Ge­orge­town neigh­bors take aim at growth plan

Con­certed cam­paign seeks to stop fur­ther stu­dent en­croach­ment

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY JENNA JOHN­SON

Cam­paign sea­son is in full swing in the neigh­bor­hoods near Ge­orge­town Uni­ver­sity. The op­pos­ing sides have mailed color pam­phlets to hun­dreds of res­i­dents, hired con­sul­tants and sent out terse news re­leases. There are even yard signs.

The clash is not about an elec­tion. In­stead, it’s cen­tered on the uni­ver­sity’s newly pro­posed 10-year plan, which was sub­mit­ted last month to the D.C. Zon­ing Com­mis­sion.

Neigh­bors had hoped the plan would in­clude the con­struc­tion of more res­i­dence halls, which could help re­duce the num­ber of un­der­grad­u­ates liv­ing in off-cam­pus group houses. In­stead, the plan en­vi­sions new or ren­o­vated aca­demic and recre­ational venues, pedes­trian-friendly walk­ways and more grad­u­ate stu­dents.

“ These stu­dents are rolling into our neigh­bor­hoods, and we’re los­ing blocks that used to be res­i­den­tial,” said Cyn­thia Pan­tazis, a board mem­ber of the Cit­i­zens As­so­ci­a­tion of Ge­orge­town. “We’ve reached a sat­u­ra­tion point. ... It is cat­alyz­ing the neigh­bors.”

Col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties of­ten strug­gle with their neigh­bors. Yet few com­mu­nity groups man­age to push back with this level of so­phis­ti­ca­tion. Many of the res­i­dents of brick-lined Ge­orge­town, plus nearby Burleith and Fox­hol­low, are

wealthy, well-con­nected and fa­mil­iar with the tools of shap­ing pub­lic opin­ion. When asked to de­scribe these neigh­bors, uni­ver­sity Pres­i­dent John J. DeGioia re­sponded with a chuckle: “ This is an ex­tra­or­di­nary com­mu­nity.”

The ideas put forth in the ex­ten­sive plan have al­ready been de­bated by uni­ver­sity and neigh­bor­hood ac­tivists dur­ing a se­ries of meet­ings over the past two years. The key points of con­tention con­tinue to be en­roll­ment and hous­ing. Ge­orge­town has more than 7,400 un­der­grad­u­ates and nearly 80 per­cent of them live on cam­pus. But many neigh­bors want that num­ber to be closer to 100 per­cent.

In the pro­posed plan, Ge­orge­town has agreed to freeze the num­ber of un­der­grad­u­ate stu­dents at “cur­rently per­mit­ted lev­els.” But to stay com­pet­i­tive with peer in­sti­tu­tions, the uni­ver­sity says it must con­tinue grow­ing tu­ition rev­enue by in­creas­ing the num­ber of grad­u­ate and con­tin­u­ing-stud­ies stu­dents. These stu­dents are less likely to live near cam­pus and af­fect neigh­bors, the uni­ver­sity says.

Past fights over cam­pus devel­op­ment plans have taught Ge­orge­town — and other D.C. uni­ver­si­ties — that it can take more than six months to clear the Zon­ing Com­mis­sion, es­pe­cially if neigh­bors op­pose the plans. And even af­ter the com­mis­sion ap­proves them, is­sues can drag on for years in court.

Amer­i­can Uni­ver­sity also is work­ing on a cam­pus plan, and neigh­bors there are ques­tion­ing pro­pos­als to add more dorms close to res­i­den­tial ar­eas, among other things. Ge­orgeWash­ing­ton Uni­ver­sity’s lat­est cam­pus plan was ap­proved by the Zon­ing Com­mis­sion in 2007, af­ter months of ne­go­ti­a­tions to ac­com­mo­date con­cerns of Foggy Bot­tom neigh­bors.

Neigh­bor­hood ob­jec­tions al­ready have prompted Ge­orge­town of­fi­cials to scrap plans to con­struct a res­i­dence hall in the neigh­bor­hood and, an 83-foot util­i­ties smoke­stack on cam­pus. And at the sug­ges­tion of neigh­bors, the uni­ver­sity de­cided to build a new road so it could route cam­pus buses off neigh­bor­hood streets.

Ge­orge­town of­fi­cials say they have worked in re­cent years to ad­dress com­mu­nity con­cerns. Stu­dents who want to live off cam­pus at­tend manda­tory ori­en­ta­tion ses­sions that in­clude tips on be­ing good neigh­bors. The uni­ver­sity has its own pa­trol staff that an­swers neigh­bor­hood calls and breaks up par­ties. And it has in­creased the num­ber of off-duty D.C. po­lice of­fi­cers who pa­trol ar­eas near cam­pus Thurs­day, Fri­day and Satur­day nights.

“It’s a very small num­ber of houses that are the source of con­cern,” DeGioia said, adding that young, trou­ble-mak­ing res­i­dents of­ten aren’t stu­dents. “ The way that the neigh­bor­hood is set up, you are go­ing to have young peo­ple liv­ing there.”

But neigh­bors say the uni­ver­sity has not done enough to con­trol stu­dent be­hav­ior, es­pe­cially late at night and on week­ends. Last spring, some res­i­dents be­gan dec­o­rated their front yards with signs read­ing, “Our Homes, Not GU’s Dorms.”

That prompted a stu­dent blog, Vox Pop­uli, to so­licit stu­dent sug­ges­tions for their own signs. The most pop­u­lar were, “Ge­orge­town Uni­ver­sity, Rais­ing Prop­erty Val­ues Since 1789,” and “Com­plain to my land­lord, not my school.”

The de­bate moved to mail­boxes in De­cem­ber, as the neigh­bor­hood as­so­ci­a­tion dis­trib­uted a 10-page news­let­ter con­tain­ing pho­tos of prob­lem houses, con­tact in­for­ma­tion for city of­fi­cials and a map pin­point­ing the dozens of houses oc­cu­pied by un­der­grad­u­ate and grad­u­ate stu­dents.

Soon af­ter, the uni­ver­sity sub­mit­ted its pro­posed plan to the Zon­ing Com­mis­sion and sent neigh­bors a news­let­ter of its own. The Ge­orge­town and Burleith neigh­bor­hood as­so­ci­a­tions re­sponded with a joint news re­lease ex­press­ing their dis­ap­point­ment with the plan.

Both sides are now gear­ing up for Zon­ing Com­mis­sion meet­ings, which neigh­bors ex­pect will be­gin in the next month or two.

“ The com­mu­nity is so gal­va­nized right now,” said Jen­nifer Al­te­mus, pres­i­dent of the cit­i­zens as­so­ci­a­tion. “I’ve never seen ev­ery­one come to­gether like this.”

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