George Washington University


The controversy between GWU and its nearest residential neighbors is not only a classic "town- gown" case, but also a significant issue in the continuing development of DC's limited, but very high-valued, "downtown" area. This analysis begins with a discussion of the background on this seriously inflamed zoning battle; followed by a listing of the major considerations; and an analysis of the revenues involved; plus a summary of the university's plans, and a description of the disgruntled community members. NARPAC then raises a series of relevant questions, and provides a frank analysis of a silly attempt to rationalize small campuses. Finally, over a year later, we add NARPAC's testimony before the DC Zoning Commission finally getting around to considering this growth plan.

West End follows Foggy Bottom

And two years later, similar resistance to economic redevelopment, and the trading away of DC property, erupts in the nearby "West End" neighborhood as the city offers to swap obsolete library, police and fire department properties for all-new facilities and greatly increased revenues from higher density "bundled" properties.


NARPAC concludes that while there is no overriding reason to encourage the further expansion of GWU in the downtown area, there is also no overriding reason to place an absolute ceiling on GWU's student or employee population within its current boundaries. What is unjustifiable is to a) constrain on-campus growth by zoning limits substantially below those in its immediate surrounds; b) discourage any non-profit institution from creating development plans which provide valuable revenues to the city as well as valuable income to that institution; or c) permit local neighborhoods to veto continued urban development around its vital metro stations, particularly based on specious argumentation.


The city's most vitriolic battle for space and land use has been underway for some years now in the "West End/Foggy Bottom" area of DC. This is the area west of the White House toward the Rock Creek. In this classic "town vs gown" battle, GWU is trying to expand its undergraduate student enrollment on (and around) its core campus. Allied against the university are many of the residents of the historic neighborhood who have become near-hysterical opponents of more student sprawl. They are using any number of disguises to argue against encroachment by these rowdy, noisy, thoughtless, unclean, junior barbarians.

The process of community "dormification" is well underway, with some buildings beyond the boundaries of the GWU already purchased and converted to student dorms. The most notorious of these is the old Howard Johnson motel across Virginia Avenue from the Watergate complex. From its rooms the conspirators in the Nixon-era "Watergate break-in" watched their high-risk plan go south, courtesy of an alert Watergate security guard. Perhaps more troubling, though, has been the gradual conversion of several neighborhood homes, hotels and apartment houses into the squalid equivalents of "Animal House". Neighbors claim that the Foggy Bottom quality of life has deteriorated due to these student ghettos. In an attempt to get the city's attention, they are claiming that valuable city revenues from upscale community residents are declining. NARPAC cannot confirm or deny this.

Current GWU management, on the other hand, claims that the university's classic role as a cluster of graduate schools for a various professional skills (such as government) was placing them at an economic disadvantage relative to other universities with a larger undergraduate share of their total student body. Apparently, donors are more likely to donate to their undergraduate college than to a separate graduate school. GWU therefore began an aggressive campaign to increase its undergraduate rolls, (not decrease their graduate rolls). They also decided, quite wisely as it turns out, that investing in real estate would help their endowment grow more rapidly. Using various seemingly underhanded approaches (at least to their neighbors), GWU has bought a substantial number of properties beyond their zoned boundaries. While some have remained taxed and "productive" for city revenues, a few have met qualifications for tax-free status and have fed the Foggy Bottom paranoias.

Contributing to GWU's (real) problems, much of their "approved" 40-odd acre site is constrained by historic preservation limits, and many of those limits appear to have been imposed primarily to constrain further "densification" of the campus. Furthermore, while the part of Foggy Bottom closest to the river has been an upscale residential area of handsome single family row houses for more than a century, (and is properly designated an Historic District), the same genteel past does not apply broadly to the area between GWU and the ellipse, or southward towards the Lincoln Memorial. Here a number of federal government and institutional buildings have been built on otherwise lackluster properties, some reclaimed over the years from swampland, like west end of the Mall and the Lincoln Memorial themselves. The major features of this part of DC are shown below (one of several charts modified from the standard briefing prepared by EE&K Associates, and available on GWU's extensive web site on this subject at

According to the Junior League's Illustrated History of the City of Washington, a large part of this area was devoted to the military barracks of Camp Fry in the 1860's. It later became home to a diverse population of blacks and white, and many Irish, German, and Italian immigrants as well, after the West Station Gas Works was built in 1858 and operated through the first half of the 20th Century.. After WWII, much of the area was either torn down or subject to major renovations as the entire area became a full part of "downtown". Although the prominent circle at the junction of Pennsylvania Ave and K Street was identified from the first "L'Enfant Plan" for the city, those streets did not really come into their own until after WWII. Since then, major new buildings have been, and are still being, constructed along Pennsylvania Ave (GWU's NE boundary) and K Street. They now reach all the way west from Lafayette Park to the bridge over Rock Creek (and its parkway) into Georgetown. Oddly enough, however, this area has not yet been incorporated into DC's "Downtown BID (Business Improvement District)".

major considerations: a prior battle over the new GWU hospital

Four other major considerations impact on GWU's current situation. First, the university includes a major (teaching) hospital, the second largest in DC (along with Georgetown Hospital, about a mile and a half away) each with some 330 "beds in operation". Each of these two hospitals is among the "top-twelve" employers in DC: Georgetown Hospital is #4 with some 5,700 employees, GWU is #11 with perhaps 2800. These numbers are independent of their parent universities that rank #2 and #3 (After American U), with 6,000+ employees each. The well- known, long-established GWU hospital on the southeast arc of Washington Circle was famous for its emergency treatment of President Reagan after he was shot by a would-be assassin). It recently became its own source of controversy between GWU and the Foggy Bottom Neighborhood. Having occupied "Square 54" (as that block is known) for many years until it became somewhat obsolete), GWU fought successfully to build a new state-of-the-art hospital across 23rd Street, where it meets the circle, on "Square 40". It is a fine new building, but it is large and faces a Foggy Bottom residential block right across New Hampshire Avenue. Records of neighborhood resistance to this "intrusion" can be found among DC headlines since 1999.

