Burleith’s major misunderstandings about the 2010 Campus Plan

Although nothing agitates the blood of a Vox reader quite like a post about a Citizens Association of Georgetown meeting about the 2010 Campus Plan, you’ve got to hand it to our neighbors in West Georgetown—they know that plan backwards and forwards. CAG seems to have a clear idea about what exactly in the plan they don’t like and why it threatens their neighborhood.

Don’t believe me? Then you should go to the next Burleith Citizens Association meeting about the 2010 Campus Plan, where their take on the plan is unfortunately beset by speculation and half-truths.

If you read our coverage of the first meeting the BCA held about the final plan draft in April, you’re already familiar with Burleith residents’ main gripes with the 2010 Campus Plan. And if you didn’t, I’m sure you can guess the usual suspects. The plan doesn’t add new on-campus housing for undergraduates; it adds over 2,400 graduate students to the school in the next ten years; it threatens to increase traffic in the neighborhood; and in general, it gets residents talking about how awful it is to live near students. With a few adjustments, the slides at the two meetings that the BCA held this past Saturday and Sunday to talk about the 2010 Campus Plan were more or less the same as the last meeting.

So I’ll spare you another rundown of what Burleith hates about the plan. What’s more interesting is what they just don’t get about it.

Let’s start with the portion of the presentation led by Candith Pallandre, the BCA’s treasurer, which consisted almost entirely of assumptions and misunderstandings. Pallandre zeroed in on the road that will run the length of campus between the woods and Kehoe Field, the tennis courts, and the power plant.

“This was supposed to be a service road, and now they’re saying that buses are service vehicles,” she said. With a knowing smile, she continued, “Buses carrying students are not really service vehicles.”

Pallandre didn’t give any clues as to why it would be a problem for GUTS buses to drive along a road that is bordered by woods and Georgetown University property. But it’s clear that she assumed the University thought it was being sneaky by classifying GUTS buses as service vehicles, and that this would have sneaky consequences.

In reality, the road will allow Georgetown University to pick up passengers from the north end of campus and then exit out Canal Road—which is what Burleith residents have been demanding for years.

After the jump, we recap the rest of the gripes from last weekend’s BCA meeting.

But Pallandre seemed to assume that if the University is doing it, it must be devious. Like putting a roof over Kehoe Field, for example. Georgetown said that this was to protect the field, she explained, which suffers from thousands of dollars worth of damage from exposure every year.

“But what other uses are they going to have for this space that the University isn’t telling us about? Parties?” she asked.

She had similar misgivings about Georgetown’s plan to replace its 10-foot power plant chimney with an 83-foot chimney. Georgetown has been admittedly vague about the environmental ramifications of raising the height of the smokestack, but administrators have said consistently that it will help better disperse pollutants from the plant. This was not good enough for Pallandre, who was joined by the rest of the room in assuming bigger meant worse.

Then there was BCA Vice President Walter Hillabrant, who explained that Georgetown University “absolutely with premeditation is going to take away our community to be their dormitories.” After spelling out the litany of abuses Georgetown students in Burleith visit upon residents, like “doing binge drinking” and “doing public urination,” he accuses the plan of increasing enrollment without increasing on-campus housing.

Hillabrant is wrong. The University intends to build space for 120 graduate students and young faculty to live on the 1789 block, on campus. Hillabrant conflated undergraduate student enrollment with graduate student enrollment. It’s pretty clear that he’s worried that more undergraduate students—doing drinking and urination—will invade Burleith as enrollment rises. But, Georgetown isn’t adding more undergraduate students, only graduate students.

Hillabrant’s presentation didn’t make this clear, although the next presenter corrected him just as attending residents (who numbered very few—only ten people or so) were starting to murmur angrily. But both Hillabrant’s and her presentation, which projected the number of students who will be living in areas like Burleith, Foxhall, and Glover Park in 2010, consistently neglected to mention a key fact of the plan: more than half of the additional graduate students will be enrolled in the School of Continuing Studies (1,370 of 2,475), meaning they are likely to be older commuters.

