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).
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.
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.
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.
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.