a major Metrorail station in its midst

Second, at the intersection of 23rd Street and "Eye" Street (the southern edge of Squares 40 and 54) lies the entrance to the Foggy Bottom Metro Station. Here the very highly traveled Blue and Orange Lines connect DC and the Rosslyn Metro Station in Arlington, VA on a "near-saturated" double track (one each way) tunnel under the Potomac River. What might equally well have been called the "Washington Circle Station" is the closest stop to Georgetown, the Kennedy Center, the State Department and the Lincoln Memorial. It is also the only station serving western K Street and Pennsylvania Avenue until Farragut West near the center of downtown. The fact that a hospital, a university, and an obdurate historic district all "usurp" extremely valuable "transit- oriented development" around the western "gateway" to downtown, is a matter of proper concern. Even more so for a land-limited city in the throes of major economic revival of its expanding downtown area. It might be noted that both Georgetown and American Universities have poor access to Metro, while UDC, Gallaudet, and Catholic Universities are more conveniently connected.

a plethora of universities in DC?

Third, as shown above, there are seven "major" universities within DC's boundaries, quite well distributed around the city north of the Anacostia River. There is only one small community hospital "East of the Anacostia". But GWU is the only one that is now truly "downtown". While this was certainly not so a century ago when "Foggy Bottom" was virtually unpopulated countryside, GWU now finds itself in the midst of a spreading urban environment. Along its campus boundaries there are now such institutions as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, to say nothing of the State Department and the Kennedy Center. With the exception of the troubled and shrinking University of the District of Columbia (UDC), GWU has by far the smallest campus, the largest student enrollment, and the largest fraction of graduate students. As shown on the chart below, GWU stands out from the other "urban" universities, and, in fact, has almost three times the student population per campus acre as the other universities, even when graduate students are counted as only as "one-third" of an undergraduate, since most live off campus.

outdated zoning

Fourth, despite its high enrollment, GWU finds itself "stuck" with residential zoning limits, historic preservation limits on many of its buildings, and the Foggy Bottom Historic District and its paranoid residents. Most of those residents, incidentally, do not live in historic homes but in relatively recently built, high-rise (for DC) apartments. In fact, the zoning designation of "R-5-D" ("Medium-High Density Apartment Houses") is the lowest left in the area except for "R-3" in about half of the Foggy Bottom Historic District, plus the GWU campus itself. This limits residential buildings to "row dwellings", but there are clearly many exceptions across the campus. The net upshot of this is that the "tax-free" GWU campus is being boxed in around its periphery, and kept under a low density of "FAR" (floor area ratio, building to lot) which guarantees its inefficient land use. On the chart below, the yellow areas are restricted to a FAR of 3.5, and the three darker shades of red apply to FAR's of 5.0, 6.0>6.5, and 8.5. A few sites along Pennsylvania Avenue have FAR's above 10, and a revenue-generating capability to match:

widely varying property values

To show how limiting this is, the chart below compares the current assessed value of the city "blocks" (all different sizes and shapes) outside the campus and inside the campus. As DC's Office of Planning has already concluded, "the best way for the university to grow is up", i.e. with a higher authorized FAR zoning. Individual blocks (or "squares") range in assessed value from over $350M to less that $50M. (Click on chart for larger version):

gw campus

estimating revenues from property assessments

These widely varying property assessments (above) can be used to make 'ball-park estimates' of their total yearly municipal revenue potential, as NARPAC is frequently wont to do. For instance, various total DC revenue streams (not including federal payments) can be rationally allocated between residential and commercial sources. And the property assessments (and tax rates) are also reported by residential and commercial categories. On this basis, to be described in more detail elsewhere, NARPAC estimates that on average, $1M in assessed residential property value will generate $57,000 in revenues, while $1M in assessed commercial property will return about $48,000. Note that these estimates relate only to revenues, and do not 'net out' the costs of companion city services provided, which are much higher for residents than for businesses.

Using this approach, it is possible to hypothesize a notional "standard square" and assign to it a typical assessed value based on examples from the chart above, and related to each FAR level. These assessments can then be converted to annual revenues based on the estimates generated in the previous paragraph, for either residential or commercial properties. As shown below, one can then develop revenue estimates for any desired "what if" projection for any site, if its area can be described in multiples of the "standard square". In the cases shown below, NARPAC estimates the revenues generated annually in Foggy Bottom today at about $26.4M , based on the equivalent of two standard squares at FAR = 5.0, and three at FAR = 3.5. One can then easily fantasize a future Foggy Bottom in which the low density squares are eventually replaced with higher (FAR = 6.5), increasing tax revenues to the city to $61.5M.

The GWU campus presently contains about 15 untaxed "standard squares", limited to an overall average FAR = 3.5. Hence, the city is, using this crude guestimate, foregoing some $42M in annual revenues for the privilege of maintaining a large private university downtown. GWU would like to convert Square 54 to a high density tax-paying commercial property which would generate taxes for the city and income for GWU. That income would be used to increase the densities of some its tax-free properties to, say, FAR = 6.0 (NARPAC's example, not GWU's plan). This could actually result in a larger paper loss to the city, since those bigger buildings would not be taxed. However, if the university could free up two more of its 15 squares for income- (and tax-) production (one residential, the other commercial) based on the greater density available in the remaining squares, then the net loss to the city could be cut to about $25M, well below the current estimate.

