Office of Planning Testifies

Last night the Zoning Commission held its second hearing on GU’s proposed campus plan. You can watch it here (sorry GM can’t embed it for some reason, and you’ll have to install Microsoft Silverlight to watch it, but it’s worth it).

The main attraction of the night was the testimony of the Office of Planning. As discussed here, that office issued a report devastating to GU’s position. So it was very interesting to here what they had to say about their report.

The main speaker for OP was Jennifer Steingasser, who was apparently the main drafter of the report. Her testimony begins around the 1’12″ mark of the video.

In her speech she emphasized several aspects of OP’s report. She explaining that she welcomed GU’s move from using an average to an absolute in calculating the student cap. But she argued that rather than use either of the methods suggested by GU or the ANC, such as the full-time equivalent calculation, they should simply count the number of students absolutely.

She explained that OP rejected the GU hospital element of the plan because it was clearly just a placeholder and none of the specifics had been fleshed out. She stated that any major development there should be handled by an amendment.

When discussing the more controversial elements of her report, Steingasser started from the comprehensive plan (GM’s not going to say he told you so, but he did). There are sections in the comp plan that address the interaction between large institutional uses and their residential neighbors. She stated that in looking at these sections their guiding philosophy was to conserve and enhance the neighborhood. In doing so, they looked at parking, traffic, and neighborhood character.

Stiengasser also put a heavy emphasis on the physical differences between Georgetown and other residential neighborhoods near universities. She argued that the lot sizes are smaller and that there is an absence of through alleys (hey, GM told you that too!). As a result, she argued, most residents must park in the street and have all service and utilities come in from the street too.

So looking at all of that and the tremendous growth in students at GU, she said that OP decided the best approach was to recommend all students be housed by GU by 2016. This doesn’t mean they would all be on campus, but rather that they would have to be in GU-owned housing (outside of 20007). The solution tacitly recommended by many of the neighbors is that GU should rent out apartment space in Rosslyn and house students there.

One thing that Steingasser repeated a couple time was that OP would love to see more mixed use on campus. In GM’s opinion, this is something that GU seriously lacks. If indeed they are forced to house 100% of their students on campus, as OP recommends, converting many of their single use buildings into mixed use may be the route they need to take.

Following Steingasser’s report, GU cross-examined her. For supporters of OP’s report, it wasn’t pretty. GU’s lawyer Maureen Dwyer appeared to poke hole after hole in OP’s report. Most significantly, she demonstrated that it looked like OP was recommending an immediate reduction of 1,000 students. GM has to say, the OP staff didn’t seem entirely particularly prepared for GU’s cross-examination.

OP wasn’t the only party that testified last night. At the beginning of the night, Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh weighed in against the plan. Following OP’s testimony, a group of GU students testified in favor of the plan.

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18 Comments

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18 responses to “Office of Planning Testifies

  1. Dizzy

    As is becoming routine, one scarcely knows where to begin with this.

    She stated that in looking at these sections their guiding philosophy was to conserve and enhance the neighborhood.

    A pity that goal of conservation and enhancement doesn’t appear to extend to the university that anchors the neighborhood, which is instead singled out for kneecapping.

    More to the point: what, exactly, are we seeking to conserve and enhance here? As this blog has demonstrated quite nicely, the Georgetown neighborhood is radically different today from what it was like 30, 40, and 50 years ago, much less when it was truly a working-class neighborhood. Based on that housing survey, most people currently living in Georgetown moved here sometime in the last 10 years; almost all within the last 20. Neighborhoods are dynamic. So attempting to argue that Georgetown is some sort of pristine quaint village that is being despoiled by the mean old university is not only ahistorical, it’s plainly illogical.

    So looking at all of that and the tremendous growth in students at GU…

    growth that was approved under the last Campus Plan at the direction of the DC Court of Appeals

    OP decided the best approach was to recommend all students be housed by GU by 2016. This doesn’t mean they would all be on campus, but rather that they would have to be in GU-owned housing (outside of 20007).

    She also says she doesn’t have a vision of how to achieve this. Glad to see that feasibility is not a requirement for OP propositions.

    Since you’re fond of “I told you so!”s on this fine Friday the 13th morning, I’ll add one of my own: the OP stake in evicting students en masse from 20007 is that OP, Washington Fine Properties, and various developers are salivating at the possibility of buying up all those residences and turning them into multi-million dollar properties, much as they did with the Wormley School.

