GW offers $4 million in neighbor perks

The University will face the D.C. Zoning Commission Monday for final approval to construct an office building along Pennsylvania Avenue, offering a $4.1 million benefits package to appease neighbors.

The Square 75A construction project, which will demolish a block of buildings and townhouses, has drawn criticism from locals, even as GW puts forward community perks such as affordable housing units along F Street, a $100,000 real-time Metro transit information board and a $100,000 subsidy for local organizations to lease office space.

Senior Associate Vice President for Operations Alicia Knight said revenue from the redevelopment would pay for the amenities. Knight added that the costs could be split between GW and a developer, who will be selected this fall.

GW will spend $1 million to renovate three townhouses across from South Hall into affordable living space and shell out $2 million to subsidize rent for 30 years. More than $750,000 will go toward sustainable features, like a green roof, and $150,000 will cover streetscape improvements.

The University received initial approval for its proposal on Jan. 14, but neighbors are still dissatisfied. The front of the new building will include more than 6,500 square feet in retail, but members of the Foggy Bottom Association and the West End Citizens Association expressed concerns that GW would pick retailers that close early in the evenings and hurt the business scene. The street is currently lined with late-night eateries like Froggy Bottom Pub, Panda Café and Thai Place.

“I think the Pennsylvania Avenue frontage generally in that area needs activation – not just during the daytime,” zoning commissioner Robert Miller said at a meeting last month. “It doesn’t need to become just an office canyon at night.”

West End Citizens Association secretary Barbara Kahlow said after the meeting that the neighborhood groups want retailers that stay open at night so the section of Pennsylvania Avenue does not become a “dead block” later in the day.

Knight said the University will not reach out to potential retailers until after it makes an agreement with a developer in the next year and establishes a timeline for construction.

She said a combination of D.C. agencies, community groups and Foggy Bottom residents provided input about what sorts of amenities they would like to see in the package.

“Sometimes we can’t get all the way to an agreement on things, but we make some good headway,” Knight said.

The bundle will be tacked onto a larger amenities package that the University offered in the 2007 Campus Plan, which outlines 20 years of construction projects across 17 sites. The University provided the extra benefits after it added 40 feet to its original plan for Square 75A.

GW will pay $50,000 to landscape the area around the President Condominium at 22nd and I streets to block views of the street because Knight said neighbors “don’t want to see cars going by.”

After conflicts over noise and the relocation of an alleyway in the fall, GW promised to coordinate with the President Condominium when the University begins to develop the nearby Rice Hall as part of its 20-year campus plan.

Amenities also include $50,000 to fund a fellowship at Francis-Stevens Education Campus, a public school on 24th and N streets, to hire a student in GW’s Graduate School of Education and Human Development. The Parent Teacher Association at the pre-kindergarten through eighth grade school will help determine that student’s role, but it has expressed interest in a music instructor, Knight said.

GW will also contribute $1,000 for advertisements to promote Francis-Stevens, where enrollment has lagged for the past several years. The school is slated to become a satellite campus for the School Without Walls in January.

The Board of Trustees – the University’s highest governing body – will review the Square 75A plans and provide feedback later this year.

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