by law, GW cannot move forward with the 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 campuses in Virginia in its enrollment total for Foggy Bottom.

FBA member Elizabeth Elliott said after the meeting that she is worried about the future of Foggy Bottom if the proposed development plans are approved.

“Foggy Bottom cannot bear more density,” said Elliott, a former chair of the Foggy Bottom Advisory Neighborhood Commission, which makes zoning recommendations to the city. “GW is already over its building limit and density allowed by the Campus Plan,” Elliott said.

At the meeting, the D.C. Office of Planning made a recommendation in favor of GW’s plans, despite community members’ vehement opposition to continued GW development. Travis Parker, a development review specialist for the Office of Planning, said the Zoning Commission should consider GW’s application, which requests the density and height restriction changes, at a public hearing. Parker said the Office of Planning “has no reason to believe that the University is out of compliance with the Campus Plan.”

Parker added that residents shouldn’t be concerned with the increased development.

“We see this development as an end to campus development for GW. While other college campuses in D.C. have lots of space for growth, this Campus Plan would provide for the final build-out of GW,” Parker said to the Zoning Commission at Thursday’s meeting. “This means that there will be no more increases in student enrollment caps.”

Early last week, the FBA announced its intention to file suit against the Zoning Commission if it went forward with considering GW’s plans, particularly if residents could not testify at Thursday’s meeting. While residents were unable to testify and the commission voted to go forward, the FBA did not file suit Friday, as it originally said it would.

“I am sure we will go through with the lawsuit, maybe not tomorrow, but soon,” FBA President Joy Howell said to reporters following the commission’s decision.

Howell also objected to the commercial development of Square 54 for what she said would be its effects on air pollution, noise and overcrowding.

“If approved, this development will be a major intrusion into the life of Foggy Bottom residents,” she said Thursday. “The location of Square 54 will attract more retail and commerce to an area with already gridlock traffic. The ambulances at the GW (emergency room) will still need to get through this added congestion.”

Howell said last week that the commission is not considering letters she has written opposing the development projects and is not looking at resolutions passed by Foggy Bottom’s ANC against the plan.

Carol Mitten, chair of the D.C. Zoning Commission, began the meeting by saying that public opinion is not taken into consideration at meetings like Thursday’s, dismissing the wishes of the protesters from Foggy Bottom.

“We don’t take political testimony in these meetings unless by invitation. There will be no public discussion here,” Mitten said.

Sara Bardin, special assistant to the director of the city’s Office of Zoning, said in an interview last week that the FBA will get the chance to present its case at the hearings for the Campus Plan, which was not considered at Thursday’s meeting but will automatically go to a hearing. They will also get a chance to speak at the planned unit development application hearing that will occur this summer.

-Katie Rooney contributed to this report.

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