When Georgetown announced plans to establish Magis Row, the block of 16 townhouses designated for living and learning communities that sit on the only strip of University property facing residential homes, the Voice editorial board and many students instantly suspected that Magis Row was appeasement for neighbors frustrated by student trash and noise.
A set of e-mails that the Voice obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that Magis Row’s establishment followed months of meetings between University administrators and community leaders in which the leaders tried to effect changes in student housing. They also show that neighbors hope the University will turn more student housing outside the front gates into LLCs, too.
The FOIA request, which the Voice filed in March, obtained e-mails sent between Citizens’ Association of Georgetown directors and officers and members of Georgetown’s Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E. Before submitting the results, the ANC redacted some street names and the names of the CAG members and ANC commissioners who sent and received the e-mails. Ron Lewis, the chair of ANC 2E, wrote in a letter accompanying the FOIA requests that redactions were made according to advice from the D.C. government.
Although it is unclear when the University or neighbors conceived of Magis Row, a September 1 e-mail indicates that neighborhood had long been trying to influence the makeup of student housing outside Georgetown’s gates, and the Georgetown had been attentive to their complaints.
“We have been in monthly meetings to discuss numerous student issues that effect the whole of Georgetown,” the sender wrote. The sender added that with regards to an unspecified block of academic housing which had been designated as normal student housing for that year, “We have solid commitments that that will change in the 2009 academic year.”
A September 11 e-mail, whose subject line reads “Student housing and adult supervision – 36th Street area,” discusses suggestions that community representatives had made regarding University townhouses in August, which included the suggestion that the University turn some of its housing into residences for “staff to oversee the student housing.”
The ANC redacted the names of the streets on which these University houses were located from the body of the e-mail. 36th Street, mentioned in the e-mail’s subject line, is home to the 16 townhouses that eventually became Magis Row.
The sender wrote:
We all have the goal of a harmonious relationship among students and full-time community residents, and the plans being considered for special-purpose orientation and a more selective application process for the [REDACTED] Street houses are constructive and encouraging.
At the same time, candidly, I and other community representatives in our discussion groups believe it is crucial in making this arrangement that some housing in the area be reserved—on the Residence Life model—for young professional staff to oversee the student housing. Just as in the Residence Life program, these students need the calming presence of live-in adults.
At the minimum, this area needs to have the same type of adult live-in supervision that the University provides, for good reason, for on-campus housing generally.
After the University announced the creation of Magis Row in mid-September, some CAG and ANC members were dismayed that it had done so without finalizing its plans for Magis Row with the community, having initially included them in discussions of the plan.
“I read the flyer about the new special housing designation for the houses on 36th Street between P & O Streets. Apparently, these will neither be graduate students nor faculty, as we requested, but rather juniors and seniors. I would like to fully understand why this will be an improvement over the status quo,” one sender wrote on September 20.
Other e-mails suggest that the University had kept community leaders well informed of its plans.
“I didn’t know students were already being recruited for it, but [the finalization of the plan is] consistent with what [REDACTED] has been saying about the timetable and I’m not surprised. [REDACTED] still needs to get back to us about putting a young professional in one of the houses to keep an eye on the students,” another wrote on September 24.
Leaders’ concerns about the details of Magis Row culminated in an October 30 meeting with University administrators, which seems to have encouraged attending members. According to notes of the meeting circulated by some of the leaders, some residents wondered if the University would consider expanding the model to other streets.
In reaction to that meeting, one sender leader wrote, “I am sure that we all share the hope that the Magus [sic] Row project will be successful and will be a prototype will work for other off-campus housing that is adjacent to resident/owners.”
Photo from Flickr user dclock.