The D.C. Zoning Commission unanimously voted to approve GW’s 20-year Campus Plan last week, nearly one year after the University first submitted the development proposal.
The plan replaces the current agreement between the city and GW on development restrictions and calls for the vertical growth of GW buildings as well as the expansion of Gelman Library, several residence halls and the Marvin Center. The proposal also includes construction of a new science facility and a cancer center.
The commission passed the proposal at a meeting March 12 after delaying voting to approve the plan at a January hearing, when the approval process was slated to begin. The Zoning Commission requested at the January meeting that GW make more specific commitments to the community to compensate the neighborhood for increasing building density, including more measurable community benefits for sustainable development, historic preservation and locally owned retail.
“We’re very happy. This is very important for the University,” Executive Vice President and Treasurer Lou Katz said about the plan’s approval after the meeting.
The Zoning Commission, which has had eight hearings on the plan since September, discussed several amendments the West End Citizens Association proposed for the Campus Plan. The commission did not approve most of the proposed amendments, but agreed to a recommendation from the group that prohibits freshmen and sophomores from bringing cars to campus.
“Administratively, it’s going to be more difficult,” Katz said, referring to the student vehicle restrictions. “We’ll be able to do it, but it’s going to be more work for us.”
The commission also agreed to a suggestion from the group that calls for the University to help curb excessive noise and underage drinking and to encourage respect for property during a mandatory program for students.
Some community members have consistently opposed GW’s development plans and have testified against approving the Campus Plan. Last week’s meeting did not include opportunities for members of the audience to give testimony.
“Honestly, it’s the wrong project at the wrong time at the wrong place,” said Foggy Bottom Association President Joy Howell, who has testified against the Campus Plan’s approval.
Calling GW a “huge, over-developed monstrosity,” Howell said community members might appeal the decision when the Zoning Commission distributes its written order. It may be several months until the commission delivers GW written approval of the Campus Plan, and neighborhood groups cannot determine if there is anything they wish to appeal until then, Howell said.
Community members were not surprised that the commission approved the Campus Plan at last week’s hearing, Howell said Wednesday.
“The Zoning Commission pretty much rubber stamps whatever GW plans to do,” said Howell, who was not present at last week’s zoning meeting because it conflicted with a Foggy Bottom Association Board meeting.
“It’s definitely an uphill battle for neighborhood groups to make an impact on how their neighborhood is developed.”
Howell said she advocates local universities developing in other areas of the city that could benefit from the institution’s presence, citing Georgetown University’s Law School construction in the historically crime-ridden Union Station area of Northeast.
“Why can’t the city government do the same thing with GW? … Instead, GW is overdeveloping a tiny corner of the city, and it’s choking on its growth,” Howell said.
GW Media Relations Director Tracy Schario said the plan’s approval is the result of a lot of collaborative planning and the community’s criticism ultimately helped GW create a better proposal.
“What we experienced tonight is a sweet victory,” Schario said following the meeting.
As many as about 50 students have attended Campus Plan hearings in the past to testify and support the University as part of Campaign GW, a student group that encourages support for the University’s development plans. A few students attended last week’s meeting, which occurred while many students were traveling for Spring Break.
The University cannot move on with construction until it receives written approval from the Zoning Commission.