University officials defended the 20-year Campus Plan proposal before D.C.’s Zoning Commission Thursday night in the first of four public hearings to advise the commission on their decision to approve or deny the plan.
The proposed 20-year plan is intended to replace the current 10-year plan, set to expire in 2009. The Campus Plans are sets of conditions and restrictions for development negotiated between GW and Foggy Bottom residents.
About 40 students attended the hearing to support the University as part of the Campaign GW group. Founded by last year’s Student Association President Audai Shakour and SA activist Meredith Wolff, Campaign GW’s goal is getting students more involved with the Campus Plan. (See “Campaign,” p. 6)
Key provisions in the new plan include the commercial use of Square 54, the old hospital site across from the Foggy Bottom Metro station, and a new science center that would replace the parking garage at 23rd and I streets.
The Foggy Bottom Association and the Foggy Bottom/West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission both strongly oppose the commercial development of the Square 54 site. The FBA is a neighborhood group that has hired an attorney to fight GW’s development. The ANC is comprised of elected officials that advise the Zoning Commission on development in Foggy Bottom and West End.
The FBA and ANC also accused the University of being out of compliance with its 20,000-student enrollment cap for the Foggy Bottom campus.
An independent audit released at noon Thursday performed by D.C.’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, found the University to be in compliance with the cap, a restriction on the student body in the current Campus Plan. The audit found four errors in GW’s counting, but the errors didn’t put enrollment over the cap.
In the city’s report on the audit, Zoning Administrator Bill Crews wrote that although GW was in compliance, the way students are counted should be reviewed.
“While the current methodology can be considered reasonable, I recommend the Zoning Commission further refine and clarify the definition and methodology for conducting further head counts.”
FBA President Joy Howell criticized the audit for not including students in study abroad and continuing education programs as well as students on the Mount Vernon and Loudoun County, Va., campuses that are bussed to and from Foggy Bottom.
“GW is over on every count, but that is only if students are counted honestly,” Howell said in an interview after the hearing.
D.C. Zoning Commission Chair Carol Mitten dismissed accusations of University non-compliance, saying that the 20-year Campus Plan would not even be considered if GW broke enrollment caps.
“We are not here to debate whether GW is out of compliance with its student enrollment caps,” Mitten said at the hearing. “We would not be here if that were the case.”
Mitten frequently reprimanded the FBA’s attorney, Cornish “Con” Hitchcock, for overly dramatic behavior.
“This is not a criminal trial,” Mitten told Hitchcock, interrupting him during cross-examination of GW officials.
Executive Vice President and Treasurer Louis Katz said during his testimony that the proposed campus development is crucial to the future of the University.
“GW needs to grow and modernize our facilities because it is essential to enhancing the University and attracting top students and helping GW remain a world-class university,” Katz said. He also mentioned that the new plan calls for 1,000 new on-campus beds and approximately 1.5 million additional square feet of academic space.
Univeristy Senior Counsel Charles Barber testified that the new plan calls for more diverse housing options for students and meeting academic goals through the construction of a cancer institute and science center.
A provision in the 20-year plan would discontinue GW Housing Programs’ practice of placing upperclassmen in Columbia Plaza. The University controls about 29 percent of the apartment building on 23rd and F streets.
The next zoning commission hearing of the proposed Campus Plan is Thursday.
-David Ceasar contributed to this report.