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.”