- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 27, 2000

Growing tensions between the District of Columbia's burgeoning universities and the neighborhoods surrounding them will top the agenda tonight at a meeting of the D.C. Zoning Commission.

Residents from neighborhood groups throughout the District are expected to voice their concerns about universities like George Washington, Georgetown and others gobbling up property and disrupting neighborhoods.

"The colleges expand both physically and without any regulatory oversight," said Michael Thomas, president of the Foggy Bottom Association. "They expand enrollment without providing university housing. They don't keep up with housing."

Mr. Thomas, whose neighborhood is in the shadow of George Washington University, said he and other neighborhood activists want the commission and the Board of Zoning Adjustments, a separate zoning panel that oversees the colleges, to start taking a more critical look at university expansion plans.

City regulations currently require universities to win BZA approval before making changes, like adding a dorm or parking area, on their campuses. But Mr. Thomas said some universities are using a loophole to go around the BZA.

Last summer, when GWU purchased a Howard Johnson's hotel solely for use as a freshman dorm, residents had no say in the university's expansion because plans for growth outside of the campus don't have to go before the BZA, he said.

Representatives from Howard, Georgetown, American and Catholic universities, and Trinity College all plan to defend their campus plans tonight.

The meeting is set for 7 p.m. at the Office of Zoning building, 441 Fourth St. NW.

The universities' land purchases in the District are also removing valuable property from the tax rolls, said Elleanor Becker, a Foggy Bottom resident.

Sara Benjamin, a spokesman for the city's Office of Zoning, said there needs to be a balance between the needs of the city's universities and those of the neighbors.

Yet, tonight's meeting should clarify regulations that are "a little too vague," Ms. Benjamin said. "The zoning regulations as far as campus plans are pretty outdated."

Using buildings off campus for dormitories and classrooms is a major issue for local residents, according to Barbara Zartman, the advisory neighborhood commissioner for Ward 2E, located near Georgetown University.

Neighbors are concerned about a proposal by GU to use a former public school building two blocks outside of the campus boundary for a new School of Public Policy, said Mrs. Zartman, who will speak at tonight's meeting.

Residents near American University are more concerned with how renovations on campus and an increase in students will affect the parking shortage in the area.

"We're concerned that the present regime under which these plans are debated gives great leeway to the universities to impinge on neighboring residential areas," said William Harrop, a member of the Spring Valley/Wesley Heights Citizen Association.

Neighbors want consideration of all local universities' 10-year plans put on hold until a decision is made on the zoning changes, Mr. Harrop said.

The city's director of the Office of Planning, Andrew Altman, wrote in a April 21 letter to the BZA that he sees the Foggy Bottom community becoming a large extension of GWU as a result of the university's tremendous growth beyond the campus.

"If GW continues to purchase land outside the campus plan area, and the number of students living in the Foggy Bottom area continues to increase," Mr. Altman wrote, "the residential community will reach a 'tipping point' where the neighborhood will simply transform into a 'university area.' "

That "tipping point" is where older residents move out of their houses, Mr. Thomas said, because they don't want to have the disturbances of college life next door to them.

"The nature of the community changes," Mr. Thomas said. "Universities are a challenge to preserving residential communities around the business area."

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