Advisory Neighborhood Commission, GW relationship strained

Members of Foggy Bottom’s flagship neighborhood group say the relationship between GW and its neighbors continues to be strained, at a time when the University has several major development projects underway.

GW’s three largest projects – the Science and Engineering Complex, the Law Learning Center and the School of Public Health and Health Services building – are awaiting final approval from the city. Opposition from local advocacy group the Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission could thwart the process.

Members of the ANC – who have the power to issue recommendations to D.C. agencies on issues affecting residents – said GW is not considerate of the surrounding neighborhood.

ANC Commissioner and alumnus Asher Corson said he hoped University President Steven Knapp would usher in a new era of neighborhood communication, but he has only seen slight improvement since former University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg’s tenure, a time when community relations were notoriously sour.

“Still, tension between GW and the community remains and there are some serious issues,” Corson said.

Michael Akin, assistant vice president of the Office of Government, International and Community Relations, said ANC objections to development proposals could have a profound impact on projects.

“A commissioner’s opinion has a greater weight than if you or I spoke to the zoning commission,” Akin said.

Just last month, the University presented SEC plans to the ANC, prompting a unanimous objection from the group and concerns that the proposals do not offer the community any tangible services or features.

A public zoning hearing where the D.C. Zoning Commission will consider ANC concerns on the project is scheduled for March 24.

Thorns in GW and Foggy Bottom’s relationship stem from the University’s 20-year campus plan, approved by the city in 2007. Corson said GW neglected neighborhood and local concerns, citing the ANC’s opposition to the plan after months of discussion with the University.

Akin maintains the University engaged the entire Foggy Bottom community throughout the campus plan process, including local businesses, churches, the ANC and another neighborhood group, the Foggy Bottom Association, and the West End Citizens’ Association.

“The University was adamant at being completely open,” Akin said. “We wanted to include everyone in the community.”

Akin and Corson both said despite the initial approval of projects in the campus plan, proposals go through a second approval process to solicit feedback from the community and empower neighbors.

Corson said the Foggy Bottom community receives little from GW’s plan, adding he is disappointed and concerned about the University’s development plans.

“In some ways GW is a good neighbor, and in some ways they’re not,” Corson said.

ANC chair Rebecca Coder said the University’s campus plan is inflexible and echoed Asher’s statement that the University could offer more to the neighborhood, adding she would like to see GW start a “challenge trust fund” to spearhead the creation of a second entrance for the busy Foggy Bottom Metro station.

“There are definitely some heated points of view” about GW’s position in Foggy Bottom, Coder said, “but the ANC’s goal is to start constructive dialogues.”

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