About that Ten Year Plan…

Last night, the ANC held a special meeting to discuss one topic: Georgetown University’s Ten Year Plan. Labeled a factual inquiry meeting, the ANC invited input from the university, the four area citizens associations (Georgetown, Burleith, Foxhall, and Hillandale), and the public. Located in the expanded space of the Duke Ellington School theater, the meeting drew a large (although not packed) audience.

The lengthy meeting was separated into four topic sessions: residential living concerns, plans for the hospital, transportation, and student enrollment numbers.

Residential Living Concerns

This was truly the heart of the meeting, and the primary reason most people attended. After relatively perfunctory opening remarks, the session turned promptly over to public questions (and a good deal of public rhetorical questions too).

A steady stream of Georgetown and Burleith residents testified as to the negative impact students were having on their quality of life. Suffice it to say, it was pretty much what you’d except a bunch of Georgetowners and Burleithians to say if asked what they think of Georgetown students living in the neighborhood.

And, it should also be said, that a relatively small but determined group of G.U. students also testified. Perhaps recognizing that the deck is pretty much stacked against them, they didn’t so much offer a strong defense of the plan but rather a criticism of the criticism of the plan. Also, they offered a petition that was apparently signed by over 700 people, although it was followed by a discussion on IP addresses and whether the people that signed the petition are even really from Georgetown.

But setting aside the discussion of the qualitative impact students have had, the core of this portion of the debate surrounded whether Georgetown can and should build more on-campus housing. The short answer from the Georgetown representatives (Provost Jim O’Donnell, Senior VP of Administration Spiros Dimolitsas, and Dean of Student Affairs Todd Olson) is that the university rejects the notion that another dormitory could be built on campus. The neighbors think that’s wrong.

This led to a long discussion where the two sides were simply talking past each other. Georgetown is insistent that the plan is good because it caps the number of undergrad at 6,675 (GM will get to what that means later). They simply want to increase graduate enrollment by about 2,000 (which would bring the total main campus enrollment to 16,133, a 14% increase over today’s roughly 14,000 number.)

This led to a somewhat fractured response from the neighbors because: A) the plan doesn’t address the neighbor’s assertion that there are too many undergrads and not enough dorms and B) while you mention it, they don’t really want more graduate students either. By failing to address the two issues separately, the neighbors arguments occasionally got muddled.

While expansion of new metro-accessible locations for graduate programs would be desirable (one of the solutions mentioned), there’s no doubt that the be-all-end-all issue is the question of more dorms. The school says they looked and there’s no space. The neighbors say look harder, there is. Students say they wouldn’t want to live there anyway. Wash, rinse, repeat.

As this process moves forward, GM can’t help but think that this central question is all that will really matter. And both sides have made their respective cases. Ultimately it will be up to the Zoning Commission to determine the outcome. (By the way, the first Zoning Commission hearing on the plan is on April 14th).

Hospital

After Ed Solomon finally (finally) ended discussion on residential living concerns, he turned the discussion towards the hospital. And the news here is really no news at all. Ultimately Medstar will likely want to build a new hospital here. But those plans are still way to preliminary to be discussed at great length.

The issue here, though, pretty much relates back to that core issue discussed above. GM understands that there are discussions going on right now between Medstar and the university about a possible land swap. The university would turn over North Kehoe Field to the hospital in exchange for one of the hospital’s buildings. This is an intriguing possibility for the neighbors, since it doesn’t take much to convert a hospital to a dorm (or at least, it takes a hell of a lot less to do that than to build a new one from scratch). But the university was unwilling to discuss the possibility.

Moreover, the university was unwilling to discuss why the hospital could build a 600 bed-hospital on North Kehoe Field, but the school could build a dorm there instead. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Transportation

Since this is a topic more in GM’s wheelhouse, he was somewhat energized when its turn came. Perhaps it was the lateness of the hour, but the discussion of transportation was pretty meager.

The bulk of the discussion concerned the university’s plan to build a loop road on the west border of the campus. Robert Avery of the Foxhall Community Citizens Association led a charge against this road. Primarily the objection is that it would negatively impact the view from Glover-Archibold Park. Since the school granted an easement to the Park Service to protect this view, it may run into some problems getting this part of the plan approved.

