Zoning Commission requests new design for law garage

Correction appended

The D.C. Zoning Commission stalled its vote to approve plans for the underground Law Learning Center and parking garage Thursday evening, requesting that the University create new designs with an alternate entrance.

University officials presented the estimated $31 to $37 million project – located on Square 103, behind Potomac House and next to Tonic restaurant – to the commission, but were rebuked when concerns with traffic flow and safety around the entrance were presented.

Postponing approval of the project is a setback for the University, as construction for the Science and Engineering Complex is predicated on this parking garage being built. The spaces in the Law Learning Center Garage will replace the ones the University will lose when it knocks down the University Parking Garage on H Street to make way for the SEC.

The existing plans offer garage access via an alley between 20th and 21st streets.

Barbara Kahlow, a member of the West End Citizens Association, said the area faces heavy pedestrian traffic as well as commuter vehicle traffic and gridlock. She added the alley is too narrow for emergency vehicles to pass through in case of fire.

The association would prefer plans based on a G Street entrance, Kahlow said, which would mitigate concerns because it’s a lower-traffic area.

“I think there have been some legitimate concerns raised tonight for the applicant to look at,” Konrad Schlater, the commission’s vice chairman, said.

The University will return to the commission for a public meeting March 14, after submitting new designs based on a G Street entryway by Feb. 22.

Chairman Anthony Hood said the commission is also requesting an expert assessment of a proposed entrance on G Street from the District Department of Transportation.

“The University believes that the proposed access to the site from the existing public alley is consistent with the principles of vehicle and pedestrian safety and is an appropriate solution for vehicle access to the site,” Alicia O’Neil Knight, senior associate vice president of operations, said. She said the D.C. Department of Transportation supported the design in a report and D.C. Fire and EMS did not note any concerns while reviewing the project.

The first phase of the site’s larger development plan would offer the Law School an extra 23,281 square feet for program space and four below-ground stories of parking.

The University will submit a separate zoning application to construct an above-ground building in phase two of the Square 103 project. Phase two is dependent upon funding, O’Neil Knight said at the hearing.

This article was updated on Feb. 7, 2011 to reflect the following:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that the Square 103 project will cost $6 million. In fact, the Law Learning Center project will cost $6 million and the below-ground parking garage will cost an estimated $25 to $31 million. Also, the Zoning Commission will hold a public meeting March 14, not a public hearing.

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