George Washington University and Foggy Bottom community leaders are at odds again, this time about the school's plan to build a large combination garage and warehouse on its campus.
Last week the two groups squared off before the city's Board of Zoning Adjustment that must rule on the university's plans to build the two-story, $3.5 million building on about half the block along the north side of F Street between 20th and 21st streets NW.
The university tore down some Victorian houses that once stood on the site and has since used the land for a parking lot.
GW officials told the BZA that the facility is seriously needed to allow the university to centralize its now scattered delivery, maintenance and trash removal operations. In addition, officials said, the school currently has no adequate garage facilities.
"We don't have any truck maintenance area," said assistant treasurer Robert E. Dickman after the hearing. "Guys have been laying on their backs out in the alley for 20 years every time they want to change an oil filter. It's a case of getting the people in transportation a decent place to work," Dickman said.
But officials of the Foggy Bottom Advisory Neighborhood Commission and several residents objected to the building, saying it would bring a stream of trucks into their community, further worsen already severe parking problems and attract rats. They added that the proposal is the latest attempt by the university to use up land available for housing.
"Residents in this neighborhood face the possibility of becoming an endangered species," said Ken Blumenthal, who lives across the street from the proposed building.
Foggy Bottom citizen groups have battled the university since the early 1970s when the university embarked on an ambitious real estate program that replaced many of the community's Victorian and Federalist homes with high-rise office buildings, parking garages and a new student union building.
At last week's hearing while university officials outlined their need for the new building, the ANC complained that it was not adequately consulted about the project.
Dickman said supplies are now often unloaded on sidewalks in front of different department and administration buildings making it difficult for his office to keep track of the deliveries and the condition of the supplies on arrival.
"Right now with 17,000 students and faculty and staff . . . we are really a fairly decent sized city," he added. "To provide support, there are things we need to do like receive and distribute materials, maintain buildings and haul the trash."
University officials testified that to blunt some community objections, they designed the building's facade to resemble the remaining townhouses on the block. They added that they put offices on the side facing F Street and the loading docks and repair sections in the rear.
"We really felt we had tried to get as sensitive a design in the interior arrangement as we could," Dickman said.
Residents alleged that they had not been consulted about the proposed building.
Geoffrey Stamm, chairman of the Foggy Bottom Advisory Neighborhood Commission, said the ANC had repeatedly asked the university for detailed plans of the building so the group could offer an alternative design.
The ANC hired architect David Schwartz, who drew up a preliminary plan for the site that called for combining new housing on the front part of the property with the maintenance and delivery facilities to be located on the rear of the site.
Schwartz contacted university officials about his proposal but was told they would not delay construction of the building to consider the alternative. University officials confirmed Schwartz's statement.
Charles Diehl, the university's vice president and treasurer, said university officials met with the ANC last summer to inform them of GWU's proposals. He added that detailed plans were not available until the university filed its request with the BZA for a zoning modification.
Diehl and Dickman said the ANC plans were not considered because the group was unable to show that the plan to combine housing with the other uses would be financially feasible.
The two sides also disagreed about the project's impact on traffic. University officials estimated that 27 to 32 delivery trucks would unload at the proposed building daily, and an additional five small electrically powered trucks belonging to the university would enter and leave hourly.
A traffic consultant hired by the ANC to analyze the traffic impact estimated the number of trucks would be closer to 160 per day.
Dickman countered that whether there were 80 or 160 trucks a day, the additional traffic would be insignificant compared to the existing traffic.
Citing figures compiled by the District of Columbia Department of Transportation, Dickman said that 25,000 cars a day pass through the two-block area between 20th, 21st, F and G streets.
The BZA is expected to decide on the case in September. If the project is approved, university officials said construction would begin immediately. CAPTION: Picture, George Washington University wants to build a two-story, $3.5 million garage-warehouse at this site on F Street between 20th and 21 streets NW. By VANESSA BARNES HILLIAN--The Washington Post