    The solution tacitly recommended by many of the neighbors is that GU should rent out apartment space in Rosslyn and house students there.

    This is, like, the textbook definition of NIMBYism.

    One thing that Steingasser repeated a couple time was that OP would love to see more mixed use on campus. In GM’s opinion, this is something that GU seriously lacks. If indeed they are forced to house 100% of their students on campus, as OP recommends, converting many of their single use buildings into mixed use may be the route they need to take.

    There is a kernel of truth to this, but I think you’re fundamentally misunderstanding the nature of Georgetown’s campus. You can’t look at each individual building and declare it “mixed use” or “not mixed use.” That’s not how anyone on campus thinks about it – instead, the campus has to be taken as a whole, and the campus is very much mixed use (as pretty much all college campuses are).

    In “the real world” one’s residence is typically understood to be one’s building or, at most, one’s “complex.” On campus, your residence is the University. No one thinks twice of walking two or three minutes in their PJs to Leo’s or Leavey to get food or to Lauinger to get a book. It’s not like having to go outside your apartment and walk two blocks to CVS or Giant. It’s all understood to be part of one organic whole.

    There may be some added convenience to putting in some more Hoya Snaxa or Uncommon Grounds-type locations around campus, but there is not this dearth of mixed use amenities that is handicapping residents and employees. The compactness of the campus only accentuates this point.

    This is a red herring: no one on campus feels like they have to leave its confines because there’s not enough mixed use on campus (and there is in Georgetown the neighborhood? In Burleith?!) No, believe it or not, not everyone wants to stay in the same place forever. Some students want to live on their own, in a real grown-up residence like the adults they are. They want to patronize Georgetown businesses the same as countless thousands of others.

    Following Steingasser’s report, GU cross-examined her. For supporters of OP’s report, it wasn’t pretty. GU’s lawyer Maureen Dwyer appeared to poke hole after hole in OP’s report. Most significantly, she demonstrated that it looked like OP was recommending an immediate reduction of 1,000 students. GM has to say, the OP staff didn’t seem entirely particularly prepared for GU’s cross-examination.

    I’m sure Ms. Dwyer is absolutely top notch, but honestly, given the vacuousness and disingenuousness of OPs report, your average high school debate team member could have eviscerated it and its author.

    I’ll end with another “told you so” promise for the future: the reason why OP and DDOT threw out the dreck that they did is to make a show of putting forth a good faith effort to have the backs of the neighbors, developers, and real estate mavens. Although there’s never a guarantee of this in the DC government, I’m assuming the people in charge of these agencies aren’t dumb (Tregoning surely isn’t). They know that the OP and NIMBY proposals will be largely swept aside, either by the ZC or by the Court of Appeals. So no harm, no foul: make a show of support to the moneyed parties while knowing that not much will ultimately come of it.

  2. Alison

    I just want to give kudos to Dizzy, who time and again provides succinct commentary that basically sums up all of mine, and many others’, thoughts.

    And one note about the OP’s brilliant idea to ship students to Rosslyn: real estate in Rosslyn isn’t exactly cheap anymore, either. As a recent GU grad who has scoured all over the place for reasonably priced housing, I can say that students who currently pay $1,000 – $1,200/month to live in a Burleith group home would probably have to pay just as much to live in a 1 or 2 BR apartment in Rosslyn. And for the same price, I’d rather a) live walking distance to my college rather than rely on perfect timing to catch a bus to get to class on time every day, and b) have the opportunity to live in a more collective environment than with just one roommate my senior year of college. Students gain nothing, and really just lose out, with a forced move to Rosslyn. The physical separation of the Potomac between home and school is also, in many ways, a psychological barrier that could lead to more students choosing to skip class and sleep in or not engage in on-campus community life.

  3. GU Graduate

    Some students want to live on their own, in a real grown-up residence like the adults they are.

    Unfortunately, those students have been out-numbered for years by those other students who want to live on their own, in a real grown-up residence, so that they can behave, night after night, like the drunken, loutish, post-adolescents they are.

    If Georgetown students paid half as much attention to the University’s decades- long mismanagement of its endowment, or its chronically poor decisions about physical plant (the squandered opportunity to acquire Mt Vernon College, for example), perhaps they wouldn’t have to pay so much for their degrees. Maybe there would be smaller classes, or better professors, or greater financial aid. It’s always easier to take predictable potshots at fed-up neighbors than to take on the people who really run their lives.

    Fortunately, this time it’s going to be different.