But let’s move on to the pièce de résistance, provided by everyone’s favorite Burleithian, party photographer Stephen R. Brown. By unexplained leaps and bounds of logic, he drew a connection between Georgetown’s intention to align 38th Street with the hospital exit and a hospital in Burleith. You read that right. To Brown, Georgetown’s intention to eliminate a dangerous, uneven intersection reveals in no uncertain terms that Georgetown is planning to build a hospital in Burleith.

He even had an artist’s rendition of what a hospital would look like read to show residents—an altered photograph of a large building looming behind a row of Burleith houses.

“I’m a professional architectural photographer,” he explained, as photographs entitled “The Future of Burleith” flashed on the screen.

Astoundingly, this did not seem preposterous to Burleith residents.

“I don’t have the facts to back this up, but I think that’s an interesting perspective,” BCA President Lenore Rubino said, “and we need to start thinking into the future.”

What’s convincing about this? Brown said he is friends with a Georgetown Jesuit who told him, “You think in terms of your Ten Year Plan. We’re Jesuits. We think in centuries.”

Yes, Stephen. The Jesuits are in charge of major facilities development.

So what’s next for the BCA? Fundraising and hiring a zoning attorney and an urban planner to help them build their case against the campus plan. Lawn signs will also soon be available soon, like, “Our homes, not GU’s dorms.” Wrapping up the meeting, the presenters reminded residents that Burleith “is working against a corporate, big-business mentality, not a community partner.”

As of the meeting, the BCA has raised about $8,000 to oppose the campus plan, and CAG has raised about $13,000. But, good news! The BCA now accepts credit cards.

26 Comments on “Burleith’s major misunderstandings about the 2010 Campus Plan

  1. So glad to see all the goodwill that building the Southwest Quad bought Georgetown.

  2. I’m subletting in Burleith for the summer (one block away from our favorite photographer) and I got a ridiculous flyer for this meeting. I’ll have to scan it and email it to you guys when I get back to DC this weekend. When I read it, I knew that this was going to happen. I think it’s really sad that people who are obviously educated and fairly well-off can’t even be bothered to read the plan, or at the very least, make distinctions between undergraduate students and older non-residential grad students. Also, I am loving this “hospital in Burleith” idea. News flash: Georgetown already has a hospital in Burleith, basically.

  3. A few points:

    On the service roads, this question was brought up on the Campus Plan tour that Alan Brangman led a little while back. He responded that campus shuttles most definitely ARE considered “service vehicles,” particularly when those shuttles are operating solely and expressly to bring people to and from campus (and are under lots of restrictions by DDOT that limit their role to this). This is in contrast to some other universities’ bus systems, like Cornell, that function more like regular bus routes.

    On the chimney: I’m not sure how the University has been vague on environmental ramifications. The amount of stuff going into the air will not change, that’s a known fact. As for what effect the chimney being higher will have, the university has conducted various tests (e.g. wind tunnel tests) and has submitted required paperwork to EPA. Anyone who wants copies of this stuff can just ask.

    Also, not only are those Continuing Studies students more likely to be older commuters, they may not even be commuting to this campus. The Center for Continuing and Professional Education hosts classes next to the Clarendon Metro.

    Finally, not that this point needs to be hammered home any more than it already has been, but the statement that Georgetown “absolutely with premeditation is going to take away our community to be their dormitories” is completely nonsensical. Graduate students, as a rule, do not live in dormitories, so increasing the number of graduate students while keeping the undergraduate cap the same would do no such thing. Might some of these grad students decide to move into the neighborhood? Possibly (though almost all of the grad students I know do not live in any of the adjoining neighborhoods). But they wouldn’t be living in a dorm on campus regardless; the choice for them is between living in Burleith or a place like Rosslyn or Courthouse, not between Burleith and “Village D.”

  4. I want one of those “A Village, not GU’s Dorms” signs so bad.

  5. I’m pretty sure that many of the quotes in Molly’s piece are incorrect–were the speakers taped? If so,did you verify the quotes?