GM himself spoke up at this point. Part of the university’s plans call for the construction of 1,000 new parking spaces on campus (750 are for the hospital, 250 are for the school). GM thinks this is nuts. The school promises that this is just an attempt to try to get cars out of on-street parking. But this ignores reality. More spaces will simply induce more students, professors, and employees to drive. There will still be roughly the same number of people who decide to park on the street instead of paying for a garage. All that will change is that there will be even more traffic.

To truly address a lack of available on-street parking, the only effective method is performance parking. The commission assured GM that they were still working towards bringing that to Georgetown.

And ultimately, bringing streetcar and eventually Metro to Georgetown should be the goal of the community and the university in order to truly tackle the transportation issue.

Numbers

The final session of the night dealt with numbers. Each side presented somewhat contradictory numbers, and frankly GM’s not sure whom to trust. Either way, we’re back to that central issue. The neighbors say there are too many undergrads, not enough dorms and the school says it can’t build more dorms (and it certainly can’t reduce enrollment). Wash, rinse, repeat.

For what it’s worth, the university is proposing to adopt a 6,675 hard undergrad cap. This is actually up from the non-binding cap from their last plan of 6,016. However, they explained that the old number was more of an average that didn’t take into account all types of undergrads (e.g. it didn’t include part time). The new number takes those into account, but ostensibly doesn’t actually increase the number of undergrads present on campus. The ANC seemed to accept this.

But beyond that there wasn’t much agreement. GM will leave it to the Zoning Commission to divine that right numbers.

Conclusion

GM had been dreading this meeting for weeks.

In all honesty, GM hates this issue. Of all the issues surrounding Georgetown that he feels obliged to cover, this is the issue GM dislikes writing about the most. Living as he does on the east side, GM has almost no interaction with the university or its students on a regular, or even occasional, basis. So he simply has no personal skin in the game. Lacking a personal interest in the matter, GM is left to try to parse an intellectual debate from a frequently vitriolic discourse. (Ex. A.) While both sides have a legitimate case to make, too often the most hysterical voices dominate.

GM thinks that in the end, some compromise can be found. It’s unfortunate that it probably will come following the Zoning Commission’s rejection of the school’s plan. The fact is that the school has to grow to survive. And it will always have some impact on the neighbors, but it is going to have to face up to the fact that the neighborhood is bearing too large of a burden to support GU growth.

GM thinks 100% on-campus housing for undergrads is unrealistic, but somewhere between that and where we are today is where we need to end up. And the sooner we get there and end this caustic debate, the better.

 

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30 Comments

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30 responses to “About that Ten Year Plan…

  1. nancy

    Out of town so missed the meeting. But so appreciate GM’s coverage. Objective, informative and a good read. Thank you.

  2. Bort

    Didn’t the University want to build new housing on the edge of campus in one of the blocks of row homes that it owns? Why was this removed from the plan and why did residents object to this? It seems to me that the residents want there way or the highway (but not if it’s elevated above K street).

  3. Phil

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t Kehoe Field the roof of Yates Field House? What is the impact of the land swap and building a hospital (or dorm) on top of the courts and pool?

  4. Charmed

    Why is it that GU “has to grow to survive”? There are many excellent universities with a smaller student populations. For example, Princeton has a total student body of about 7,000, and Yale roughly 11,000.

  5. GM

    Phil: someone can correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe north Kehoe Field is not on top of Yates. South Kehoe Field (if that’s what it’s called) is on top of Yates. For that field, GU I proposing to build some sort of a roof, which will improve the water leaking of Yates.

    Charmed: I don’t have the info right now, but I would be very surprised if Priceton and Yale haven’t steadily grown their enrollments over the past few decades. Maybe not much in undergraduates, but definitely in graduate programs. They’re also slightly different since they have absolutely massive endowments. Georgetown doesn’t. Yes I imagine GU could stop growing and technically survive, but I think given the extremely competitive academic marketplace, their reputation and financial standing would eventually erode.

  6. RobRob

    Not sure I agree with the premise that the University has to expand to survive. Looks like they’re (at least on paper) claiming to hold enrollment constant for what will eventually be a twenty-year period.

  7. RobRob

    For the record, I don’t really understand the complaint about increasing the graduate program, except as it stands in as fear of increasing the undergraduates living in the neighborhood.