  4. Dizzy

    While I would very much disagree with the characterization of university administrators as “run(ing) their lives,” you helpfully provide the response to your own charge: students have no incentive to sympathize with those who, like you, slander them with labels like “drunken, loutish, post-adolescents.”

  5. Sandy

    If students didn’t keep us up all night long with their hooting and screaming (like last night), and could learn how to use a garbage can properly, and didn’t insult neighbors who asked them to quiet down, then we wouldn’t have to label them as the frustrated neighbor above did. If they behaved like they actually cared about the quality of life not just for themselves but for everyone in the neighborhood, we would not complain. If they were thoughtful about the noise level rather than completely oblivious to how loudly they are talking, or sometimes plain screaming, we would not complain. If they made some small effort to keep the grounds of their homes in decent shape…. etc etc etc… the students get the names because of the reputation of their behavior in the neighborhood. We don’t make these things up for the fun of – we do have lives, or try to, in spite of the constant unpleasant disruption of these lives by the actions of the transient students in our neighborhoods who plainly could not care less about what we think about them, because they will be off to brighter pastures soon enough.

  6. Georgetown Resident

    @Sandy: As a scientist, I would love a study that actually looked at the prevalence of some of your concerns that Georgetown residents have about students. I don’t know how it could be done, but I think it would be quite useful so that people are no longer throwing out accusations that people are refuting. For example, as a college student, I never had more than 15 guests in my townhouse at one time while attending college (and that number was only approached twice and never after midnight), I took out my garbage properly and brought my trash cans in at the end of the day, and I made sure that my yard was mowed and landscaped (if that was part of my rental agreement, and if not, then my landlord took care of that). Therefore, quite frankly, I and many other well-behaved current and former students take quite a bit of offense at the neighborhood’s stance because I simply have a hard time believing that ALL students are bad and that NO students deserve to live off campus. Further, from personal experience, moving off campus saved me over 1000 a semester (which was why I moved) AND was quite a bit healthier, thanks to being able to cook for myself instead of eating junk dorm/cafeteria food. So if you can show me HARD DATA: what percentage of off-campus students really ARE a nuisance, really DON’T take care of their homes (or, is this something that the landlord is supposed to take care of), and are these people you’re complaining about REALLY Georgetown students (I know of quite a few residences in the Burleith area rented by the non-Georgetown recent graduate crowd, for example), then I would be much more inclined to sympathize with you. If you were able to say “50%” or “75%” rather than ALL students, then I feel that your statements would be a bit more justified and a bit more fair. But I have a major problem when people over-generalize without having any data to back it up.

  7. Pingback: Zoning Commission round two: ANC 2E objections to Georgetown student testimony | DC Students Speak

  8. reader

    @Georgetown resident – The OP report tries to do that by matching up a map of GU student residences with a map of the frequency of 911 calls, showing a higher prevalence of 911 calls on blocks with more students. Whether that’s a robust methodology I can’t say, but they did at least try to provide what you’re asking for.

    Something I’m curious about is what the big deal is as far as housing undergraduates – seems to me that the graduate student population could still live in 20007 under the OP plan.

  9. Sandy

    OK, I am not about to go around and start collecting statistics. I don’t have time for that. My evidence is my personal experience and that of all my neighbors. Maybe that is not evidence enough for you but this is what we experience everyday. If you want statistics, go check out the report submitted by Ron Lewis, and all the pictures, and even audio submissions of parties -as a part of all the recent hearings on the GU plan – there is a TON of data there. I don’t have time to dig out evidence for you apart from my own experience. Already, the students want me to spend my time educating young adults on how to behave like grown ups, and go talk to them about why they shouldn’t be screaming at 3am in front of my house. I don’t have time to do that either and that is not my job.
    I live on a street that is about 40% student housing. I have experienced the result of students domineering my neighborhood every day for the last 13 years. I’m not trying to produce a report that’s going to be reviewed by a scientific panel. I am just reporting my experience. And I hasten to add that, Not ALL students behave badly. However the ones that do stand out significantly.