    Some questions–
    Do you think there is a significant set of problems associated with binge drinking by some GU students? What are the size and scope of these problems…is that information known? Are the University’s efforts to prevent such problems effective?
    Is it acceptable for a group of,say, 40 people to party at midnight, 1AM, 2AM in the community? Are people who complain about the noise over sensitive in contrast to the needs of the revelers? What about old folks and kids in neighboring houses?
    What about the DC zoning regulations–you did not mention them in your blog–are they unfair to universities?
    What about the wildly incorrect predictions of GUs 2000 10 year plan–you didn’t report the discussion pertaining to them.
    Do you think that people good will and intentions can have a productive discourse and develop a consensus with respect to the concerns and perceptions of GU students, faculty,administrators, and community residents?

  6. Do YOU think that people with good will and intentions can have a productive discourse and develop a consensus with respect to YOUR FACE?!

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  8. I like how Hillabrant was quoted talking about binge-drinking and zoning, writes a post doubting the accuracy of the quotes, and then proceeds to harp on the same issues.

    Also, if the residents are “people good will and intentions,” why do they keep spouting hysterical falsehoods? Or listening to Stephen Brown?

  9. What you guys don’t seem to understand is that there is a long, long backstory. It goes back decades.

    But to take just one fairly recent example:

    When GU purchased The Wormely School, it promised neighborhood residents that the building would only be used for academic office space. Students might visit their professors from time to time, but no classes would be held there. There would be little consequent pedestrian or vehicular traffic directly resulting from GU’s use of the building.

    On that basis, the neighborhood supported GU’s purchase of the building. That purchase could not have occurred without the neighbors’ support.

    It then emerged that the university had developed plans to use the building for a public policy school. That classes would be held there all the time, year-round. That outdoor parties would be held three or more nights a week, weather permitting. And that this had been GU’s objective from the beginning. (Memos were leaked from the architect’s office and elsewhere providing ample evidence of this.)

    In other words, the university architect and other GU officials stood before the neighborhood and gave their solemn word — and that of the university’s then-president — that they would not do what they were already set upon doing.

    Not surprisingly, when the neighbors realized they’d been lied to, they mobilized and blocked the project. (This wasn’t all bad for GU, since it turned a sizable profit flipping the building to its current owners.)

    This pattern of disingenuousness and outright deceit goes back decades.

    The neighbors now expect it from GU.

    Why shouldn’t they?

    P.S. As I said in an earlier post, this quarrel isn’t about GU students. (Well, not mostly.) It’s about the school administration, which like many schools, has made the mistaken assumption that the only way to make GU better is to make it bigger. (Anyone been up to see the future site of “Lake Summers” in Allston lately?)

  10. “That outdoor parties would be held three or more nights a week, weather permitting.”

    Hahahahahahaahahahahahahahahahahaha. Come on, you’re not even trying to make your fabrications sound reasonable anymore. The pattern is plain to see: it’s difficult to argue against the actual plans, so start inventing the most outrageous thing you can think of. A hospital…ON TOP OF BURLEITH! University-sponsored keggers…THREE TIMES A WEEK! Dogs and cats…GETTING MARRIED!

  11. Burleith residents have long enjoyed the benefits of being located next to GU. During White Flight in the 1980s, a hundred thousand residents across the District fled to neighboring suburbs because of the crack epidemic. Without GU and its enormous influence, Burleith was spent 2 decades in decay. These old-tymers who claim that the University has overstepped its boundaries and its students are raging, carefree alcoholics, should leverage the tremendous equity they have in their shitty townhomes and move to Mclean.

  12. In defense of Old Georgetowner, I think he meant university sponsored parties as official events and not parties that get photographed by our dear SB. However, I disagree with Old Gtowner and the selling of Wormely School didn’t turn in profit for the school much in resemblance of other university financial decisions

  13. Young Georgetowner —

    I think if you look back, GU turned a tax-free profit of about $6 million on The Wormley School — partly because it had preferential status as a purchaser and was able to buy it from the city for so little, and partly because it sold it, when its ambitions were frustrated, at the height of real estate market to a developer who patently overpaid.