GWU develops two responsive plans

Finally beginning to alleviate its 'tin ear' to neighborhood complaints, GWU has come up with two related proposals to resolve its issues of endowment, and student-housing expansion within, generally speaking, its own campus. One deals with upgrading the entire campus, the other with developing a major source of revenues for both DC and GWU. Though many hyper-sensitive neighborhood activists will not credit the university with doing anything for above-board reasons, NARPAC believes their current proposal to redevelop the old GW hospital site ("Square 54") makes eminently good sense. It supports our notion that many of DC's non-profit institutions could, if suitably pressured, develop commercial "oil wells" on their otherwise untaxed properties that could serve both their own income and development needs, and a significant revenue stream for the city. And where better to put such an revenue-generator than on Washington Circle at the gateway to downtown atop a Metro Station, within sight of some of the city's newest and finest commercial and institutional (i.e., World Bank and IMF) buildings? A possible new high-rise building complex for Square 54 is shown on the EE&K photo of its early notional model:

The next composite chart indicates three aspects of the proposed redevelopment of the whole GWU campus. The center schematic shows those sites scattered about the campus that are suitable for substantial upgrading (green boxes) for both education facilities and dorms. The left diagram shows the proposed new building heights for some of these eligible sites. The right diagram shows another important aspect of the campus upgrade: the provision of significant underground parking facilities for both employees and students. While NARPAC cannot evaluate the details of these proposed reconstructions, they are supposedly designed to bring the overall campus FAR up from 3.5 to 4.5. In view of the higher densities all around the campus boundaries, NARPAC sees no harm in eventually raising the campus FAR further to 5.0 or 6.0.

characterizing the resisting neighborhoods

But it takes two parties to generate a conflict of interest, and it is worthwhile to look at some of the characteristics of the relevant neighborhood "planning cluster", comprised of West End, Foggy Bottom, and GWU itself. In 2000, Planning Cluster #5 had a resident population of some 11,700 persons in less than 5800 households. Clearly these numbers do not include either the student population (18,000) or the employees of GWU and its hospital (9,000). For whatever it's worth, this cluster is far from the city average (as many of them are!). This particular 2% of the city's population is only 6% African American (v 60% citywide), has practically no kids of pre-school or school age (1.2% v 20%) and hence smaller household size (2.0 v 2.3). It has one-fifth as many married couples and one-tenth as many single parents as the DC norm. It also has almost no kids in poverty, and none born to teenage moms, virtually no public or subsidized housing, and a violent crime rate one-third of the city's average.

It has been a relatively affluent community with a median household income slightly above the city average ($48K v $43K), based in large measure on the fact that some 73% of its residents are college graduates (v 39%), a higher share than 29 of the 39 planning clusters. Housing unit values, unit sales and growth in home values have all been about 50% above the city average. If there have been any deleterious housing market effects due to the overbearing GWU presence, it would have to have been since the turn of the century. Oddly enough, owner-occupied housing units were well below the very low citywide average (31% v 41%) in 2000, the fraction of 1- bedroom units, well above the city norm (40% v 30%), as well as average rents ($950 v $700). Cluster 5 residents, then, despite their strong NIMBY tendencies, are quite transient. A much larger fraction have steady jobs (41% v 24%), and are foreign-born (19% v 13%). Clearly, it is a popular place for employees of the nearby international organizations, including the World Bank and the IMF. However, NARPAC cannot help but wonder if the irritation and stridence of the longer-term (and aging?) residents is directed against a broader set of neighborhood changes than just the unruly student body.

A Series of Reasonable Questions:

Are colleges and universities a normal element and desirable asset of a national capital city?

Certainly. They are a vital part of American life, and a vital and historic part of our national capital. Most US private colleges are in or near large cities. And for the students, there are opportunities for exposure and learning in DC not available elsewhere.

Is there any overriding reason to take more downtown land off the tax rolls to enable increasing the concentration of more students at the downtown GWU campus?

About 15 million American kids are in college at any one time out of a total population of 300 million. But over11 million of those are in public colleges, and half of those are in 2-yr (community?) colleges, leaving only a sparse 4 million in private, 4-year colleges.. DC has about 80,000 of those, which would seem to be more than its share. DC's student population is keeping up with rising national college attendance, but most of it seems to be attributed to GWU, as shown below:

While NARPAC does not accept the concept of an "optimum" campus size, there is surely no abiding justification for needing more college kids in DC, particularly downtown DC, as opposed to elsewhere in the city, or for that matter, elsewhere in the metro area.

Is there any overriding reason to require GWU to return some of its current untaxed properties to DC to enhance the city's financial position?

There is no overriding reason to cut back on the size of the GWU campus, other than the fact that it is gradually being surrounded by "downtown" with its much higher living and working densities. This expansion puts the low density residential areas in Foggy Bottom at just as much risk as GWU.

Is there any fundamental reason why an urban university campus should be constrained to a zoning density (or FAR) lower than that of the properties along its periphery?

DC needs more revenue-producing land, and less revenue-consuming land. But DC has an extraordinary share of the region's poor. Eventually, those who cannot pay their way will have to be more evenly distributed throughout the region. But there is surely no reason to encourage the inefficient use of property anywhere in DC, and surely not downtown. Efforts to keep GWU's campus "FAR" well below that if its surrounding blocks is disingenuous.

