Court denies community appeal over Square 54

An appeal filed by a community group challenging Square 54 was denied this month, and another appeal on the methodology the University uses to count the number of students on campus is awaiting response from GW.

The Foggy Bottom Association, a community group currently led by a GW alumnus and a current GW student, had challenged the D.C. Zoning Commission’s approval for the University to develop Square 54. The appeal was denied by the D.C. Court of Appeals on Feb. 4.

A reversal could have potentially halted construction on the project, which is now several grades above ground level in some spots.

Square 54, located across the street from the Foggy Bottom Metro stop, is expected to feature office space, apartments, retail space and a full-service grocery store upon its projected completion in 2011.

“While we have long believed that we had a strong case in support of the Zoning Commission’s decision, it is gratifying to us and our partner, Boston Properties, to receive the Court’s decision and have the matter so firmly decided,” University President Steven Knapp in a statement. “We look forward to sharing the amenities of this wonderful project with our neighbors in Foggy Bottom and beyond.”

The FBA had challenged the decision on several grounds, including because no environmental impact study had been conducted on a development that would be “the size of the Empire State Building coming to Foggy Bottom,” FBA president Asher Corson said.

Corson, a GW alumnus, said that although he wasn’t at the helm of the group when the lawsuit was filed, he was disappointed in the result and took issue with the University’s promotion of the decision on a snow day in the middle of the two storms that paralyzed D.C. this month.

“GW should focus its resources on cleaning up its campus so students and professors can get to class. Instead they are churning out press releases declaring victory over Square 54, a site that current students will never benefit from,” Corson said on Feb. 11.

The FBA had also charged that the proposed grocery store and other amenities promised to the neighborhood as part of the development were “not sufficiently feasible and the conditions imposed are not realistically enforceable,” in its appeal. The D.C. Court of Appeals did not disagree, but noted that the effort to secure the services promised to the neighborhood is obligatory, not the actual services.

“Ultimately what matters is not whether a particular amenity will necessarily materialize, but that the entity seeking PUD approval will ‘follow through,’ in ‘good faith,’ the ‘process of implementing [the] amenities,” according to the court’s decision, citing the zoning commission’s original ruling.

“What I’m realizing is in Campus Plans or PUD’s, there are really no protections for the community,” Corson said.

However, GW Director of Community Relations Britany Waddell said Tuesday at a monthly FBA meeting that the University is currently in negotiations with “multiple grocery stores.”

The second decision stems from another appeal challenging how GW counts its students.

The Zoning Commission approved both the University’s 2007 Foggy Bottom Campus Plan and Square 54 in 2007. The FBA’s appeal of the Campus Plan was upheld in September, but the University’s methodology of counting students was sent back to the zoning commission for review.

The most recent DCZC filing ordered GW to provide a better explanation as to why its methodology is correct using “findings of facts and conclusions of law,” by March 20, according to DCZC documents.

“The argument that was made was that some students are covered by the Mount Vernon Campus Plan, which is true, but there are students that may come down to use the Wellness Center or to attend basketball games,” the FBA’s attorney Cornish Hitchcock said.

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