When University officials spoke to neighbors in May and raised the possibility of building a new housing complex on the “1789 Block” (the area between Prospect and N Streets and 36th and 37th Streets), neighbors said they didn’t want to see undergraduates living in that area. So the University decided the new residences would be for grad students and faculty. When officials at the May meeting said they were hoping to put 200 to 250 beds in the complex, neighbors said that would be too much density. So the University lowered the projected number of beds to 120.
Even with the concessions, though, neighbors still aren’t enthusiastic about the proposal, which was presented Monday night by University Architect Alan Brangman. While there were some quibbles about the specifics of the plan, most of the objections stem from one essential conflict: many neighbors don’t believe the land the University owns outside the front gates counts as “on campus;” University officials do. And so does D.C.: Georgetown University’s legal boundaries, as defined by the the National Capital Planning Commission, include portions of four blocks West of the front gates.
“It’s a misnomer and it’s a deception,” one neighbor said of the University’s practice of defining the campus as including these areas beyond the front gates. “They [the students] are living amongst us! They’re on the left of us, in the front of us, on the side of us, and they’re in the back of us … They’re not really within your gates, although you’re hiding behind the fact that [the boundaries were] approved.”
Brangman was having none of it, though.
“We are allowed to count that as who we are how we exist,” he replied. “And I know it’s disturbing to you guys to accept that, but what our reality is … It’s going to remain that way, that’s not going to change unless somehow the boundaries of campus change, and they’re not. They’re simply not.”
The neighbors repeatedly brought up that at the May meeting the University present four potential locations for new undergraduate housing within the gates—North Kehoe, the McDonough parking lot, the area behind Darnall, and the Harbin Patio—but isn’t proposing to develop any in the 2010 Campus Plan. When neighbors pressed Brangman to explain why the University was developing the 1789 block instead of these areas, he just said that the Univesity believes it’s a good concept.
The University currently does not provide any housing for graduate students. (The 1990 Campus Plan led to the conversion of grad student residence halls into undergrad living areas.) While the University will not be boosting undergraduate enrollment, it is requesting an addition of about 3,200 grad students by 2020.
The University is looking to build some on-campus housing for grad students by constructing apartment complexes on the inside of the 1789 block. The current plan is to have about 80 small apartment units–40 singles and 40 doubles—that would house 120 grad students, and perhaps some faculty members.
The idea also includes tentative plans to create commerical and retails spots in some ground-level spaces. Brangman floated ideas like coffee shops, dry cleaners, and sandwich stores as possible options.
Because the infill would block off the loading alley for current business like the 1789, the Tombs and Wisemillers, Georgetown is proposing to build a small underground parking lot and loading area. A few townhouses on the outside of the block might have to be demolished to accommodate the new structure.
Neighbors voiced concerns about certain specific aspects of the plan—what would the impact on parking be? does the zoning allow for commercial retail? what would the Old Georgetown Board say about demolishing townhouses?—but the real, underlying objection is that the University is proposing no new undergraduate housing within gates. Neighbors believe there are already too many students—particularly undergraduates—living outside the gates, and the University is doing nothing to remedy the situation with this new complex.
“I’m sure there are people who will say, ‘Why should we agree to any expansion—particularly outside the gates—if there’s no new undergraduate housing? What’s in it for the community?’” Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Ron Lewis said.