Are there any major operating costs to the city by incorporating non-profit (tax-free) compounds within the city?

No. Street lighting and pothole filling are minimal costs on a per-block basis, and although there may be some additional police presence on occasion, most universities like GWU have their own security force.

Does GWU appear to be at a genuine disadvantage because of some inadequate level of endowment?

GWU has been operating a series of marginal made-over properties, and is widely criticized for its inadequate facilities, both residential and classrooms. But GWU has successfully increased its endowment from less than $200M in 1990 to almost a billion in 2005. Nevertheless, the median endowment for the 50 best-endowed universities in 2004 (between the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA and Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, MD) was very close to $2 billion (seemingly independent of enrollment). GWU is certainly not out of line seeking a higher level of endowment. NARPAC has found no consistent relationship between endowment and either tuition costs or student preference, as shown on a 12-university sample below:

Is there any fundamental reason to prevent GWU from including real estate holdings as a means of investing and enhancing their endowments?

Real estate holdings are a perfectly normal investment for endowment funds.

Is there any basic reason why some portion of any institution's property should not be converted to revenue-producing purposes as long as its produces "normal" revenues for the city at the same time?

NARPAC is not aware of any restraint on sources of income from endowments, as long as proper legal and financial practices are observed.

Are there neighborhood consequences, such as "de-gentrification", as a result of letting students, undergraduate or graduate, "seep" into the surrounding community unconstrained by university regulations and enforcement?

NARPAC has no quantitative basis for answering this question, but would certainly prefer to see universities providing suitable quarters, on or off campus, with significant efforts to keep student behavior within acceptable neighborhood norms.

Is there such a thing as a "super-critical mass" of (primarily undergraduate) students in a given confined area?

Elsewhere on this web site, relative to both public schools and blighted neighborhoods, NARPAC notes the deleterious socioeconomic effects of concentrating kids or adults with counter-cultural tendencies in clusters with too few stabilizing, constructive influences among their peers. Campus unrest is a frequent fact of life. While Professor Shalit (see ahead) claims there is some "optimum" size for such a student population (to be decided by the impacted neighborhoods, not the college), his argumentation seems more directed towards simply eliminating students and their youthful behavior. Nevertheless, there certainly must be some upper limit beyond which student population (and sheer density) threatens neighborhood coherence and stability. GWU students and employees already outnumber neighborhood residents almost 3:1.

Are there any emerging risks in the new age of urban vulnerabilities by maintaining or increasing concentrations of relatively "resource-less" students in likely "target areas"?

Frankly, NARPAC has no idea whether GWU (or any other DC university) has well- developed plans for either evacuating or riding out a man-made disaster targeting downtown DC. To the extent that the university has real or implied responsibilities for the safety of their student body, it would appear counter-intuitive to insist on increasing population density within four blocks of the White House. On the other hand, it doesn't appear to deter a swelling downtown office workforce.

A Pseudo-Intellectual Case for Curbing GWU Growth

As the resistance to the GWU expansion plans grew, the activists sought a bullet-proof economic explanation as to why universities in general, and GWU in particular, should be reined in. A local Foggy Bottom resident came to their aid in the form of Sol. S. Shalit, MBA, PhD, and Professor Emeritus of Economics and Finance at the School of Business Administration at the Milwaukee Campus of the University of Wisconsin. The result was a 22-page paper produced in 2001 by the professor with no sponsorship or funding from any group or organization. He takes sole responsibility for its content and any errors remaining therein. With the innocuous, but possibly deceptive, title of "An Economics Primer"on "Growth and Expansion of Private Universities in the District of Columbia: The Case of George Washington University", the paper quickly turns into a diatribe against GWU management. NARPAC concludes a better title would be "A Primer on Thinly Veiled NIMBY Advocacy."

Although claiming to contribute, in non-technical terms, to an understanding and public discussion of the economics and policy implications of university growth and expansion, it admits GWU may not be a representative prototype of all DC's universities, but does "distill the issues" and "bring them into sharp focus". In general it concludes that GWU has grown beyond its "optimum size" and has a "net negative economic impact on DC", in part because "its benefits flow largely outside DC to other jurisdictions.". It asserts in non-technical terms that GWU "has a built-in growth bias that knows no limits and recognizes no boundaries", and that its rationale for growth "does not stand scrutiny" and is "in conflict with its professed quest for quality". It goes on to assert that "at considerable cost, DC has been generous to GWU, but its benevolence has not been recognized".

Professor Shalit goes on the explain that economic development must leave the neighborhood and city "better off" because its long-run benefits exceed its costs. Apparently, all economic and social costs and benefits affecting the District must be included, but none that go beyond to the metro area, the nation, or even the "visionary cause of higher education". He opines that this is particularly true in the nation's capital which is likely already a "net benefits exporter", and doesn't need universities to "further aggravate this imbalance."

According to the author, the "optimum size" for a university, is a size beyond which further expansion is deemed harmful to DC's long-range interests. Without such a constraint, "it follows that a university ought to expand ad finitum into the city's limited land". According to Shalit, university growth is an unremitting, endless process, a way of life with "growth itself as the goal" Unlike a business apparently, where the optimum size is determined by the discipline of the capital market and growth is a "do-or-die" proposition, "a university does not attempt to optimize its size, only to maximize it". Despite this supposedly natural tendency, the author notes that university growth is optional, and most universities apparently prefer to consolidate quality rather than opting to grow. This primer asserts that corporate management has better incentives to "economize and run things efficiently", since "they get neither pay nor glory for presiding over a company with huge assets, large payroll and many employees (same thing?), but only from company profits."

