WEB EXTRA: Possible metro stop addition considered for Square 54

GW confirmed plans for a new entrance to the Foggy Bottom Metro station as the D.C. Zoning Commission concluded hearings earlier this month on the multi-use Square 54 complex.

GW and high-scale development firm Boston Properties submitted their proposal in spring 2006 to build a 400,000 square-foot complex on the vacant lot across from GW Hospital. The Square 54 project includes two apartment buildings, an office building, retail space, a maximum 42,000 square-foot grocery store and a large courtyard area.

A decision was initially expected at the end of 2006, but an additional hearing Jan. 4 was added, and the decision won’t be out until mid-February.

Office of Planning representative Travis Parker and GW Executive Vice President and Treasurer Lou Katz said Metro had already completed a feasibility study on adding a second entrance to the Foggy Bottom Metro. Boston Properties is offering up to $100,000 for the study and will pay for any engineering costs as an amenity to the community.

“We fully expect the Metro to progress,” Parker said. “If it doesn’t, we will (make) recommendations of where that money should go.”

Parker said Metro has expressed that they are strongly considering the project. The feasibility study places the new entrance on the corner of 22nd and I streets where the Academic Center stands. The station’s current entrance is at 23rd and I streets, next to the hospital.

Although plans have begun for the second entrance, there is no guarantee for funding, said Steven Taubenkibel, a spokesperson for Metro. He said the local government usually provides funding, but Office of Planning officials said they do not usually allocate funding for Metro projects.

Parker said he is hopeful for construction on the proposed market, which would be nearly four times the size of the Watergate Safeway. “(There is) every incentive and every reason for the grocery store to happen,” he said.

Even though Boston Properties has offered below-market rent for the grocery, no store has agreed to build there. Community leaders are skeptical that the store will be built and are calling for the Square 54 plan to be denied unless a supermarket chain signs a written agreement to construct in the complex.

Parker said grocery chains might not publicly agree to store development because they don’t want it to show up as projected operating costs in public financial statements.

The Advisory Neighborhood Commission, Foggy Bottom Association and other local activists testified in support or in opposition to the plan at the Jan. 4 hearing. In addition, the developers answered several concerns raised during the previous hearing.

At the hearing, Zoning Commissioner Anthony Hood asked ANC Chair Vince Micone why the commission’s vote on Square 54 was split 3-2. Micone said one of the two commissioners that opposed the development had been defeated in a “highly contested” Nov. 4 election.

“The greater preponderance (of people) was in opposition,” Micone said of the attendance at the meeting Nov. 9.

The Zoning Commission is tasked with giving the decisions of local ANC’s “great weight” in their deliberations for zoning applications, according to D.C. law.

Also during the ANC testimony, Zoning Commissioner John Parsons and Chair Carol Mitten asked Micone and fellow ANC Commissioner Michael Thomas about their priorities in Square 54.

“You’re not willing to eliminate the grocery story, eliminate the plaza in order to make it smaller?” Parsons asked.

“Giving up a grocery store is a difficult question because I don’t think I’m going to get a grocery store,” Thomas replied. He added that Trader Joe’s, which recently opened on 25th Street between L and M streets, refused to locate in Foggy Bottom until the FBA offered a more than $1 million incentive. That money came from a previous $5 million agreement in which the association let the building be turned into residences.

The FBA, a community group that is committed to protecting the Foggy Bottom community from development and GW expansion, was represented by Board Member Elizabeth Elliot. She read FBA President Joy Howell’s written testimony.

“This is not a case of grow up, not out. This is not a case of smart growth,” Elliot said. “This is a case of GWU saying, ‘Show me the money.'”

Many students, including Student Association President Lamar Thorpe, were at the first hearing but unable to testify in person during winter break. Many students had already submitted written testimony for the record.

Former ANC Commissioner Anne Savage testified in support of the Square 54 development. She said a benefit of the complex is that it’s a buffer between the office buildings on Pennsylvania Avenue and the residential area south of Washington Circle.

Savage said, “It keeps the development another block away in an area where every block counts.”

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