Neighbors mark improved University relations

Neighbors are looking to loosen requirements for a city-mandated committee of GW officials and local residents, citing improved town-grown relations just five years after the group’s formation.

The effort to eliminate a mandate to appoint neighborhood representatives on the Community Advisory Committee shows diminishing tensions between GW and residents bordering campus – a shift from markedly sour relations that triggered the requirement as part of the 2007 Campus Plan.

The advisory committee was established by the D.C. Zoning Commission, the city agency that approves construction and land use, to mitigate a then-strained relationship by offering neighbors a forum to confer on matters including traffic, noise and potential community benefits from larger University projects.

Foggy Bottom’s map transformed from a quiet residential area into a lively college neighborhood during former University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg’s 19-year tenure, which saw more than two dozen development projects expand GW’s urban campus. As the ballooning stopped with the 2007 Campus Plan – a 20-year outline of future construction sites to redevelop existing plots, rather than extend the boundaries of campus – tensions between the school and its neighbors began to ease.

The University-led advisory committee, which meets four times per year, offers information on the school’s population growth in relation to a city-imposed enrollment cap, updates residents on campus development projects and addresses neighbors’ campus noise and traffic concerns.

Members of the Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission – a local government body that considers the impact of community issues like safety and traffic on residential life – feel the committee’s mission overlaps with the ANC.

Commission Vice Chair Rebecca Coder said the advisory committee’s efforts are redundant because the ANC also reviews issues between GW and neighbors.

“In the ANC’s mind, it didn’t make a lot of sense to have these two forums versus just the ANC’s forum for discussions around the University,” Coder said. “The reality is, this ANC is far more constructive, and it seems very duplicative.”

Coder said the ANC is looking to strip a requirement that the committee include five community representatives selected by ANC members, a guideline that has not been followed on the ANC’s end since the plan was put into place. The committee also has five University representatives, including Dean of Students Peter Konwerski and Senior Associate Vice President for Operations Alicia O’Neil Knight.

University spokeswoman Michelle Sherrard said the University-led advisory committee is a forum to “enhance the collaboration and transparency between GW and the community.”

She said the University is open to committee modifications, but added that it is not always feasible to discuss campus-centric issues at neighborhood meetings with lengthy agendas.

“The University recognizes the Advisory Committee does not replace the role of the ANC, but believes that the Advisory Committee can support ongoing community dialogue,” Sherrard said.

Both parties must submit documentation to the D.C. Zoning Commission, which would determine whether any potential changes to the advisory committee would see a vote or public hearings.

Sara Bardin, director of the D.C. Office of Zoning that oversees the zoning commission, said the agency declined to comment on pending matters.

ANC Chair Florence Harmon said at the group’s meeting April 18 she would like to see more communication from GW’s end, adding that the advisory committee acted as a proxy for the ANC.

“Collaboration and discussion is always good, but work it into something where it’s a more useful mechanism than what it is now,” Harmon said. “It’s not really clear what it’s supposed to be doing.”

Priya Anand contributed to this report

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