In short, then, the optimum size of an urban university, according to Shalit, cannot be determined from within the university, but only by the city's regulatory bodies set up for that purpose. Once "optimum size" has been reached, further expansion is "neither an imperative nor a right, it is a privilege", and zoning boards and planning commissions need not feel guilty or hostile to universities by strictly limiting their size. Sooner or later, city officials will need to constrain expansion of private universities in DC. Shalit frets that one university alone (GWU) has been allowed to become already the largest private employer in DC which bodes ill for economic and political balance. Even worse, by combining resources to form the Consortium of Universities of the WMA, DC universities have been able to speak in one voice as a unified group, take concerted action, and lobby further to advance their interests. He notes that local activists have been said to be no match for university influence, and that the day may soon arrive when DC itself will be no match for them"! (This is an economic primer?)

(For the record, it might be noted that the ten largest non-profit employers in DC are all universities or hospitals, and the top five are bigger than any commercial business or utility. When the adjunct hospitals at GWU, Georgetown, and Howard are counted separately, then GWU ranked third in employees after American and Georgetown Universities.)

Professor Shalit then moves on to the fundamental question of "negative economic impact". He sets his own definition of benefit as only that spending which flows to businesses and employees living in the District.He notes GWU's own report that only 31% of its employees live in DC and that they earn only 21.5% of GWU's $267M payroll. The Washington Post made a separate estimate of 19.5%. Shalit fails to note that roughly 80% of all DC jobs are held by non-DC residents, or that an even larger share of all wages paid in DC also flows out to the suburbs.

It is then asserted without qualification that "what this town needs is more taxpaying permanent residents" and that GWU's expansion "has soaked up scarce residential land that could otherwise be available to them". Nowhere in the primer is the magnitude of this land-grab quantified either in acreage or lost households. Nor is there any mention of the fact that as many as half of all DC taxpaying residents consume more in expenditures for city services than they provide in revenues. While this might not apply to the relatively prosperous households in Foggy Bottom, which live in homes valued on average at well over $600,000 or apartments well over $200,000, the premises of this economic primer would suggest that most of the residents in the city, along with their properties, have a negative impact on the city.

Furthermore, it is asserted without support, that the economic development spurred by universities like GWU largely supports the retail trade of hotels, restaurants, entertainment and gift shops serving students, short-term visitors, and tourists of which this city already has an abundance. Apparently, there is some "optimum" number of short-term visitors and tourists, and GWU is in danger of causing that proper level to be exceeded. This may also come as an economic surprise to those city officials who are pressing for major additional "entertainment" venues.

To expand further, the professor explains that, unlike a business, a university has no objective stockholders, but is driven by different constituent groups pulling in different directions, and often resulting in larger size. Moreover, since the non-profit must show no profit, any profit must be "expensed in construction projects, higher executive pay and perks, amenities to employees, more assistants to ease the work load, heavier carpeting, finer architecture, pleasing surroundings and the like". This, the primer instructs us, is why "university officials generally love size; they love a big operation, growth and expansion, more programs and large payroll: the bigger the better. Pay is higher, perks larger. Non-pecuniary compensation, such as higher visibility, social standing in the community, media impact, and political influence, are ways of getting at the 'residual' when cash and stock options are not a choice. Only at a few distinguished universities and top liberal arts colleges can one observe a balanced distribution of power. In these cases, the reputation for excellence dictates self-imposed constraints, and they aim for an optimum, not a maximum". (apparently a different definition of optimum).

On the expense side of the ledger, this tutorial then defines the highly concentrated costs of GWU's presence, "with its particular impact on the adjacent communities". These costs include: a) the expense of police, fire, traffic, street repair, lights, and utilities; b) the loss of income and sales tax revenues from properties lost to GWU's real estate acquisitions; and c) the costs of foreclosing, possibly forever, alternative residential and commercial development of land occupied by a permanent monolithic institution. (Sort of like the Federal Government, NARPAC guesses.) Without elaboration, he quotes an ANC-2A document that the lost revenue due to GWU's tax-free properties is "conservatively" $50-60M annually. But far more important, and at the heart of the resident professor's indictment, NARPAC suspects, is the accusation that:

"Imposing costs on the neighborhood and on the District at large by changing the character of a stable residential community now beset by congestion, nuisance, rowdiness, and other facets of student life, and their impact on property values, population shifts, and on the need to keep a healthy mix of institutional versus residential housing in a city already dominated by the former."

Shalit then goes on to demonize the nature and magnitude of DC's fiscal losses due to GWU expansion. In a city already "shackled with $64 billion worth of tax-exempt properties costing it $1.3 billion a year, GWU is reducing the tax base of a "struggling city besieged by numerous problems, including a deteriorating infrastructure". These losses are from two different sources, according to the primer: first, there are lost property, corporate, food & beverage, hotel, and income taxes from displaced residents; and second, "through its deliberate policy of not housing its growing number of students within campus boundaries, GWU has been able to convert for its own use a significant number of neighborhood housing units, decimating large chunks of a prized residential community", turning them into "virtual university dorms" and "causing an exodus of permanent residents.

Lost in this evangelical fervor, are several germane considerations.