    My evidence are the houses on my street… which have been in shabby shape for many years, which engage in drinking parties in the front and back yards, and where trash piles up in my alley, but strewn all over – I know which houses are student houses – only students have parties with 100 or so people, people in their 20′s. SNAP comes around and no one from SNAP has ever told me these are not student houses. I am not saying that EVERY student is horrible. You are obviously an exceptional outlier. There are plenty of fine students. If GU had a policy of only keeping the good ones in the neighborhoods I’d be thrilled. If they had a policy of “1-strike you’re out” and could force bad group houses back onto campus that would be great. They had 10 YEARS to improve the situation, and did no such thing. In fact, they have the opposite policy. I was shocked to find out at the hearings that the university has incredibly long and harsh list of requirements of student behavior while living on campus (e.g. only 1 keg per party, no bottled beer, no under-aged drinking, no noise after midnight on weeknights, a list of about 15 items) and simply NONE for those living off campus. Why won’t they impose and enforce the same requirements for off-campus students? To me the message is clear. We want to encourage the loud party types OFF campus and dump them on the neighbors. And we want to increase the tuition revenue by increasing enrollment, but not control the students.
    I’m not sure why, as a student you would want a higher student/professor ratio. We welcome well-behaved students. but it would be incredibly disingenuous for you to take a walk around here and say that most of the students behave as you do. That’s just not true. I’ve lived here for 13 years and I’ve been talking with lots of my neighbors for all that time. We are not making things up. Trust me, we have better things to do with our lives. But we experience this bad behavior on a weekly basis. and EVERY semester its a NEW batch that have to be trained to behave. In fact there are a bunch of screamers in my back alley right now… so while you might be one data point, I have at least 10-12 data points living around me that are problems, over a 13 year period. And I can attest to my neighbors with the same complaints.
    I wish all the students were like what you described yourself to be – but that is just not the case. Sorry, no studies from me, I have a life and other things to do, all I can present is my experience.

  10. @Sandy

    you know that those houses are student houses because they behave in a way you assume only students can behave? Real smart. It would clearly be impossible for young professionals to behave in that way! Oh wait… Thank goodness no studies for you- I think all the poor logic would rip a hole in the world.

  11. Sandy

    Oh brother, I don’t need studies… I live this – like I said, when I call SNAP they let me know if its a student house or not. And in my 13 years, only 1 house was not a student house. Go look at all the studies presented at the hearings if personal experience is not enough for you. This neighborhood is 30% students. 911 calls are highest in student dominated streets. They drop during student holidays. Talk to anyone in this neighborhood – why do you think they even have an off campus student conduct office? Everyone knows there is a problem. Georgetown knows and admits its a problem, they just think they are controlling it sufficiently. You must never talk to neighbors if you live here, or only your student neighbors (and there are lots of those, so I wouldn’t be surprised). I don’t need a study to tell me my life is disrupted by students. I see and hear it everyday. Young professionals need to get up at 8am everyday… they are not out partying at Graduation time in particular, at spring break time, and Christmas break time… its just so obvious. and SNAP confirms it. Get your scientist chip off your shoulder. I am also a scientist. I LIVE this problem. I don’t need a study to tell me about it. Sheesh.
    And what about those rules on campus, but none off campus – what’s your answer to that? I notice you are silent on that subject. And I see that you think I should spend my time gathering statistics in my sleep deprived state, just to offer “studies” to you! Like I don’t have enough to do, just to try to get a decent night’s sleep.

  12. Sandy

    http://www.burleith.org/CAG-BCA_GU_Campus_Plan_Synopsis.pdf

    Here is a nice map showing all the homes in this neighborhood dominated by undergrad and grad students. Also I know which houses are students on my street since only those houses turn over at the beginning of every school year, end of the school year and start of summer, yest, we get the pleasure of being told “Emergency No parking” on our streets 3 times a year. I also have spoken with landlords of these houses, begging them to get well behaved students and they readily acknowledge that they rent to students. So I don’t need a “study” approved by scientific american or something to know which houses are students on my street. This is simply a diversionary tactic on your part and a very weak one at that.

  13. Dizzy

    That map is so error-filled as to be borderline useless. Anyone presenting it as proof of anything is not arguing in good faith.

  14. Dizzy

    Also, by what logic does “10-12 data points over a 13-year period” translate into “all students behave badly and need to be evicted from the neighborhood.”

    Take any of those sentences and replace “students” with ANY group at all. The results are nonsensical at best – “If vegans/Republicans/Libras/cat owners behaved like they actually cared about the quality of life not just for themselves but for everyone in the neighborhood, we would not complain” and hideously offensive at worst – “the Jews/blacks/gays get the names because of the reputation of their behavior in the neighborhood.” That’s a pretty good sign there’s a flaw in your logic.

