Burleith: The idyllic little neighborhood that you’re ruining

On Wednesday night, Burleith residents crowded into a tiny classroom in the Washington International School, there to hear to a presentation by members of the Burleith Citizens Association about “why the Georgetown campus plan is bad for Burleith,” in the words of BCA President Lenore Rubino.

Surrounded by kid art and shelves stacked with school children’s board games, thirty or so Burleith residents listened as the BCA described the neighborhood as a peaceful, idyllic community whose culture and way of life is being tested to its outer limits as students slowly overtake the area. With the 2010 Campus Plan proposing the enrollment of 3,200 more graduate students at Georgetown over the next decade, the BCA expressed fears that Burleith’s “quality of life and diversity” would come under even more direct attack.

“Each of us chose this community for one special reason of our own. And I think after we moved here we all found some very interesting things about this community,” former BCA President Pat Scolaro said. She described all the benefits of living in Burleith—a large park, open fields where children could play, the ‘tot lot,’ the soon-to-reopen Georgetown Library, and “Ellington and the University, which provide education opportunities and entertainment opportunities.”

“In any city, change is inevitable, and that is certainly true of Burleith. Sometimes in a good way …. But two diverse groups with two completely different lifestyles converged on this small community,” she said. “Today the BCA is dealing with one of its most serious issues, and let me tell you it’s facing it head on, with every intention of preserving this community.”

Glen Harrison, a member of the BCA Committee for GU Relations who said he moved to Burleith very recently, led a portion of the presentation off of a slide entitled “Burelith—A Village or a GU Dorm?” He also said that the neighborhood’s close proximity to Georgetown gave residents access to “interesting lectures and fine arts programs.” But these benefits of living so close to Georgetown, he said, had begun to be outweighed by the downsides.

“In a nutshell, GU students living in our community are affecting our community’s health, crime, and domestic tranquility,” he said.

Students threatened the neighborhood’s safety, he continued, by increasing the number of rented houses in Burleith, which are often run by landlords who do not have a basic business licenses. And there are almost always parties at the 135 homes in Burleith out of 531 which are rented by students to “violate community standards and also D.C. law.”

“At these parties, there is binge drinking with attendant drunk behavior—loud music, cursing, fighting, [and] public urination. These are not new, these are serious, chronic problems. And we believe it is within the University’s power to minimize these threats.”

The possibility of dozens more graduate students moving in the community under the campus plan, he said, had the BCA worried for the diversity of the neighborhood.

“Burleith will no longer be a diverse neighborhood where children, parents, families, seniors, single renters, and even students live together, but will become a student village.”

The Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for Burleith, Ed Solomon, spoke briefly about police presence in the area while the Google Map with CAG Vice President Luca Pivato’s dots representing the enormous volume of area 911 calls and student homes flashed on the projector screen behind him. He explained that the Metropolitan Police Department prioritizes calls when they receive them, so when MPD is delayed in responding to complaints about parties, “they haven’t forgotten about you,” they are probably late because they are responding to a more serious crime.

“But the MPD must respond to every call. Police are required in our neighborhood to respond to our calls for parties, which means resources for patrolling our neighborhood are threatened. And this puts us all at risk, including students … I feel I’m responsble for your safety, no matter who you are, if you live in my neighborhood. The bad guys don’t care who ou are at 2 in the morning but we’ve had many of our students wandering around at 2 a.m., and the police don’t have the ability to protect everyone.”

Sheila Hegy, another resident on the GU Relations Committee who moved to the Burleith in 2005, spoke about how student renters whose properties were poorly kept up and messy-looking have driven down property values and driven out longtime residents. She cited one block, where the number of student homes had risen from six of 22 homes to 11 of 22 homes in a few years as just one example of how students were slowly turning Burleith into “an ever-larger dormitory for Georgetown.”

She also thanked Solomon for taking time to compensate for the shortage of police capability in the neighborhood.

