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Residents protest planned GW Hospital

BZA decision awaited as neighbors voice safety, parking concerns

(Published May 3, 1999)

By OSCAR ABEYTA

Staff Writer

A decision on whether George Washington University will be allowed to build a new hospital on its campus could be made as soon as May 19, but residents of the surrounding neighborhood say a new hospital would be an unwelcome neighbor.

Hearings before the D.C. Board of Zoning Adjustment on whether to issue the university a special exemption to build the hospital under its campus plan were completed April 22, giving neighborhood groups a final chance to plead their case against construction of the 458-bed facility proposed by GWU and Universal Health Service, co-owners of the hospital.

The Foggy Bottom Advisory Neighborhood Commission presented the most organized opposition to the universityís plan at the hearing. The groupís attorney, Robert Watson, hired professional city planner Ellen McCarthy as an expert witness to testify against the proposal.

McCarthy noted that even though GWU is expanding a parking garage a block away from the site, the university would end up losing 65 parking spaces ó despite the expansion Ė if the hospital were built where proposed. She cited testimony before the board from 1986 that stated GWU had one of the smallest ratios of parking spaces per student and staff in the country.

"If Universal Health Services/District Hospital Partners were to build this hospital anyplace else in the District, it would be required to construct at least 400 new parking spaces and to have them on-site," McCarthy testified. She said that because they are trying to build it under a campus master plan, the owners are sheltered from that requirement.

Area residents also expressed concerns about pedestrian safety if the new hospital is built.

Even though the new hospital will be directly across the street from the old one, the neighbors argue the new location would significantly affect the neighborhood in ways the current hospital doesnít.

The current hospitalís entrances are across 23rd Street NW from the Foggy Bottom Metro Station. The new hospital would be built right next to the Metro station and have both the main hospital entrance and the emergency room entrance facing 23rd Street. Residents contend that would put thousands of pedestrians a day in danger from emergency and passenger vehicles crossing one of the busiest sidewalks in the city.

Public Works administrator Ken Laden, who testified for the D.C. government, said the hospitalís plans for its entrances are the best possible solutions for the proposed site, but that a new hospital on that site would still create a disruption of pedestrian and vehicular traffic in the Washington Circle area.

GWU applied last July to the D.C. State Health Planning and Development Agency for a certificate of need for a new hospital. The board approved that certificate in December and the case was taken up by the BZA in February.

Watson said if the board completes transcripts of the April 22 hearing quickly enough, a decision could be made as early as May 19. But he said itís more likely that the board wonít consider the matter again until June 2.

Copyright 1999, The Common Denominator