Zoning Commission reviews GWU’s planned 11-story office building

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A rendering of 2100 Pennsylvania Ave. NW shows the new office building there, depicted next door to another new building that remains under construction. (rendering courtesy of Boston Properties)

George Washington University’s plan to build an 11-story office building at 2100 Pennsylvania Ave. NW is moving forward amid broad — though not universal — support from community members and District agencies.

The project went before the Zoning Commission for a public hearing last Thursday, with endorsements from the D.C. Office of Planning, the D.C. Department of Transportation, Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2A (Foggy Bottom, West End) and the Foggy Bottom Association.

However, the West End Citizens Association opposed the project, citing concerns about transportation and the building’s height, which would reach 130 feet plus a 20-foot-tall penthouse.

The planned 453,562-square-foot office building, designed with a striking curved glass exterior, is a joint venture between development firm Boston Properties and the university, intended as a revenue generator for the school. Boston Properties secured a ground lease on the university-owned property and is responsible for costs to plan, construct and manage the new building. The university will receive rent payments from Boston Properties.

The office building at 2100 Pennsylvania Ave. NW is slated for redevelopment. (Brian Kapur/The Current/July 2017)

The project is set to replace two eight-story office buildings: a 90-foot structure located at 2100 Pennsylvania Ave. and an 82-foot university administration building, Rice Hall, at 2121 I St. NW. Construction will begin at the end of 2019, with the building slated to open early 2022, according to a Sept. 19 news release.

The project requires an amendment of George Washington University’s 20-year campus plan, and the developers are also seeking additional density through the city’s planned unit development process. To offset the impacts of the zoning flexibility, the project team must provide a package of community benefits; these include improvements to the adjacent streetscape, the provision of retail space and a contribution to affordable housing.

Retail will operate at the ground floor of the new office building on Pennsylvania Avenue, and on two levels, one below-ground, on I Street. While it’s too early to determine which retailers would lease the shopfronts, a day care, and fast-casual as well as fine-dining eateries were named possibilities. Additionally, applicants have pledged to donate $8,077,000 to the city’s Housing Production Trust Fund.

Meanwhile, to mitigate traffic to and from the new building, the project team is offering to provide a transportation management coordinator; a commuter connection rideshare program and a guaranteed-ride-home pool program; showering and changing facilities; covered bicycle parking and a bike lane in the parking garage; a bicycle repair station on the P1 level of the parking garage; six electric car charging stations in the garage; two carshare spaces or $25,000 toward Capital Bikeshare memberships for tenants of the building; and preferred parking for carpools/vanpools in the garage.

The development at 2100 Pennsylvania Ave. NW would add retail along I Street. (rendering courtesy of Boston Properties)

Other proposed transportation improvements include installing a traffic signal, designing pedestrian improvements and carrying them out at 21st and I streets NW; relocating a bus shelter on Pennsylvania Avenue to meet current city standards; shifting a Capital Bikeshare station permanently to a different location on-site, or to National Park Service land east of the property; and contributing $350,000 to Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority to fund accessibility and capacity improvements at the Foggy Bottom-GWU Metro station.

Barbara Kahlow of the West End Citizens Association implored university officials to ask Metro to use the $350,000 contribution to repair a broken elevator at that station to serve elderly and handicapped residents. “They need it. We’ve been through this so many times with you guys,” she said.

ANC 2A voted to support the project at its Sept. 19 meeting, and commission chair Patrick Kennedy testified favorably during last week’s hearing.

“It reflects priorities from all corners of the neighborhood,” Kennedy said of the project. “I think they really took into account and frankly fulfilled a lot of community requests.”

However, Kennedy said he didn’t want to see a trend of university buildings being redesignated as investment properties. “I think the community wants some assurance that this is sort of the end of the line for that,” Kennedy said.

Rice Hall, a George Washington University administrative building at 2121 I St. NW, would be razed as part of the new development. (Brian Kapur/The Current/July 2017)

Rice Hall is slated to close by December 2018, and university employees will be shifted to nearby facilities or the university’s Mount Vernon campus on Foxhall Road NW. According to the university, the need for administrative space has declined with the rising popularity of open-plan offices and working from home.

While the project would also remove several small businesses, including Esteem Dry Cleaners and Puglisi Hair Cuts, Kennedy said he hopes that a new building would accommodate a range of retailers, enlivening a  business-dominated corner that’s mostly quiet outside of office hours.

Not everyone at the hearing was positive. Kahlow shared concerns about the project’s height on behalf of the West End Citizens Association. “130 feet would be a terrible precedent — it would change the scale of that part of Foggy Bottom,” she testified.

George Washington University completed a similar investment project at 2200 Pennsylvania Ave. NW with office, residential and retail space, including a popular Whole Foods Market. Another is under construction at 2112 Pennsylvania, next door to the current proposal.

Applicants will present additional information at a Zoning Commission meeting Nov. 27 at 6:30 p.m., and members are expected to take a preliminary vote on the application, according to university spokesperson Brett Zongker.