“Ed is actually out every weekend patrolling the neighborhood with SNAP for parties and breaking them up,” she said.

Lenore Rubino assumed the podium at the end of the presentation to appeal to the community for financial support to affect the 2010 Campus Plan.

“At risk is not only our quality of life, but the value of one of our biggest investments, our homes. Many real estate agents and buyers see Burelith as a student party town. If just ten more houses turn rental, that turns into 6 0more students, and 60 more cars looking for parking,” she said. “Georgetown will hire the best attorneys and experts their money can buy. Your money will hire a zoning expert and urban planner. We have done a lot of work ourselves, but we need the experts to fine-tune our case.

“The last thing I want to tell you is the GU plan is bad for Burleith, and now you can make a difference.”

29 Comments on “Burleith: The idyllic little neighborhood that you’re ruining

  1. “Students threatened the neighborhood’s safety, he continued, by increasing the number of rented houses in Burleith, which are often run by landlords who do not have a basic business licenses.”

    I like how this is never their focus. This is absolutely NOT the fault of the students or the university, but instead on the landlord. If you want to keep students out of the neighborhood, then talk to the people who own houses there. It’s not the student’s fault that landlords are offering.

    I also think they vastly overestimate how many students own cars. “If just ten more houses turn rental, that turns into 60 more students, and 60 more cars looking for parking” is just flat out wrong.

  2. First, how does 60 students translate into 60 cars? that’s a joke right?
    Can we get the ‘Fact Checker’ that resides on this blog call them out on that?

    Second, can someone help me with Ed Solomon’s logic . . .
    1. Neighbors call cops for every noise they hear in a student-rented house.
    2. MPD pulls resources away from patrols to respond to their calls.
    (the vast majority of which are meaningless – they don’t lead to citations/arrests)
    3. “Bad guys” now free to roam the streets at 2am, rob/assault students.
    4. Students are responsible for increased crime*
    *Not MPD, DPS, the neighbors who divert DPS and MPD, or the criminals themselves

  3. Burleith Residents,

    No matter how much you complain, you need to realize that students living in the neighborhood is driving your property values up. For a typical group house, the rent ranges between 4-6k per month. That rent alone can sustain at least a $750,000 mortgage. It is purely a market issue. The neighbors should be going after the bad landlords like SHA that suck the value out of these properties without keeping them up etc.

  4. If they really wanted to minimize the impact of increasing graduate enrollment, they would drop their objections to GUTS operations and increased parking so that more people can commute in rather than having to live in the community.

    Although as a soon to be GW grad student I am somewhat relieved to know now that community hostility over there is like 5 times worse than up here. No complex in Foggy Bottem wants anything to do with potential tenants with “GW Student’ as their occupation.

  5. I have never known that such a horrible back alley system existed in this town until I came to Burleith. The residents should be ashamed at how dingy their backyards looks- this is not even a student presence issue.

    You cannot blame the students for trash laying around when your yards are covered with ivy because you are too lazy to invest in adequate grooming and landscaping for your yards.

    Im years away from undergraduate education, and I still fully know what it means to move into an area next to a university. I dont understand the delusion of moving to an area next to a university in a city and expecting that full peace and quiet like you live in McLean or Great Falls. Instead of attacking students and the university, why dont you look at yourselves and your fellow “adults” (>50yo) who rent to students. Homeowners who rent in this area do nothing for the upkeep or beautification of their house that would motivate students to do a better job maintaining them.

  6. Most graduate students do not live near Georgetown. I am in one of the larger masters programs at Georgetown, and I can only think of one or two other graduate students in my program who live in Georgetown–most of us live in Arlington, or other parts of the District.

    It’s also worth considering that a significant number of graduate students in masters programs are not full-time students. Nearly half of the students in my program are part-time students, and these students do not live in Georgetown. Instead, they have full-time jobs and only come to the University in the evenings for classes. And yes, re-routing GUTS buses definitely results in many of us driving to campus instead of taking the bus. (Myself included.)

