Square 54 construction is close to beginning

A look at the obstacles to construction plans on square 54

panoramic view of square 54

photo illustration by Ryder Haske and Andrew Nacin
A panoramic view of Square 54, a vacant lot that formerly housed the GW Hospital. Zoning approval for construction is in its final stages.

Construction on the Square 54 lot can begin in about two weeks when the Zoning Commission’s approval from last May is made official, University and city officials said.

Once the decision is finalized, developers will be able to apply for the appropriate building permits. There will be another one-week appeal period at that time. A University spokesperson said construction could begin as late as early 2008.

Plans for development of the empty space across from the GW Hospital were approved last spring by the D.C. Zoning Commission – after three years of negotiations. Neither Boston Properties nor Kettler, the two real estate development companies expected to lease the land, have signed contracts with the University. Jake Stroman, project manager for Boston Properties, said his company and the University agreed in 2004 to sign a 60-year lease for the lot.

Since the May decision – a 5-0 vote in favor of allowing the construction – Stroman says he has not received any further complaints from community groups. Concerned groups will have 30 days after finalization of the approval to make their concerns public.

Stroman said Boston Properties would like to see any protests resolved before signing the contract.

“The community was given an opportunity to speak, and I know that there were a few select members of the community who were not excited about the development plans for Square 54,” Stroman said.

Joy Howell, president of the Foggy Bottom Association, a neighborhood group that has opposed Square 54 development, said she is also waiting for the publication of the final approval before deciding whether to appeal.

“Our attorney has said that he wants to take a look at the actual order when it’s handed down,” Howell said. “It’s a legal document and we just have to see what’s in it and what the rationale is.”

Sharon Schellin, secretary for the D.C. Zoning Commission, estimates the approval will be published in two weeks.

Tracy Schario, a spokesperson for the University, said GW is waiting to see if the Foggy Bottom Association or any other neighborhood groups file protests.

“Until the zoning order is issued, you can’t predict what any of the groups might do,” Schario said.

Boston Properties has already received several offers from potential tenants, though Stroman said he could not share the names of the companies that are interested.

“(Square 54) is going to be a world-class office building,” Stroman said. “It is going to be one of the gems in our portfolio for sure.”

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