1. Since DC's locally-raised revenues now exceed $4B a year, the total revenues lost to DC are perhaps 1.2%, but the marginal loss due to recent rampant expansion is probably 10% of that;

2. As stated in the DC 2003 CAFR (Comprehensive Annual Financial Report), GWU properties were assessed at 600M, less than one-tenth of one percent of the city's foregone revenues;

3. The city has run a budget surplus for eight consecutive years, after running a significant deficit for only one year, and two trivial deficits thereafter;

4. The 43-acre GWU campus is shackled with historic preservation constraints (urged by the neighborhood NIMBYs);

5. The GWU campus is at best half the size of those at American, Georgetown, and Howard, less than 40% as large as those at Gallaudet and Catholic, but with somewhat higher zoning density;

6. The density of the existing campus is set current zoning at less than half the "FAR" (floor-area ratio) in place on three of the four sides of the campus (Foggy Bottom being the fourth);

7. If the neighborhood feels so desperately strongly about raising revenues for the city, it should apply its evident surplus energies to expanding its developable lands westward away from the encroaching campus toward the Potomac River;

The professor then goes on to denigrate the role of education as a benefit to the nation's capital. Just what precisely is the university intellectual contribution to the production and dissemination of knowledge? He wishes the reader to acknowledge that "many urban universities are not among the distinguished centers of research, scholarship and education." He asserts that "most of what they have to offer is readily available elsewhere in the country, and that should any one of them should close down, "it would hardly leave a mark on higher education". He believes it would be hard to argue that GWU has done for Washington, what Harvard and MIT have done for Boston, and that GWU's "spectacular growth would have been very different had it been located in, say, Peoria, IL".

Shalit then goes on to the look at the other side of the coin: i.e., what has GWU (not urban universities) done for the cultural and community life in DC. He concludes that the bulk of GWU's contributions "are widely diffused and serve the nation (and the world) at large, but are of no direct benefit to the District itself", apparently because GWU's 18,000 students come from all over the US and 87 foreign countries. Unless NARPAC is misreading the professor's hyperbole, he is apparently adamant that the American capital city should avoid doing anything that benefits the United States at large, or 87 foreign countries, particularly if it brings rowdy students into his neighborhood, which is thereby being denied the opportunity to solve the city's dread financial problems.

Warming to his subject, Shalit goes on to describe how increasing enrollment leads to demand for increasing campus size, which then in turn is used to leverage the demand for more students. He believes that this "infinite cycle of perpetual expansion" must soon be brought to and end by the city's regulatory agencies, and he heavily criticizes DC's Board of Zoning Appeals for its absurd approach to granting GWU's expansion requests. He asserts that it is inefficient and ultimately futile to "regulate incrementally" by focusing on the institution's behavior (rowdiness, traffic, etc.), and that the only effective way to control the further impact of the university on the neighborhood will be to strictly control enrollment itself.

According to this economic primer, then, the basic question is whether Washington will claim its rightful place among the nation's top livable cities, or continue to be known primarily as a city of institutions, museums and monuments for tourists, visitors, and students. At stake is whether untaxed private institutions shall be allowed, chiefly for their own benefit, to continue to expand without limit into scarce land, or whether the city would be better served by a healthy core of commerce and tax-paying permanent residents. The outcome, insists this author "is nothing short of a litmus test of who actually runs this city, its elected officials, or powerful institutions acting in their own interests". Or, NARPAC would add, a few dozen hyper-activists who find their comfortable ten acres threatened by urban change and growth.

Among other things, this Economic Primer does not indicate:

o how rapidly GWU or any other DC university has been expanding in enrollment or acreage;

o how much land GWU has removed from the tax rolls in, say, the past 20 years and at what loss to DC;

o how much the city really pays for city services (such as street lighting, police) to GWU's 45 acres, and how much GWU pays itself;

o how well the various DC universities are endowed and why;

o how many other enterprises or sectors in DC are a net loss to the city;

o opportunities for Foggy Bottom to expand elsewhere;

o how much more revenues could DC make from Foggy Bottom without its NIMBY constraints;


NARPAC concludes that while there is no overriding reason to encourage the further expansion of GWU in the downtown area, there is also no overriding reason to place an absolute ceiling on GWU's student or employee population within its current boundaries. What is unjustifiable is to: a) constrain on-campus growth by zoning limits substantially below those in its immediate surrounds; b) discourage any non-profit institution from creating development plans which provide valuable revenues to the city as well as valuable income to that institution; or c) permit local neighborhoods to veto continued urban development around its vital metro stations, particularly based on specious argumentation.

return to the top of the pageTESTIMONY BEFORE THE DC ZONING COMMISSION, September 25, 2006

GWU's Future as Seen from "Ward 10"

NARPAC, Inc., known to some as "Ward 10", tries to speak for Americans outside DC who are interested in the stature and prestige of their nation's capital. We are all stakeholders in DC's future development and image.

It is, after all, our capital too. Ward 10 taxpayers pay over 21% of DC's bills, hire 11% of its city workers, and do several city tasks. National, not local, activities provide well over 90% of the attractions that draw people to visit, work, or live here, and probably generate 75% of its better paying jobs. We provide 85% of DC's park space, and maintain over 100 miles of its major roads.

Our 2005 web site analysis of this "vitriolic battle for GWU space and land use" concluded that:

There may be no overriding reason to:

encourage further expansion of GWU in the downtown area, OR to place a fixed ceiling on GWU's student or employee population within its current boundaries; but

. But it is surely unjustifiable to:

a) constrain on-campus growth by zoning limits substantially below those in its immediate surrounds in the same time period;

b) discourage any non-profit institution from creating development plans which provide valuable revenues to the city as well as valuable income to that institution; or

c) permit declining local neighborhoods to veto continued urban development around DC's vital metro stations, particularly based on specious argumentation

These issues may seem debatable in NIMBYLand, but we believe issues of land use and economic growth should be separated from those of disgruntled land owners, thoughtless college kids, and greedy university officials. Nonetheless, we congratulate the Office of Planning for negotiating the Town/Gown Treaty of Foggy Bottom, and GWU officials for removing their tin ear. But zoning compromises do not assure community harmony, nor do they enhance our capital city's stature.

