D.C. Zoning Commission delays Square 54 decision for third time

D.C. zoning commissioners further delayed a decision on the Square 54 mixed-use complex Monday night and asked GW to reduce the project’s height.

GW applied in spring 2006 to build a commercial and residential building complex on Square 54, the vacant lot across from the GW Hospital. This is the third time the D.C. Zoning Commission has delayed a decision on the project after its initial hearing Nov. 27.

While each of the five commissioners had a design issue he of she disliked, all agreed that the overall height of the complex – 130 feet from the highest ground – was inappropriate.

“I suggest we ask the applicant to revisit the issues specifically related to height,” said Zoning Commission Chair Carol Mitten, in light of testimony from community members who opposed the project.

The project has faced opposition from the Foggy Bottom/West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission, a locally elected body charged with representing community concerns in development matters. The Foggy Bottom Association, a group of residents committed to preserving the neighborhood, has also testified in opposition.

After some discussion, Commissioner Gregory Jeffries said he thought the height was a concern as well, but that the 26,000-square-foot interior courtyard would compensate for the increased height.

“I do see the interior courtyard as a public amenity,” Jeffries said. He added that when the University is considering bringing down the building’s height it should take into consideration how much of the courtyard remains.

GW Media Relations Director Tracy Schario said the University is still unsure how the Commission’s request for a shorter structure will affect the project.

“The Zoning Commission hasn’t given us a time frame,” Schario said, “and we’re reviewing the transcript of last night’s hearing to determine what exactly is expected of us.”

The Square 54 complex is intended to be a source of funds for a proposed science center to be built on the parking garage property at 22nd and I streets. Boston Properties, an office development company, has agreed to lease the Square 54 site from the University for 60 years if the application is approved.

Schario said she understood the Commission’s caution due to the project’s size and impact. “Considering it’s a prime piece of real estate and once it’s there it’s not coming down – it’s understandable.”

At the end of the hearing Phil Feola, an attorney representing GW, asked the Commission to consider giving the project an initial approval at the hearing. He said it would take weeks for the University and the architects to draw up new plans with lower heights.

Mitten said the Commission needed more specifics before they could make a decision.

ANC Commissioner Michael Thomas said that although the ANC is not entirely happy with the legal basis for the zoning proceedings, the community will appreciate the proposed changes in height.

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