Students, residents support Campus Plan at zoning hearing

Students, faculty and alumni testified at D.C.’s Zoning Commission Monday night at the third public hearing for GW’s 20-year Campus Plan.

Student Association President Lamar Thorpe and former presidents Omar Woodard and Phil Robinson spoke to the commission, as well as other students.

“I am very pleased to see from the student testimony that these exceptionally bright students are coming to D.C. and possibly staying here after graduating as taxpayers,” said Zoning Commissioner Gregory Jeffries.

The Zoning Commission is the D.C. agency overseeing GW’s application for a new 20-year Campus Plan, which would allow GW to build additional floors on new buildings in the center of campus and a new science center in place of the garage near the hospital. The plan also outlines restrictions to University development, made as a compromise to neighborhood residents who oppose new construction.

Thorpe testified that the plan should be approved because of the large amount of student support behind it.

“At GW, administrators and students have collaborated on the future of the campus,” Thorpe said during the hearing. “The student body stands behind the 20-year Campus Plan.”

Woodard, who is now a graduate student, said the 20-year Campus Plan is beneficial to all parties because of the connection between GW’s success and the success of the area. “The more we invest in this institution, the better we all are.”

A Foggy Bottom resident testifying in favor of the University was Catherine Long, a former congresswoman from Louisiana and member of FRIENDS – a GW program trying to facilitate positive relations between the University and its neighbors.

Long said she has enjoyed taking a free computer course at the University and that students often help carry her groceries home. She mentioned that she has enjoyed performances at Lisner Auditorium and has also used the Lerner Health and Wellness Center for water aerobics.

During her testimony and after the hearing, Long said she didn’t understand why her neighbors don’t use what GW offers them.

“I can’t imagine why they have this terrible attitude towards everything GW does,” Long said. “I think that they should be proud to have a world-class university at their doorstep. FRIENDS has given me such joy and new interests in my life.”

James Morris, the one commissioner on the Advisory Neighborhood Council who voted to approve GW’s 20-year plan, said community members do not see the plan’s merits.

“The campus plan could be of immense value to the community and could also bring stability to the community,” Morris said.

Joy Howell, Foggy Bottom Association president, said GW has unfairly expanded into the residential community.

“GW is the neighborhood bully who refuses to play by the rules, who preys on the weak and vulnerable to exploit others in order to get its way,” Howell said.

She criticized the new plan for possibly allowing more students to be bussed into Foggy Bottom from satellite campuses while not being counted in the 20,000-student enrollment cap.

Media Relations Director Tracy Schario applauded the over 50 students who went downtown to the hearing, which was held near the Judiciary Square Metro stop.

“The fact that we churned out a significant amount of students and faculty members shows that our community based efforts yielded good results,” Schario said.

Michael Akin, director of FRIENDS, said that so far more than 100 people have shown support for the University’s plan either by testifying or submitting letters to the commission.

Akin said that while the FRIENDS organization gave members information and reading on the Campus Plan at meetings, none of the residents were coached or told what to say. Many of the students and residents testifying made similar arguments, with some repeating the University’s motto, “Grow up, not out.”

“There was no recruitment at the meetings but obviously most members of the FRIENDS group were aware of the plan,” Akin said, “and it was completely up to them whether to attend or not.”

-David Ceasar and Kaitlyn Jahrling contributed to this report.

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