Onward and Upward

We support the mantra of "grow up, not out" not just for this tract, but for the entire city, and would prefer "grow vertically, not horizontally". We want it codified and vigorously applied. We would fully endorse a 21st Century Comprehensive Plan to make DC truly "three-dimensional".

Taller buildings, deeper basements; air- and dirt-rights; vertically-layered mobility; urban decks; raised parks, lowered parking; elevated metrorail, sunken highways; a skyline with more character than a hedgerow; and activist groups pushing upward progress, not stagnation.

We also suggest adopting a 4-D zoning map with overlays projecting changes by the decade(?). Stop pretending each niggardly FAR increase is some final agonizing bargain with Devil Progress.

DC must keep growing in stature, as both our national capital and the region's core city,...

. DC's first century involved populating its then-noticeable, now-trivial, "topographic bowl", with a novel layout of dirt streets intended to defend the national capital against its own states. The second century fleshed out the rest of a diminished District, laid out to its boundaries with rectilinear city blocks for limited-mobility suburbanites, and tiny walk-to parks. In this century, DC becomes an ever-decreasing fraction of the population, land, and wealth of America's national capital metro area. Though other nodes are forming, DC will retain the distinction of being the only urban hub in this metro area that houses our "federal city" and our national capitol.

Unless the US amends its constitution, DC will always retain a unique obligation to act and grow like a national (if not global) capital city, with large international and institutional facets. DC is not obliged to be the region's poor house, its swankiest suburb, its mustiest museum, or its leading legacy to NIMBYism. DC is not a state, a metro area, or an independent political entity. It is too big and too late to be just a "central park". It is a metropolitan focal point of global significance.

....GWU is smack in the path of DC's growing cosmopolitan downtown area, and.....

The GWU Campus is within the sacred Topographic Bowl. It is part of the timeless 2-D L'Enfant Plan. It is virtually subsumed within "downtown", on the borders of the Federal City, and on the way to picturesque Georgetown.. Its taller buildings look at the Washington Monument and the Potomac River. It fronts on the world's best-known avenue, Pennsylvania Ave, and the world's most influential street, K. Street. It is within walking distance (even student shuffling distance) of the White House, Lincoln Memorial, Kennedy Center, Corcoran Gallery, State Dept, Federal Reserve, World Bank, IMF, OAS, and PanAm Health Organization. GWU even owns the former motel from which the Nixon-tumbling Watergate break-in was orchestrated.

....Washington Circle cannot avoid being a major urban intermodal transportation hub.

The GWU site encompasses the western-most metrorail station in DC, the public-transit gateway from Virginia's Alexandria City, Arlington and Fairfax Counties. Foggy Bottom is the only metro station serving this growing area. It is the very essence of transit-oriented development and smart growth, as others will aver. And Washington Circle itself, the address for the outstanding new GWU Hospital, deserves to be one of the major "intermodal" centers for sorting urban mobility.

Let's recognize the anomalies in this zoning case for what they are:

The real anachronisms here are the several blocks of minimally-zoned (FAR=3.5) single-family homes, reminiscent of equally attractive, but not very historic, homes elsewhere in and around DC. They comprise way less than half of Foggy Bottom's residential units: the rest have already grown up to multi-unit apartments and condos, with a modest FAR=5.5. The remaining land within reach of this metro station is now zoned from 7.0 to 11.0. Except, of course, for GWU still pleading to raise its campus zoning from minimal 3.5 to a marginally higher 4.5. Outsiders find this absurd. Who thinks Foggy Bottom will still be 3.5x5.5 twenty or forty years hence? Doesn't it have to grow up too?

While we go on fueling our own embarrassment....

Many of us from Ward 10 are sick of being conned that the presence of our nation's capital is a drag on city finances, sick of hearing that a third of the city's population is functionally illiterate; sick of demands for post-slavery reparations, taxes on commuters, and higher federal hand-outs; and sick of being embarrassed by reports that our nation's capital is more diseased, more ignorant, more crime-ridden, and more unemployed than most US cities. Up the zoning, fix our capital!

....and keeping our eyes on the wrong ball,......

Why ever are we debating whether GWU should build a tiny bit more densely around a scarce metro station over the next twenty years; whether it should incorporate revenue-generating capacity (for itself and the city) within its property; whether it should provide more jobs for city; whether it should provide more kids a college education and immersion in the nation's capital; and essentially whether a few hundred sure-to-be-displaced hold-outs can jeopardize progress in our nation's capital towards far more appropriate urban housing units?

No one is focusing on DC's first-order growth terms....

Instead, why aren't we debating how soon the minimum average FAR within six blocks all around the Foggy Bottom metro station should be raised to 8.0?

Why not allow "unused FAR" in certain blocks to be transferred additively to other blocks willing to use it?

Why not get on with resolving the traffic exchanges at K Street/Whitehurst/I66 et al, and grant air rights for building FAR=8.0 residential development west towards the Potomac?

Why not grow up to the Watergate instead of down to row houses?

Why not grant GWU a "rising FAR" of 4.5 by 2015, 6.0 by '25 and 8.0 by '50?

Why not grant GWU air rights above its interior roads to create a real 3-D campus?

Why not grow up to the State Dept and OPM buildings?

Why not mandate a decorative GWU tower as high as the Georgetown University spire to add some spice to the city's featureless skyline?