  8. Old Georgetowner

    There’s an obvious problem with the argument that GU “needs to expand to survive.”

    It would therefore need to keep expanding forever.

    And gradually, it would consume Georgetown and Burleith.

    P.S. Since the University has decided to keep (but neglect) the old cemetery on Wisconsin avenue, why not move the dead Jesuits there and build on the sit of the old Jesuit Cemetery?

  9. asuka

    “P.S. Since the University has decided to keep (but neglect) the old cemetery on Wisconsin avenue, why not move the dead Jesuits there and build on the sit of the old Jesuit Cemetery?”

    Are you serious? Or was that just a really tasteless joke?

  10. GM

    Rob: well they’re proposing expanding graduate enrollment by 2,000 over the next ten years. That’s not insignificant. At the same time, they are likely to be pursuing growth elsewhere (like Virginia or perhaps downtown).

    As for the complaints about graduate students, that’s a fair point. But the thing is, there’s a wide range of behavior among graduate students. Some are really no different than undergrads, others are the stereotypical quiet grad students. But I agree that the neighbors should keep that distinction clear: while they can be bad neighbors, grad students are A) less likely to live in Georgetown and B) less likely to be noisy. Personally, I think the neighbors should prioritize. The bulk of their problem is undergrads. If they make graduate expansion too large of an issue, GU can simply take it off the table and appear to have given up a lot.

    Also, I’ll add that an increase in graduate students will likely lead to more cars unless coupled with policies designed to prevent that, and adding a couple hundred new parking spaces is not a good start on that account.

  11. DR

    GM writes, “there’s no doubt that the be-all-end-all issue is the question of more dorms. ”
    Unfortunately, more dorms would not satisfy everyone. When a vote on approval for construction of the Southwest Quadrange took place in October 1999, two ANC representatives voted against it, including Barbara Zartman, who had been one of the biggest opponents of students living off campus. In addition, some residents lodged complaints during ANC meetings that its construction led to noise and construction traffic, as if it could be built without using construction equipment. Many residents are reasonable, but some of them automatically oppose the University at all times (remember, some neighbors tried to shut down the Hoya Kids daycare center.)

  12. @Old Georgetowner

    Despite the ridiculous logical fallacy concerning growth of the University (oversimplification, if you cared), which I’m choosing to ignore, I think your callousness in regards to the exhumation and transport of those laid to rest in the Jesuit graveyard is appalling.
    I refuse to believe the suggestion was serious, because not only would that suggestion disturb the resting place of men of faith- who have been there much longer then you have been alive- but from a simple logistical standpoint building housing there would be impractical due to the fact the graveyard is fairly small.
    I’m choosing to see your suggestion as bombastic and purposefully provoking, something that should be reserved for the schoolyard not as purported grown adult.

  13. GM

    OG: I believe that there is nothing unique about the academic market. Like any organization in a competitive environment, it needs to constantly grow to simply keep up. That does not mean it will eventually swallow Georgetown and Burleith. It means that the growth has to be accepted as a necessity but managed in a way to prevent the overwhelming of the neighborhood. Increasing the density of the campus, significantly improving transit (with the eventual goal of a Metro station), exploring new satellite campus locations; these are all ways to manage growth and preserve the residential character of the neighborhood.

  14. Eileen

    I would love a Metro stop on campus. As probably most of the city already knows, no one actually wants to drive around here. Of course, the ANC protested the building of one (and this is why Georgetown is the only university in the District that doesn’t have its own Metro stop – hell, UMD has a Metro stop, and so does GMU – so why not Georgetown?).

    And anyone who suggests digging up two small graveyards in which lie the bodies of men who dedicated their lives to faith and service so that the university can build dorms (although neither plot has enough room for a new building) does not deserve to have any of his comments taken seriously.

  15. GM

    Eileen: Thanks for the comment, but please, please stop spreading that myth about the metro stop. It has been absolutely proven that the reason they didn’t put a metro stop in Georgetown had nothing to do with community opposition. It was primarily geological; a station simply wouldn’t fit in with the steep grade leading down to the water. Secondarily it was because the system was designed initially as a commuter mover. Since there was little office space in Georgetown in the 1960s when they planned it, it made little sense to spend all the money it would take to shoehorn a station in to Georgetown.