    As other commenters have noted, perhaps BCA should focus its attention on the irresponsible landlords rather than targeting students.

  7. The utter lack of adequate housing for students on campus has driven students to off-campus locations. The rerouting of GUTS bus routes and the service cuts in WMATA bus routes have made it increasingly more difficult for students to live outside Georgetown and commute in. Yes, students should not leave trash around. Yes, they should not have extremely loud parties. But these residents need to be reasonable – where else are these students supposed to live? Instead of blaming students for driving down property values by *shocker* finding a place to live, they really should be 1) ensuring landlords perpetuate fair renting practices, and 2) trying to persuade the University to build additional student housing.

  8. I am a ten-year resident, and would welcome the University’s creation of affordable student housing where there is housing to be built. Students should be asking the University why they aren’t building grad student housing in North Arlington, for example. It’s the University’s unwillingness to build student housing off-campus and provide shuttle service there that is generating this battle between two bad options: tearing down 6 historic row houses next to the 1789 block dorm or removing the last bit of green space behind the gates.

    Ken Archer

  9. I don’t really think it’s the University that’s hesitating to provide shuttle service.

  10. @Doug,

    If the University were to build grad housing in North Arlington and drop its demand to demolish 6 historic houses on the 1789 block to build grad housing, on the condition that GUTS take a more direct route to Rosslyn to facilitate the commutes of students in the dorm, I’m confident you would get a different reaction from the neighborhood. I for one would support it publicly. Ask your administrators why Georgetown won’t build housing for grad students right outside of Georgetown, where they would have the space to build affordable housing for many more grad students than the 120 they plan to accomodate by razing 6 historic homes.

    Ken Archer

  11. Ken:

    Georgetown’s property is not your property. Georgetown’s policy is not your policy. Please stop trying to steal from others to enrich yourself.

    Luckily, you’re also wrong about more grad students = lower home values. MORE STUDENTS MEANS HIGHER RENTS, ABSENT NEW HOUSING. SIMPLE. The real problem here is that zoning laws and neighborhood rent-seekers (such as BCA) are such a clusterfuck and obstacle that new housing can basically never be built in Georgetown by private developers. Increasing the housing stock is the only thing that will get students out of Burleith.

    So how about it, Burleith Citizens Association? How about pushing for more private housing in Burleith? I’m not holding my breath.

  12. While I agree that many of the demands of the residents are outrageous, would it kill students not to shout EVERY SINGLE WORD they speak to each other at two in the morning. I swear that if one more drunken bro wakes me up I’m plowing up the athletic field and planting saplings in it.

  13. @Ken:

    I actually wouldn’t mind that plan. Graduate housing can afford to be off campus, and within reasonable shuttle distance to Georgetown, especially if it’s nice housing that can accommodate a much higher number of graduate students (see: the law school). It would certainly be more efficient building than the 1789 Block proposal (though as somehow who has lived in University townhouses, I wouldn’t exactly call those townhouses ‘historic’). And if the neighborhood dropped its complaints regarding GUS Buts routes (to Rosslyn as well as DuPont Circle), I’m sure students would oblige as well.

    Likelihood either side agreeing to do so? I wouldn’t hold my breath.

  14. Anyone who has been near those “historic” houses on the 1789 block knows that:
    1) The eyesore of wires running in and out of windows is a fire waiting to hapen
    2) Those buildings would probably fail modern standards of zoning and adequate housing
    3) A new building would look much nicer than those buildings
    4) Residents in the area support the idea of “Not in my backyard”- of course they support Georgetown as long as its not in their backyard.

    Feel free to come sit in on our classes and lectures, we’ll feel free to walk through your neighborhood, full of potholed streets, weed infested properties, brick homes which were built so shoddly that noise from 4 houses down echos through, back alleys which look like an upscale slum, and of course ride a 45 minutes GUTS bus to go one mile.

