GW Hillel and neighbors unable to reach agreement at neighborhood meeting

Eve Zhurbinskiy, the newest Commissioner of the Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission, proposed a new safety plan to add more lighting to the Eye Street Mall at Wednesday night's meeting. Jillian DiPersio | Hatchet Photographer
Eve Zhurbinskiy, a Commissioner of the Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission, said she supported construction on the GW Hillel building because new facilities could encourage more Jewish students to attend GW. Jillian DiPersio | Hatchet Photographer

This post was written by Hatchet Reporter Liz Provencher.

The Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission meeting stretched to more than four hours Wednesday Night to give the community time to discuss several lengthy topics, including another debate on construction terms for the new GW Hillel building.

David Avitable, the attorney for GW Hillel and GW, gave the commission a run-down of the new concessions the Hillel would be willing to make for their new building that will be constructed in the same place as the current building on 23rd and H streets. In the past 16 months that the two groups have been trying to make an agreement, officials at GW Hillel suggested the new building use 93 percent of the space instead of the full lot and to have a rear yard of 4 feet as opposed to not having a yard.

“We spent a lot of time over the past 16 months working with the church. We feel like we made significant concessions,” Avitable said.

Neighbors and representatives from St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, which is a 148-year-old landmark next door to the Hillel building, argued against Hillel’s construction design, worrying that the new building would cut off light from the shorter church and that the construction process would damage the landmark.

Neighbors like Barbara Kahlow voiced their opinion that the list of changes meant to appease the church and other neighbors weren’t enough.

“We adore this church. It is one of the jewels of our neighborhood,” Kahlow said. “The changes he described are nothing less than trivial.”

Commissioner Eve Zhurbinskiy, a sophomore at GW, said she supports the building’s construction because it could bring more Jewish students to GW. She said that she knows Jewish students who chose not to go to GW because they thought GW’s Hillel facilities were not up to par.

“This building would probably benefit large amounts of the community,” Zhurbinskiy said.

The commission was unable to reach an agreement on Hillel, and decided to leave the decision up to the D.C. Zoning Commission on Nov. 9, the decision date for the construction appeal. Commissioner William Kennedy Smith wrapped up the conversation on the topic, saying the decision will not be based on which religious group’s mission is stronger.

“These are two phenomenal organizations, both of their missions are incredible. In no way, shape or form is this a referendum on whose mission is better or whose contributions are greater,” he said.

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