.....or on DC's first-order embarrassments:

Does this zoning case provide facilities for a Foggy Bottom/GWU Homeless Center, Detox, or Adult Learning Center?

Where are the affordable housing units, and homes for foster kids and retarded adults?

Surely DC's better educated residents and kids should help resolve the city's pathetic underclass problems and belly up to the real issues threatening us in the 21st Century.

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pageWest End Activists Duplicate Foggy Bottom Disgruntlement

This short post-script follows by two years the struggles of Foggy Bottom residents to resist increasing urban development in their once strictly suburban neighborhoods between the once separate cities of Georgetown and Washington in the District of Columbia. Whether either controversy could have been avoided by more understanding economic developers and less hyper-active activists is problematic. In fact, it may simply be par for the course in urban areas lucky enough to still be growing.

a sensible plan to replace obsolescent DC properties with greater revenue productivity

Three low-utilization DC government properties in the "West End" neighborhood are currently being "seriously threatened" by replacement at no cost by a private developer encouraged by both DC's mayor and Council. The properties serve important local and citywide functions, but squander scarce downtown acreage capable of far greater revenue-productivity. West End is where downtown faces Georgetown across of Rock Creek. The upgraded M Street with its new buildings is shown (to the left) from the entrance to the Westin Hotel on the corner of 24th Street. looking west.

Only a block (a "square", that is) northwest of Washington Circle, "Squares" 37 and 50 have now become as contentious as was George Washington University's "Square 54" to the south. And West End activists are now clucking just as loudly as did Foggy Bottom activists two years ago, even though the outcome is just as inevitable. In both cases, the net result will be greater city revenues from tightly regulated increases in downtown urban density. In this new case, however, the phony rallying cry shifts from the "unthinkable, totally unacceptable, expansion of the unruly GWU campus", to the "unspeakable, totally unjustifiable, transfer of the people's sacred city property to an unscrupulous developer bent on darkening the people's sky".

The developer, EastBanc, well-known in this part of town, intends to replace the existing West End Library (above, left) on the northwest corner of 24th and L St, as well as the dated fire house for the DC's Truck Company 2, (above, right) on the northwest corner of 23rd and M St.. He would also replace the 80-year old, 4-story walk-up Tiverton Apartments fronting on 24th St, (below, left), and with parking available to the renters behind (below, right):

The entire southern half of Square 37 facing L Street between 24th to 23rd would be redeveloped, doing away with the open space now being saved for future people's generations (below, left), and the embarrassingly run-down headquarters of the Metropolitan Pol_ce Spe_ ial Ope_at_on Divisio_ (below, right) as well. Unlikely as it may seem, this facility provides the planning, personnel and equipment (including 40 shiny motorcycles) for fancy federal events, escorting motorcades for dignitaries, and controlling demonstrations. It is reimbursed at overtime rates for all such non-DC activities.

This branch has now also assumed a major role in the city's emergency reactions to terrorist threats, and various training functions. As explained in NARPAC's 2004 analysis of police resource allocations, this unit represents a surprisingly small fraction of DCMPD's total resources (under 300 uniforms) compared to those devoted to fighting everyday crime (over 3000 uniforms). Several specialty detachments (i.e., helicopter, SWAT, mounted, canine, and harbor patrol) are located elsewhere around the city. (A misguided consolidation plan will soon co-locate almost all of these essential efforts in one more centralized, and hence more vulnerable, site.)

EastBanc,Inc, with extensive neighborhood experience, to say nothing of strong personal ties to new Fenty aides, would also be able to redevelop the southern quarter of Square 50 on M Street between 23rd and 22nd Streets. The three DC properties include buildings assessed at $5.5M in toto, sit on 1.2 acres of land assessed at $16M. In return for being "given" these assets, EastBanc agrees to "bundle" them with other adjacent acquisitions, and fully redevelop the two resulting major properties primarily for residential uses up to (revised) zoning limits. They would include valuable, brand new replacement facilities for DC, and a substantial number of additional affordable housing units. Based on the current assessments of properties recently developed on the northern ends of Squares 37 and 50 ($300M+ on 3.6 acres), NARPAC guesses that DC's assessed property values would rise by over $150M, with a proportional increase in annual revenues.

a "win-win" situation goes bad

So how did DC's new administration turn what should be a "win-win" situation into an acrimonious, name-calling, hysterical confrontation with the city's paranoid 'hyper-activists'? Too many 'tin ears' in the bullpen, apparently, seeming to ride roughshod over the city's sanctimonious, self-appointed naysayers. Little advanced information was given to the neighborhood of its intent to trade away "public land"; the Council passed its land sale authorization legislation without a customary public hearing by using "emergency" legislation procedures; and the development contract has been awarded non-competitively to a firm with direct ties to the mayor and his wife. Results? Bad publicity for an eminently worthwhile downtown redevelopment effort; time-consuming, over-apologetic back-pedaling by new city leaders; and further ammunition for those already sensitized by the mayor's seemingly high- handed, neophytic approach to rebuilding DC's public school system and its police department.

This inherent conflict between new-broom zeal to make progress, and the paranoia it evokes amongst those who resist any exercise of leadership (or dictatorship) has now manifested itself yet again. Political leaders appear to 'diss' their constituents; and those constituents try to rein in those leaders with 'rights' not really bestowed in our representative democracy. The resulting wasted energies not only threatens attempts to resolve near-term problems, but stymie as-yet ignored efforts to address the city's growing backlog of unresolved long-term issues, from poverty to transportation. Six neglected policy issues are identified in this month's NARPAC editorial urging the DC Council to step up to their role in our national capital city's long-term future.

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