The President Condominium, the only non-GW building along a chunk of I Street, has for 71 years watched the University spend hundreds of millions of dollars razing and erecting new buildings. But owners and residents there say tensions with University construction have reached a tipping point.
As the University prepares to seek approval from the city’s zoning board Nov. 15 for its next big project – a multi-million dollar office complex along I Street and Pennsylvania Avenue – residents at the condominium say it could collapse their company and push tenants out of Foggy Bottom. They plan to testify against the project at a city hearing next month.
The proposed design is about 18 percent bigger than original plans laid out in the 2007 Campus Plan – a gripe residents plan to bring to the city. The 11-story structure would total 250,000 square feet, and also include 6,000 feet of retail, a loading dock and a 179-car garage.
Construction would begin in 2014, ripping down an office building, two University townhouses, Froggy Bottom Pub, Thai Place, Panda Cafe and Mehran Restaurant along Pennsylvania Avenue.
The condos, on the corner of 22nd and I streets, are also less than a block away from the construction pit that will become the Science and Engineering Hall in 2015, and the recently completed Avenue complex.
Anthony Cook, who has rented out space in The President Condominium for a decade, said noise and traffic from a proposed alleyway outside residents’ windows would turn them away for good.
“My tenants will move out. There’s no doubt in my mind,” Cook said at a Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission meeting Wednesday. “There will be too much noise, too much traffic. The air won’t be clean. It won’t be healthy.”
A lawyer for the condominium, Martin Sullivan, said residents will air their concerns at the zoning hearing and try to halt approval unless GW “proposes some suitable mitigation measure.” He said they are waiting for a serious offer from the University to cut down on the alley’s immediate impacts to the condos, including sound and traffic.
“Rarely does a project have such a concentrated impact on one property,” Sullivan said.
University spokeswoman Michelle Sherrard said the University has discussed the project with community members – including representatives from the condos – for a year, and would continue “with a goal of addressing concerns as best as possible” before next month’s zoning hearing.
Jeff Barber, a University architect working on the project site, said the new building would be 10 feet farther away from The President than the existing structure. But he said the alley would need to be widened to 24 feet to accommodate traffic flow and loading needs.
The University will not calculate project costs until after the zoning process, Sherrard said. GW will add 40,000 square feet of affordable housing on F Street to compensate for the complex’s increased space.
Asher Corson, an alumnus and commissioner on the local group, called for the University to provide community amenities in exchange for the expanded property plan.
“It provides no direct amenity or benefit to the people who are going to be living near the site that will be impacted by it,” Corson said.
The group’s chair, Florence Harmon, said the University and Foggy Bottom neighbors would have a “philosophical difference of opinion” regarding the project, and it would be in the hands of the D.C. Zoning Commission to work out a solution.
“I think you all are going to take the position that the retail and the affordable housing will be enough for amenities,” Harmon said to the University officials at the meeting. “I think we will take a different position.”
Harmon was set to present a proposed list of amenities, gathered with community input, at Wednesday’s meeting. But when Corson said he had not yet seen the proposal, Harmon slammed her gavel down and ended the meeting early, before running through its full agenda.
Corson, who unwaveringly opposed the project during the University’s initial presentation on its plan last November, said moving the alleyway further from the condos would be the best solution to tone down the noise.
He also suggested that GW add a park near the space and donate to community organizations to give back to the neighborhood in return for additional space.
This article appeared in the October 22, 2012 issue of the Hatchet.