The 10 Year Campus Plan: Our house, in the middle of our street
The University is formulating its 2010 Campus Plan, which, once it passes ANC and D.C. Zoning Commission muster, will dictate how the University can expand over the next decade. Previous Campus Plans excluded neighborhood input in their planning stages, much to the neighbors’ dismay. So this summer, University officials will hold a series of meetings to gather community input. For those of you who aren’t here, Vox will be attending all meetings and recapping them here on the blog. Keep in mind that the proposals under discussion are only tentative. At the same time, they do comprise, as University architect Alan Brangman told Vox, Georgetown University’s “wishlist.”
On Sunday, Molly Redden offered an overview of Saturday’s six-hour-long community meeting (yes, we stayed the whole time, and not just for the paltry cold cuts lunch buffet). The first part of the meeting, in which the campus plan’s architects from Cooper, Robertson & Partners presented their overview of possible options for campus development, went rather smoothly and quite quickly. But only because most of the attendees were champing at the bit to get to the next, and last, item on the meeting’s agenda: the open discussion.
Having attended a community meeting before, in which “open discussion” was the only agenda, I steeled myself for a long afternoon of student berating. There was, in fact, less than I expected—as Molly will cover on Thursday, Georgetown neighbors spent as much time hammering the University on the “adverse impact” of the traffic it draws to the area as they did bemoaning the students’ day-to-day drunkenness, noisiness, littering and general lack of consideration for others.
University architect Alan Brangman kicked off the discussion with a presentation of the University’s physical boundaries, which were set in 1966 by the National Capital Planning Commission. Brangman had a brief tiff with one of the neighbors over boundary lines, specifically regarding the houses on the 36th Street between O and P Streets and the 3500 block of Prospect Street, which Georgetown acquired after boundaries were set. The houses’ backyards fall within University property lines—the houses themselves do not.
The houses, however, are considered on-campus, or at least their beds are included in the on-campus bed count. The neighbor took issue with this tactic, because he and his fellow community members consider the houses off-campus. Essentially, they are unsettled by the “gray area” surrounding Georgetown’s loose definition of on-campus beds—if the University can buy up houses outside the property lines and count them as on-campus, what’s to stop it from encroaching further into the neighborhood?
The question is a valid one. While Georgetown hasn’t expanded much more into the neighborhood, Associate Vice President for External Relations Linda Greenan said that when houses come up for sale, often the University takes a look at them, adding for reassurance, perhaps: “and often we don’t buy them.”
Nevertheless, Georgetown and the community members seem to be at an impasse. Brangman said that currently there are no plans to change the “on-campus” status of the disputed student townhouses. In a particularly heated moment, a neighbor offered Brangman the analogy: “Just because [you] own a gun doesn’t mean you can shoot me.”
“But I might,” Brangman said.
Georgetown’s housing acquisition is a “major bone of contention,” that has bred (more) “suspicion, distrust, and ill-will” between the community and the University, ANC Chairman Ron Lewis said, adding that the fact that those houses boost the University’s on-campus bed count only “adds insult.”
Even though Magis Row was devised by University administrators in large part to mollify neighbors’ complaints about the 1400 block of 36th St., neighbors are still not thrilled by the prospect of Georgetown simply replacing students with presumably better-behaved students (Magis Row parties will be required to shut down by midnight). A better solution would be to replace undergrads with graduate students. The best solution? Faculty housing. Georgetown is, in fact, toying with the idea of building graduate student and faculty housing on the 1789 block of East Campus. Either way, community members want undergraduates living on campus.
“On-campus implies the middle of campus,” Lewis said. In case you were wondering, many of the neighbors also define “campus” as within Georgetown’s gates—ANC Commissioner Bill Skelsey took issue with the identifier “East Campus,” calling the title a misnomer.
What the issues boil down to is that the neighbors want a commitment from the University to “bring significant numbers” of students back onto campus, “because we’re saturated,” Lewis said. Over the past ten years, Lewis continued, the increasing number of students that live outside of the front gates have put an enormous pressure on the community; it’s not just the “noise, vandalism, and drunkenness” that the students bring with them that impacts the neighborhood—”even well-behaved off-campus students don’t take care of their houses,” Lewis said. Other neighbors brought up the issue of trash, which is particularly bad when students move in and out of their houses every year, or when interns pass through over the summer.
“The place is saturated, and the community cannot handle more students,” Lewis said. “I cannot say too strongly: the time is now to address key issues that we care about.”
Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson responded to the neighbors’ concerns with a report on Georgetown’s progress in improving off-campus life. As of July 1, Ann Kester will join Ray Danieli (you might better recognize him as the bald man with the impressive Monopoly-Man mustache who patrols West Georgetown and Burleith every day to monitor off-campus student houses), to run the Office of Off-Campus Student Life (at the corner of 36th and N Streets). The University has already strengthened DPS presence by adding two officers to patrol “key areas.”
Olson also reported that Georgetown is in the process of thoroughly reviewing sanctions, especially as they apply to repeat offenders and “problem houses,” about which Olson said the University is “serious about coming up with new approaches.” Landlords, many of whom are inattentive at best, are also on Olson & Co.’s list of improvements for off-campus life.
The neighbors appreciated Olson’s report, but ultimately said that results, not systems, will determine the success of Georgetown’s improvement measures. Lewis, who seemed to assume the role of spokesperson for the group of about 25 residents, came down especially hard on the University and its students, delivering what was without a doubt the most inflammatory comment of the afternoon:
“There’s an attitude problem among students. I don’t know if it’s the entitlement generation or what. A lot of students are great, but a lot of them don’t ‘get it,’ and what it’s like to live as an adult in a community,” Lewis said, adding that the University had to take responsiblility for its students’ “attitude problem.”
On a more positive note, one older neighbor observed that, at least anecdotally, interactions with students have greatly improved over the past few years.
Don’t think this neighborhood-University struggle is anything new. In 1990, Georgetown residents made a big enough stink to elicit notice from the New York Times (or maybe it was just a slow news week). Back then, freshmen were not required to live on campus, and the University was committed to “adding on-campus housing by 1997″ so that all undergraduates would be provided a bed. The construction of Southwest Quad, finished in 2003, was supposed to guarantee housing for every student who wanted to live on campus.
That turned out not to be the case, and now Georgetown is considering at least four spots around campus, including North Kehoe, Harbin Esplanade, North Residential (past Darnall Hall), and a small extension to Village C, if the facilities building is relocated, for new on-campus housing. Depending on how many areas are developed, new student housing could provide anywhere from 200 to 800 beds. Both Cooper, Robertson, & Co.’s architects and the University Architect Alan Brangman said that it was way too early to project whether the housing would be dormitory- or apartment-style.