    Meanwhile, the geniuses in charge of the university’s endowment rode it into the ground.

    So, relatively speaking, Wormley was good for GU.

    Ignorance is Bliss —

    You are aptly named.

    The parties mentioned in my previous posts would have been school-sponsored events behind or adjacent the Wormley School, on Prospect Street between 33rd and 34th.

    This has nothing to do with Burleith.

  14. Old Georgetown,

    If you had your facts correct, you would know that our endowment managers actually helped our fund fare better than average, due to asset diversification and lower risk investments.

    Wormley was not good for the University. Even if we turned a profit off it, which we did, that doesn’t mean that it was in the University’s best strategic interest to sell the property. Putting GPPI in that space would have helped that school blossom, attracting better faculty and students, and helped to build a much stronger community around a common space. See the MSB with Hariri as an example.

  15. My name refers to the M.O. of our esteemed neighbors, not to myself. Please do provide proof of these purported “school-sponsored events behind or adjacent the Wormley School, on Prospect Street between 33rd and 34th.” Outside of Commencement, Reunion Weekend, and maybe Homecoming, the university doesn’t have three outdoor events per week NOW, much less back then. What events would these be? You can’t have lectures, roundtables, discussion panels, or any of the other things that constitute 95% of university events outdoors. Just can’t. So that leaves receptions, which usually accompany/immediately follow some event. But these have to be in immediate proximity to the event itself. And they never go past 7 p.m. at the latest, out of consideration for people’s families. So these raucous parties that you claim the university would be hosting would actually be something like 30 or 40 people munching on hors d’oeuvres until 7. The Horror! And, again, GPPI doesn’t have three of these a week now, much less back then.

    You’re making stuff up, as is the NIMBY Neighbor M.O., instead of addressing the merits of the actual plan. They’re plotting to turn Burleith…INTO A GIANT DORM. The scheming conniving (and apparently immortal) Jesuits have…A HUNDRED YEAR PLAN. And so on.

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  17. The extent of misinformation, outright factual inaccuracy and simple illogic in somany of these posts would be really funny if it weren’t so maddening.

    But the cake taker this thread is Old Georgetowner, who otherwise has several reasonable or at least coherent arguments, when he refers–out of nowhere and with what relevance I don’t understand–to the geniuses who ran teh University’s endowment into the ground.

    First, if the University’s endowment were bigger you can be damn sure it would be wanting to do a lot more building, which would likely have antagonized the anti-university forces who appear to view any change as a bad thing.

    But second, it is very simply factually inaccurate. The university’s endowment showed the third-best performance among colleges and universities nationally in 2009 and the university leapt 7 places in the NACUBO endowment rankings in a year.

    Also, to his earlier point, an analysis of how universities (as opposed to colleges, which Georgetown is not) grow in stature (which at Georgetown, a religious institution, means how it more fully realizes its mission) would strongly refute the notion that better does not mean bigger. At a substantial majority of steep-trajectory institutions in this country in the last 50 years, increasing eminence (aka “better) has been associated with growth (aka bigger). See, for instance, Northwestern, NYU, Duke, Emory, USC, Rice, just to name a few.

    As both a loyal alumnus and a longtime resident of Georgetown, I happen to agree with members of the community that the behavior of some number of Georgetown students (the number is unknown and probably unknowable) behave inexcusably in the community. I wish that it were not so. I also wish I would win the Irish sweepstakes and be able to fly to work in my personal helicopter. But wishing isn’t going to change the fundamentally impossible.

    What part of there being a two-century-old university with several thousand 18 to 22 year olds in residence did neighbors miss when they purchased their homes?

    Pressure should always be put on the university to do everything it can to influence student behavior in the community. But we should be realistic about how much this can ever be expected to accomplish and not take it as license to level outlandish and simply false charges against the university of alleged schemes to take over the neighborhood.


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