    And it’s particularly untrue that the ANC had anything to say about it. The system was planned in the 60s. ANCs weren’t created until 1974.

  16. Eileen

    Okay, fair enough – but the community members DID oppose building a stop. Whether or not they were the actual reason for its not being built is irrelevant because I’m primarily addressing the mindset of certain loud, aggressive community members who refuse to accept that they live in a city. Just to make it clear, there are a lot of community members around here who are reasonable people with reasonable concerns regarding space and noise. These people, however, ultimately get drowned out by Lenore Rubino types who will never be satisfied with anything the university offers – and that, I think, is a real shame.

    http://www.welovedc.com/2009/10/13/dc-mythbusting-georgetown-metro-stop/

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  18. Peter

    Georgetown and it’s students would love a metro. It would make a lot of the neighborhood’s goals more reasonable, like satellite campuses. But the neighbors have blocked all attempts to build a metro stop in Georgetown. They’re worried about what type of people would suddenly have access to Georgetown. They don’t want riff raff from other parts of the city coming to Georgetown via metro. The neighbors want Georgetown to be a gated community where they can control every aspect and everyone who comes and goes.

  19. GM

    Again, Peter, that’s absolutely not true and frankly extremely ignorant. There was one chance for Georgetown to get a metro stop. It was in the 1960s, and the engineers decided it wasn’t feasible. There has never been a serious effort since then to build a stop, so it’s utterly illogical to argue that neighbors have blocked all attempts to build a metro stop. There haven’t been any to try to block since there has never been remotely enough money available to even begin planning one. But Metro does want to eventually bring a station to Georgetown as part of a plan to split the Blue and Orange lines, and I doubt there will be any serious opposition to it.

    It would make your position so much easier to hold if it were actually true that neighbors have repeatedly blocked a metro station and if they really wanted a gated community. But they didn’t and they don’t. The world is a lot more gray and complicated than that. A serious debate requires people to drop convenient falsehoods on both sides.

  20. asuka

    I agree the neighborhood has not and will not oppose a Metro stop, but the gated community critique is valid. Is there not a vocal minority that would like to close M street to traffic, removing a commuter artery vital to regional (i.e., places other than Georgetown) traffic flow? Does that same minority not want to restrict Wisconsin with all manner of silly measures, again denying the region a necessary commuter route? Some of the residents of this community most certainly want tighter restrictions on who lives in and passes through it, despite the fact that Georgetown is a major urban center.

  21. @GM

    I think you’ve done a good job to present the issue neutrally. However, when it comes to housing, the neighbors’ arguments don’t add up.

    1) the University did propose building more on-campus housing in the 3700 block. It was originally for graduate students and faculty, but the University could have easily made it undergraduate housing. But the neighbors cried out “No! That’s not on-campus!”, which in fact, it is: the University has owned the property around the old hospital (now LXR hall) for the better part of a century. Yet now the neighbors claim that more housing must be built – even though they turned up Georgetown’s proposal for more housing.

    I would like anyone who says “there should be more on-campus housing” to actually take a look around campus and try and find a suitable piece of property – really, there isn’t much there. As for N. Kehoe field, Georgetown athletics needs at least two practice fields. If you get rid of N. Kehoe to build a dorm, you get rid of space for intramurals, which will – oops – lead to more drunken merriment in the neighborhood.

    2) The fact is that few, if any, students are actually “forced” off campus. I personally don’t know of a one, and I’m a junior at Georgetown. If you want to stay on campus, you can go abroad in the fall of your junior year, or pool points with a junior or a senior with extra housing eligibility points, or join a Living Learning Community, or wait it out on the wait list…. The fact is that most students go off-campus because they want to.

    I really want to see this as a 50-50 issue, but really, the neighbors complaints are, at this point, irrational. And don’t tell me that only the land behind the “wall” is really campus – that’s never been true – such a claim is not supported by any DC zoning document.

    Ultimately, the University will win this, particularly given how completely childish the neighbors are behaving. How do you negotiate with a group that casts aside reasonble compromise (i.e., 3700 block housing) in favor of some quixotic quest to build more housing behind stone walls that are already bursting at the seams? I feel like the neighbors would have done better to actually have a productive conversation with the University. Had they stopped screaming about undergraduate housing, for instance, they might have actually won fewer parking spaces. But instead we’re off to near certain litigation, a battle which the neighbors will most certainly lose, because they may be rich, but certainly are stingy when it comes to whatever “fund” the CAG or BCA is planning, and honestly, the University has deeper pockets.

