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The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Students, officials and community members debate merits of Square 54 plan

University officials defended their mixed-use development plan for Square 54, the empty site across from the Foggy Bottom Metro, despite opposition arguments from community members and some students at a debate Thursday night.

The debate, hosted by the Enosinian Society, a new student organization created to facilitate discussion among students and faculty, took place on the second floor of the Elliott School of International Affairs building. About 30 people attended.

Michael Akin, GW’s director of D.C. and Foggy Bottom/West End Affairs, discussed the benefits of using Square 54 for commercial use at the event, emphasizing that revenue generated from retail, office buildings and apartment buildings GW hopes to build will help finance academic and housing needs on other spaces within campus boundaries.

The University believes that the site, one of the last developable pieces of land downtown, must be used for investment purposes. Revenue generated would go toward campus needs, including a new science center proposed to be built in place of the Warwick Building, located off of Washington Circle. The revenue would also be used to fund the residence hall the University plans to build in the School Without Walls parking lot on 21st and G streets.

“If we put up a science center, we need money to fund it. We are a tuition-driven University and have the lowest endowment of our basket schools,” Akin said.

Joy Howell, president of the Foggy Bottom Association, a local community group, said at the event that she and many community members disagree with the University’s mixed-use plan for Square 54 because they believe the University is ignoring its housing and academic space needs.

“The University does not put its students and faculty at the highest rate, but rather puts its business needs first,” she said.

Howell also said that the plans for Square 54 should not be debated since the University is not in compliance with the Campus Plan, a 10-year agreement made between the University and the city, which includes enrollment caps and requires that 70 percent of the University’s first 8,000 undergraduates must be housed on campus. The University is currently at 67 percent and has until fall 2006 to meet the quota.

Akin stressed that the mixed-use development of Square 54 would be beneficial to both students and local residents – particularly the proposed retail venues, including a grocery store.

To gauge student feedback about the University’s proposed plans for Square 54 and other development on campus, the Student Association, in conjunction with University officials, sponsored an online survey in late October sent to all undergraduate and graduate students.

Survey results indicate that 41 percent of undergraduate students listed academic space and 33 percent listed student housing as their top development priorities, and 47 percent listed a new grocery store as their top retail priority for Square 54. A total of 287 graduate and 762 undergraduate students completed the survey.

Howell criticized the survey, saying that it was written in a way that would make it nearly impossible for students to oppose Square 54 plans. The survey consisted of mostly multiple-choice questions and never asked if students think Square 54 should be used to satisfy academic and student housing needs instead of for commercial development.

Tracy Schario, GW director of media relations, said earlier this month that the goal of the survey was to get student input on a variety of development issues. However, she said student input will probably not affect GW’s plans to use Square 54 for mixed-use development.

“It will simply be incorporated into the planning process,” she said. “Were looking for the survey results to help us with the big picture – it’s not just about Square 54.”

At its monthly meeting last week, the Advisory Neighborhood Commission, a local community group that makes zoning recommendations to the city, passed a resolution asking the Zoning Commission not to approve GW’s requests to increase campus density, a move that is needed for the University to put commercial space on Square 54.

“Frankly the point is … they’re moving forward, asking us to give up everything, and what are they giving us?” ANC Commissioner Richard Price, who wrote the resolution, said at the meeting Wednesday.

The Zoning Commission does not have to make decisions in line with ANC recommendations, but does take their opinion into consideration when making zoning rulings.

-Kaitlyn Jahrling and Katie Rooney contributed to this report.

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