Neighborhood groups express Campus Plan concerns

Zoning officials described a “gulf” between GW and its Foggy Bottom neighbors Thursday night at the second public hearing on the 20-year Campus Plan.

The Zoning Commission is in the process of considering GW’s 20-year Campus Plan, filed with the city in February. If approved, the plan would allow GW to build additional floors on buildings in the center of campus in exchange for restrictions on which properties can be developed.

“I don’t see any commonality between the two groups,” said Zoning Commissioner Gregory Jeffries, referring to the disagreement between GW and neighborhood organizations about development.

The hearing included testimony from D.C. Office of Planning, the District Department of Transportation and the Foggy Bottom/West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission, a group of residents who brief the Zoning Commission on neighborhood concerns.

At the end of the hearing, Zoning Commissioner Anthony Hood advised both sides to try to make progress toward a compromise before the end of the hearings.

“We’re going to have to make the hard decisions, and we don’t mind doing that,” Hood said. “But we don’t have to live in the neighborhood; we’re not going to be feeling the impact.”

The current Campus Plan, passed in 1999, is a 10-year agreement between the University and the Foggy Bottom community. It restricts GW’s development on campus but allows the University the freedom to choose which sites to develop.

The current plan did not officially take effect until this fall because of a Court of Appeals decision saying GW wouldn’t be in compliance with the plan until this point. The University became involved in litigation over the conditions of the plan in 2001.

ANC Commissioner Michael Thomas warned zoning officials that they were misguided in thinking that the new Campus Plan would develop GW into a more prestigious institution.

“I think (the Zoning Commission) should guard against buying into an ambitious vision,” he said.

Thomas spent most of his testimony arguing against the legal basis of the 20-year Campus Plan. After discussing the history of the current Campus Plan and GW’s litigation against it in court, Thomas asked why a new one is even needed.

“Instead of enhancing the imperfect 2000 Campus Plan, the Commission is being asked to tear it up, and in so doing to change the settled rules of campus planning and increase impacts on the neighborhood,” Thomas said. “The burden is on the applicant to show why the laboriously crafted, judicially tested limits and enforcement mechanisms of the current plan should be jettisoned should be very heavy indeed.”

The attorneys for neighborhood groups opposing GW development questioned the validity of a D.C. audit which exonerated the University of exceeding its 20,000-student enrollment cap. Barbara Kahlow, representative for the West End Citizen’s Association, and Cornish “Con” Hitchcock, the attorney for the ANC and the Foggy Bottom Association, continued to discuss the audit, despite zoning commissioners’ scolding them to leave the subject alone.

The audit, conducted through D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, stated that GW had been in compliance with the current Campus Plan’s restriction on the maximum number of students. The FBA and ANC have protested the audit’s results, arguing it was not accurate because it did not count commuter students and other special groups.

Commissioner Gregory Jeffries said he was upset with continued debate on this subject. “The issues of compliance and the nitpicking and so forth has not been … helpful for me,” he said.

Student Association President Lamar Thorpe said he found Hitchcock’s style of cross-examination annoying.

“It’s sad that he can’t differentiate between a court room and a zoning hearing,” Thorpe said.

Thirty-four students attended the hearing in support of the University as part of the SA-sponsored group “Campaign GW.” The group’s goals are to inform the student body of the University’s future development plans and spark interest in attending the zoning hearings.

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