  15. Georgetown residents are unreasonable. Georgetown tride to build graduate housing in the wormly school on prospect, but the neighborhood blocked even using the building for administration. So Georgetown was forced to sell the property at a loss. Basically it seems like the neighborhood won’t be happy until the entire university moves. They don’t want students anywhere outside the main gates. I can’t wait till over half of burleith is houses rented to students. You should all start renting your houses to students and move and make a killing in rental fees. No matter how much housing Georgetown has there will always be students living in burleith. Students don’t want to live in Georgetown housing. A lot of them want to live off campus and away from University restrictions that come with dorms.

  16. My family loves GU – we are members of Yates, we have season tickets to the student theater and are Georgetown Library Associates. You may have even seen my 17-month-old frolicking on the quad. I want GU’s increase in grad enrollment to succeed because GU students are awesome, they are interesting and they add to the neighborhood’s appeal. But accommodating this increase by building in the neighborhood is a bad idea even if the residents supported it.

    GU is increasing graduate student enrollment by 3,200 to 8,700 in the Plan, and currently offers no graduate housing (or housing for professors). One of the main reasons top professors and graduate students (particularly those with families) turn down offers from GU (and other DC universities) is the high cost of housing. While I agree that zoning laws are too biased against density (though this is changing with the current rewrite of DC zoning by the DC Office of Planning) there simply isn’t enough remaining space available in Georgetown or Burleith to offer affordable graduate housing to a meaningful percentage of those 8,700 grad students (even less to professors).

    Instead of responding to the student caricature portrayed by some residents with a resident caricature of cranky, rich NIMBYs, I would ask students to advocate for a plan that will actually work for GU. Ask your administrators why they won’t build in places where there is room to build (e.g. North Arlington) on the condition that GU is allowed to run GUTS on direct routes.

  17. There is no such thing as a compromise in the mind of the leaders of the neighborhood associations. It’s as simple as “more grad students = bad” and there will be no concessions in regard to where housing is built. When you successfully lobby to double the length of a bus route because the noise is inconvenient, I don’t think that calling them a bunch of cranky, rich NIMBYs is a caricature at all.

    Side note: you make it seem as though I can just walk into some administrator’s office and get a straight answer on anything. I couldn’t do that even if I chained myself to John Carroll

  18. Ken, Georgetown is doing just fine recruiting grad students and professors. I’ll tell you what really might attract more grad students and professors: a new science center, an expanded library, and a student body engaged with the city at large through good transportation. Those can’t happen if the campus plan doesn’t pass.

    And there’s no such thing as “on the condition that GU is allowed to run GUTS on direct routes.” That’s essentially why the Southwest Quad is there: to make the neighbors willing to oh so benevolently tolerate our exist for another 10-years. Let me assure you, no amount of concessions will stop the neighbors from trying to run us out of town again in another 10 years. Furthermore, the notion that we should have to bargain to be granted right to drive in a straight line on public roads (something, by the way, the ANC has no control over, they’re just holding our other projects hostage on this condition), is patently ridiculous. The notion that we need grovel before the ANC to not have to drive halfway to Maryland to cross Rock Creek is absurd.

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  20. “I’ll tell you what really might attract more grad students and professors: a new science center, an expanded library, and a student body engaged with the city at large through good transportation.”

    The first two are welcomed by residents, particularly those like me who make use of the library. When G2 or Circulator service have been threatened, it’s been almost entirely residents who have lobbied to save them. There is a Wisconsin Avenue Streetcar coalition – with almost entirely resident members. Transit-supporting residents would LOVE if GU students and/or administrators would join them. The GUTS dispute is not indicative of residents’ feelings about transit – it’s just not. Rather, it’s a hostage of a town-gown stalemate in which neither side is willing to concede anything until the other does. Students shouldn’t feel the need to take either side – I don’t.

