The Zoning Commission unanimously voted to advance GW’s 20-year Campus Plan application Monday night, after postponing its decision in mid-January.
The 20-year plan would replace the current agreement between the city and GW on development restrictions. In its Jan. 17 hearing on the plan, the commission agreed that it would split up its decision on the University’s development plans into two phases. The first segment deals with specific construction sites, while the second step is approving the Campus Plan in its entirety.
The commission did not schedule a final approval hearing for the plan.
GW submitted the 20-year Campus Plan in spring 2006, and the Zoning Commission has held eight hearings on it since September. GW has had a 10-year Campus Plan in place since 2001. But to further develop the University and its infrastructure while staying within its campus boundaries, GW set out in 2005 to create a new plan focusing on increasing building height as opposed to sprawling into surrounding Foggy Bottom.
To compensate the neighborhood for the Campus Plan’s increased building density, the University needs to offer public amenities to residents. At the Jan. 17 meeting, Zoning Commission Chair Carol Mitten said by delaying their decision, the commission hoped to show GW how serious it is about stronger commitments.
Commissioners asked school officials for more measurable community benefits for sustainable development, historic preservation and locally owned retail. GW generally adopted the commission’s recommendations for more specifics on offering community amenities.
The University argued it could not make additional commitments to preclude buying off-campus residential property for University use.
Mitten noted that community members have been concerned that GW might purchase additional property beyond its campus boundaries.
She said she couldn’t understand, “Why – if they maintain in the Campus Plan that they need this density to supply the (campus) – they can’t make the commitment not to buy any off campus property?”
At Monday’s special session, the commissioners agreed that GW had sufficiently enhanced its amenities, as asked, and recommended that the National Capital Planning Commission approve the application. The NCPC is a federal commission of appointees from both D.C. and the federal government that review changes in D.C. zoning.
Margie Fleming Glennon, spokesperson for the NCPC, said her commission has 30 days to consider the application and will discuss it at the public hearing March 1. She said they will likely consider GW’s development as it affects the capital planning of 23rd Street and Washington Circle – city elements D.C. Grand Planner Pierre Charles L’Enfant considered centrally important.
City elements that were central aspects D.C. grand planner Pierre Charles L’Enfant had for the city, she said. Fleming Glennon added that the application would also be checked to see if it adheres to the citywide height restrictions between 130 and 160 feet.
“We’re basically commenting on whether or not the project has impact on the Federal interest,” she said.
Tracy Schario, director of GW Media Relations, said the University was pleased with the decision. She surmised that the Zoning Commission will not go back on its approval of the development or 20-year Campus Plan after it comes back from the NCPC.
Schario added that the approval of the development sites gives insight to the unscheduled decisions of all future Campus Plan actions.
“They’re separate applications but … you can’t approve one without the other,” Schario said.
Con Hitchcock, a zoning lawyer representing two Foggy Bottom community groups opposed to University expansion, said he was not surprised by the decision because the commission hinted at its approval at the last hearing. He said the community is more interested now in how the Zoning Commission decides on the two Campus Plans in the end.
Hitchcock said “we are waiting to see what is actually said on the final order.”
This article appeared in the February 8, 2007 issue of the Hatchet.