  15. Sandy

    What is the basis of your comment “that map is so error filled” If you require me to present facts and data, please present the same.

    Again, my point is MY experience in this neighborhood. I am one person of many people in this neighborhood with the same experience. I don’t need a study of 70 people sitting in the sun saying they feel hot in the sun, for me to know that I myself feel hot when sitting in the sun. I am reporting MY experience with KNOWN student houses on MY street. I know which houses are students and which houses are young professionals. I have spoken with enough of them to know which is which. I am friends with many of the young professionals. The student houses change every 4-6 months their occupants, so I don’t know them that well, but I do know they are student houses. And I would say 99% of non-students I have spoken to in the neighborhood (neighborhood meetings, parties events), have the same experience as me. You guys are obsessed with studies because that’s the only tactic you have to divert the argument from the obvious, plain truth which is the daily experience of the neighbors here. I am simply reporting a truth, my experience in this neighborhood. And I suppose you could say it is hearsay to report the experience of all my friends and neighbors in this area, but really, I think you’re grasping at straws there. I’m sure if we gathered the funds to do an official poll of the quality of life in this neighborhood, you’d say that was not a valid poll since we designed the study, and we are biased. So there’s no way to appease those who just don’t want to hear the truth that is so obvious right in front of them.

  16. Georgetown Resident

    @Sandy
    First, I wasn’t the person with the reply to your second message.

    My point was that I wanted data, and unfortunately, the data you provide, while correlational, is NOT causational. So there are more 911 calls on blocks with more students. Ok, fine, but that doesn’t prove that causation. Nor can the audio/videos from the meeting (which I watched). The one thing that got me about the video/audio from the day party is, ok, it’s during the DAY. Isn’t that what this whole argument is about, that you’re tired of being kept up at night? So if there’s a party during the day, isn’t that a GOOD thing?

    To counter anecdotal with anecdotal evidence, much of what I see here (which could very well be biased by my experience) is young professionals throwing parties. There are at least 3 houses on my block who have regular back-yard beer pong games….all non-students.

    A couple of points: 1. If I were a student, I would be extremely upset at the prospect of someone telling me where I could and could not live based on anecdotal evidence. I would be even more upset if someone said “because you are a student, you are not fit to live in my neighborhood.” Ok, but if I was 21 and had dropped out of school and was working at McDonalds instead of going to school, then fine? I could live there?
    2. The blanket policy of “all undergrads” is a bit extreme, especially if you’re over the age of 22, are married, or have kids. This applies to the school of continuing studies and second-degree nursing programs, where many, if not most, have actually been working members of society for a few years.
    3. The reason that the Georgetown regulations are not as stringent off-campus is because technically, one organization cannot tell people what they can and cannot do in their homes. If you, Sandy, wanted to throw a keg party with 2 or 3 kegs, legally, you could do that until 10 PM and even after if you were quiet. Same for students. If they’re on campus, that’s Georgetown property, Georgetown makes the rules. And for all of this talk of Georgetown “exploiting students”, how many colleges do NOT allow students to live off-campus? And it’s been my understanding that schools make a KILLING off the dorms.
    4. The attitude of some neighbors toward students is SO toxic, that it truly discourages people from ever making this their permanent home. I rent here, but would never consider buying here because, quite frankly, those vocal few do not paint a very good picture of how to be a good neighbor themselves.

  17. Georgetown Resident

    A couple of other things:
    If the people are changing houses ever 4-6 months, that’s a huge LANDLORD problem. I thought it was common practice to require a 12 month lease?

    I, personally, have been disturbed by non-student neighbors. Full-blown adults, even (I mean 30+)

    And, call the cops. If you are as sleep-deprived as you say you are (i.e. unable to fall asleep/being woken up every single night, or even more nights than just weekends), then there’s a serious problem and you should call the cops, the landlords, or, heck, even sue the landlord.

  18. Sandy

    Sorry to hear you are having trouble with your neighbors… I will respond after the 20th – out of the country for a few weeks! But again, I am not saying EVERY student is a problem, only the few who are inconsiderate and self-absorbed are the ones who make themselves known. I know plenty of very mature young people in their 20′s who are quite lovely. If only they could be my neighbors. Regarding the landlord problem – its supply and demand, isn’t it? Gtown creates the demand, the landlords buy up houses for sale as quickly as possible, knowing they can make $5-6k rental per month without hardly any upkeep. Slowly more houses become converted from single family homes into group houses… more later.

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