Foggy Bottom Association loses campus plan appeal

The Foggy Bottom Association lost a two-year appeal of GW’s 20-year campus plan last week, but succeeded in challenging the method the University uses to count the number of students using the Foggy Bottom campus.

The neighborhood group, which often finds itself at odds with the University, filed a complaint with the D.C. Court of Appeals after the city’s Zoning Commission approved two applications from GW in 2007. The applications were for the University’s 20-year campus plan and a Planned Unit Development (PUD), which would open up more land for construction, FBA attorney Con Hitchcock said in April.

The University requested the PUD to meet needs for more facilities, more undergraduate housing and the University’s planned expansion, according to the decision, which was handed down Sept. 3.

“The University is pleased that the D.C. Court of Appeals has upheld the Zoning Commission’s order approving the 2007 Foggy Bottom Campus Plan,” University President Steven Knapp said in a statement. “With this ruling, the University will now be able to move forward with our commitments to support establishment of the Foggy Bottom Historic District, to institute a streetscape plan for the Foggy Bottom campus and to continue with plans for retail as part of the Square 54 project.”

FBA President Asher Corson, who is also a GW alumnus, said the group has decided not to appeal the decision after discussing it at an executive board meeting Tuesday night. They are also happy that the methodology used by the University to calculate the number of students at GW will be sent back to the zoning commission for review. GW currently counts students through a “primary relationship” test, where students who live or take classes at the Foggy Bottom campus are counted, but students residing at or taking all their classes at the Mount Vernon campus are not, according to the decision.

“The reason that we appealed specifically on the enrollment cap issue is because our view is that GW’s way of counting students isn’t sufficient. Our view is that anybody that is on-campus, taking class, should count towards that enrollment cap, not just people that live on-campus,” Corson said. “GW has tried to use certain, at least in the FBA’s view, loopholes to wiggle around having to abide by that enrollment cap. I think that was proven by the fact that the court sent it back to the zoning commission.”

The decision will not affect the parts of the campus plan that were not reversed on appeal, Hitchcock said, but added the FBA is pleased with the decision because “the number of students on campus has been a concern of the community for years, given the vast increases in enrollment over the last 10 or 20 years.”

“We’re pleased the court agreed with us on the student head count issue and disappointed about the other arguments,” Hitchcock said. “A split decision is not that unusual in cases challenging agency decisions. The case will be sent back to the zoning commission later this fall and it will decide how it wants to approach the issue.”

The lawsuit arose after GW submitted the application to the zoning commission in 2006. The FBA originally moved to postpone the application so that a comprehensive environmental review of the plans, which included 18 sites slated for development, could be carried out. The commission denied the motion, held a public hearing and approved the applications.

The Court of Appeals decision found that there was adequate protection in the zoning commission’s procedure to ensure that there would be sufficient environmental reviews and declined to reverse the decision.

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