After more than three years of reviews, hearings, meetings and behind-the scenes negotiations, the way has been cleared for a one-block strip of I Street NW to become a park.
A bill passed by the D.C. Council this week will close I Street between 23rd and 24th streets and give title to the land to George Washington University, which plans to spend about $100,000 on landscaping, benches, lighting, a pedestrian way and a bicycle path. The title transfer will not take effect, however, until the university signs several convenants with the city concerning the park. Under the convenant, which Foggy Bottom activists consider crucial, the university will give up potential zoning benefits from its construction of the park.
The proposed park, adjacent to the Foggy Bottom Metro Station and in front of the university's Ross Hall, is designated as a "major open space" on the university's campus plan.
Before the City Council gave its approval, the potential impact of the park was reviewed by the National Capital Planning Commission, the D.C. Department of Transportation, the Municipal Planning Office, the Fire Department, the Department of Housing and Community Development, the Department of Environmental Services, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) and the city utility companies.
The review process, which began early in 1975, yielded no objections to the proposal. But at public hearings held in November 1976 and in March 1977, some citizen groups and Foggy Bottom residents opposed the plan.
Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2A, which represents Foggy Bottom and which has often fought the university on development issues, voted to oppose the plan. According to ANC commissoner Ann Loikow, the commissioners feared that the university would reap zoning benefits from the park plan that would allow it to build larger buildings.
under the zoning regulations, if the university creates a park on land it owns, it may transfer the development rights to other campus buildings. On the park site, which measures approximately 24,000 square feet, the university could theoretically build an 85,000-square-foot building under the zoning regulations. Therefore, subject to certain restrictions, the university could in some future construction exceed by 85,000 square feet the size of the buildings that are normally allowed in the campus neighborhood.
Over the past few months, however, D.C. Council member John Wilson and his staff worked out an informal agreement between the university and the community. University vice president and treasurer Charles Diehl in a letter to Wilson dated June 19 indicated that the university would be willing to give up the potential zoning benefits. In return, community leaders dropped their position to the park. They also agreed not to thwart the university's plan to close an alley to make way for a building that the university is constructing for the World Bank, according to a Wilson aide.
The university's agreement to give up zoning benefits will be included in a convenant the university will sign with the city, according to Bridget Quinn of Wilson's staff. The agreement on the part of the community will not be formalized, but several community leaders' contacted confirmed its existence.
"The park is a great idea," said ANC Commissioner Harold Davitt. "But they could have had it two years ago if they had agreed to give up the zoning benefits."
According to Quinn, Wilson wanted to "establish some sense of communication and trust between G.W. and the community. It's been so bad - there's no trust on either side. But G.W. is there, and that has benefits to the city. The university isn't going to go away, and the community doesn't want to go away either."
Quinn said that Wilson wanted to establish the rapport to avoid a clash over the development of the 2000 block of I Street. According to Diehl, that block will be the next site for university development. The university's master plan calls for a large commercial buildings - to be leased to earn revenue for the university - to be built on the site. But community leaders say they are determined to retain a group of 19th century townhouses, known as Red Lion Row, on the same site.