    Instead Jennifer Altemus and the like will keep screaming, keep bemoaning the attack of the University, honestly as a way I think to maintain their relevancy. Local advisory boards like this have to make noise, lest they fall by the wayside.

  22. RobRob

    @asuka – That residents of a neighborhood resist their streets becoming commuter thoroughfares of high-density, regional traffic flow is a position hardly unique to Georgetown. I can’t speak about any vocal minority that wishes to close M St, but it’s really unfair to paint the whole area with that brush while admitting that the neighborhood would support a Metro stop.

    Most of what I’ve read here (both by GM and his comments) supports high-density, urban living, combined with increased mass transit largely because it’s a net benefit to the neighborhood to increase visitors, and unchecked traffic growth is unsustainable.

  23. @GM

    Altemus, by the way, has tied herself into a pretzel intellectually. First, she claims that the 3700 block is not “on campus”. Then she says she lived “on campus” in Nevils, which is IN THE OLD HOSPITAL! BEYOND THE FRONT GATES which purportedly define “campus”!

    What a hypocrite. GM, I invite you to actually get Altemus’ comment on that one, because really it is a clear contradiction. Then, I invite you to talk about what it means when such a leader of the CAG lived (gasp!) off-campus with all those vile ruffian undergraduates.

    The hypocrisy and irony here is truly thick.

    One final note, GU is a major sponsor of CAG events. And Altemus will even take my $10 as part of an online “student” membership to the CAG. What an angry hypocrite.

  24. Hoya14

    @Phil-South Kehoe Field is indeed on top of Yates, but Yates itself is mostly open space with non-support partitions. It does not have the structural integrity to support a decently-sized hospital on its roof.
    @Charmed et al.-Yes, the University needs to grow. Admissions=tuition=money, and in order to meet the needs of research at the university, the university has to expand its facilities. Also, building a satellite campus is not a matter of just building a satellite campus. The University has to have grown (yes, GROWN) to a size where the portion of the student body which inhabits a satellite campus is not missed, and to a point where primary income for the University can meet the expenses of operating a satellite campus. They can’t just build the buildings then hope that they keep themselves.
    @Old Georgetowner- even by some chance that that was not a joke, a building on the site of the old Jesuit cemetery would barely add any space.

    Overall, I definitely agree that more on-campus residence halls are impractical.
    1. Space-All the “spaces” proposed for new residence halls (Yates roof, harbin patio, graveyard?? etc) are either barely space worth mentioning, structurally unsound, or inaccessible to heavy duty construction equipment. Also, existing space that is to be renovated by the current Campus Plan is desperately needed for the purposed laid out therein.
    2. Graduate students and older undergraduate students are extremely unlikely to live on campus even with the addition of new residence halls. As someone said earlier, they choose to live off campus.
    3. A university has existed in Georgetown since 1634 (under the name St Mary’s-I highly advise individual investigation, it is really a very fascinating story). The first settlement in Georgetown was chartered in 1751. I don’t think any community members can realistically claim that they “didn’t know there was a college here” when they moved in.

  25. Re your conclusion, GM: utterly clear headed and sane, level headed and logical, calm and thoughtful. Are you sure you are a Georgetowner?

  26. Increase graduate enrollment by 2,000. Graduates are of legal drinking age aren’t they? That’s a lot of keg parties.

  27. Andy

    @Dave – Georgetown is also very expensive so grad students (often not supported by mom and dad) will likely look elsewhere to live.
    GU is looking to increase grad student enrollment b/c they can charge the same in tuition but don’t have to build the infrastructure to support them (dorms, additional libraries, counseling, drunk tanks, intermurals….) so they are much more profitable.
    The sane argument would be for every parking spot build 2 additional dorm beds (with the 250 for the school and 600 for the hospital that is 1700 extra beds).

  28. Hoya10

    All things aside, thank you GM for your reasonable, rational approach to this topic. As a student, I’ve actually always been a little wary of any Georgetown-area-based publication/blog because I assume that, like our neighbors, it automatically holds an anti-University stance, so I’m always nervous to read anything they have to say about it. Needless to say, this was refreshing.

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