    The fact is that building 120 beds for 8,700 grad students just makes no sense. If it can’t be defended, then don’t try. It’s not uncommon for universities in cities to spread the campus around town a little. DC’s Comprehensive Plan for future development says we will “promote the development of satellite campuses to accommodate university growth”. Why not build a real grad dorm somewhere else?

  21. Ken, the North Arlington dorm idea is a good one.

    “The GUTS dispute is not indicative of residents’ feelings about transit – it’s just not. Rather, it’s a hostage of a town-gown stalemate in which neither side is willing to concede anything until the other does. Students shouldn’t feel the need to take either side – I don’t.”

    Huh? One side did concede. The University *always* concedes. That’s how it works when one side can hold everything the other side wants to do hostage. If the GUTS issue isn’t indicative of the residents’ feelings about transit then the residents ought to stop electing obstructionists. You sound like a reasonable guy, you should run. But stop pretending this is a pox on both their houses situation. It’s obvious whose boss.

  22. Joe C. is right people….Economic Theory 101…..Laws of Supply and Demand….I love how people bitch and moan because they bought a house near a PROGRESSIVE major university thinking that the student population would stay stagnant…Dummies….Georgetown was so nice to favor Burleith being built in 1938-40, but I guess that they didn’t forsee all the problems that the neighbors would cause 60 and 70 years down the road..!!

  23. Tune in tonight on NBC Washington’s News4 at 5 and get the latest!

    DRUNKEN STUDENTS
    A new website designed for “the sleepless residents of Burleith and Georgetown” gives tips to those fed up with college students partying next door to them. What kind of attention will this site bring to this chronic issue? We’re talking to all sides tonight on News4 at 5.

  24. The neighborhood activists are still claiming that Burleith is on the brink of becoming a student-only village; they’ve been saying so for 20 years now and it hasn’t happened. In the 1990s, many residents tried to pass a zoning overlay to drive students out of the area. At one meeting, with then-Mayor Barry present, a Burleith activist unveiled a map supposedly showing the overwhelming presence of student group houses in the area. People started asking questions, scrutinizing the map, and soon it became clear that the map was riddled with falsehoods, e.g., homes that were not student-occupied were listed as such, homes with two residents were considered “group homes,” etc. When asked how they got their information for the map, they couldn’t answer. Not only were they lying to the city government and to students, but these “activists” were lying to the neighbors they claimed to represent. Luckily the overlay went nowhere (it violated the city human rights laws anyway, so it would have been overturned), but the fantasy of a “student takeover” continues.

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  26. I am a parent of a soon-to-be graduate student (2011) who has hopes of attending Georgetown (medical).

    I live in an idyllic college town with a lovely farmer’s market, so I truly understand the dilemma that that your community is facing. Our “town-gown” relations are nearly perfect due to envious alumni giving (translated adequate housing) and solid community involvement with college students (community service, religious involvement, performing arts, etc.)

    However, as a parent, I am completely bewildered about where he is to find housing in the Georgetown area. Much of the housing is for four to six (even ten) students, which is more conducive for Animal House behavior instead of studying.

    What housing options are available for serious-minded, goal-driven students? Finding adequate, appropriate housing appears to be a dead-end in Georgetown area.

    Help is appreciated.

  27. Pingback: Vox Populi » BCA, CAG hire consultants, plan to meet with University officials

  28. As a Georgetown student I lived in Burleith 35 years ago. There were a lot of student rented houses then as the campus had limited housing in the 70’s. We had 5 students (and one car) in a house which was fairly typical. Now my son, a Georgetown student, lives in Burleith. I wonder if the environment has really changed? or did all current non-student residents move into the neighborhood in the last 30 years and then decide to try to change it? Sounds to me like all of you moved to an area that already had a lot of students and then suddenly were surprised to find lots of student houses. (A bit like the folks who move close to an airport and then complain about the noise.)

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