This week, the Washinton Citypaper dedicated its cover article to the long drawn out campus plan issue. While the article touches on campus plans across the city, it is primarily concerned with the Georgetown campus plan. It’s definitely worth a read.
For the most part, the author of the piece, Shani O. Hilton, takes the position that you would expect the Citypaper to take, which is that Georgetown neighbors are rich (or as Hilton repeatedly put it: “affluent”, “comfortable”, “well-heeled”, “occupiers of $900,000 houses”, and “upscale”) and knew the university was there, so tough. This argument carries a lot of weight with people inclined to view this situation through the lens of the plot of Footloose. And the comments section is somewhat ripe with the choir echoing Hilton’s praisings. But it’s not a particularly novel insight and it’s an irrelevant point under the zoning laws.
But that’s only one aspect of Hilton’s generally strong article, in another part she makes this interesting observation:
Much of the recent upheaval is tied to the schools’ decennial efforts to gain required approval for mandatory 10-year campus plans—encourage an adversarial system replete with exaggerated gripes and over-the-top demands.
This is an often overlooked point. One of the main reasons this is such a drawn out process is that it only happens once every ten years. Lacking any way to meaningfully affect Georgetown’s behavior for nine years, the neighbors have an incentive to load a decade’s worth of complaints and wishes into this one shot. Once this process is done, it won’t be until 2020 that the neighbors have any leverage again. It makes the whole process unnecessarily confrontational and it gives each side credible reasons to think they’re the victim.
There are some that will make the points Hilton made about the value of universities to the city to argue that GU shouldn’t be subject to any campus plan review. Fair enough, but to those that think there is a legitimate role in the government stepping in to balance the respective interests of a university and its neighbors, maybe the answer is to release the pressure a bit by making it an ongoing process rather than a once-in-a-decade process.
As Commissioner May stated at the Zoning hearing, perhaps it would make sense to set certain standards and then check back periodically–way before 2020–to see whether Georgetown is living up to them. Maybe this would just turn the once-in-a-decade fight into an all-decade fight, but GM’s optimistic that forcing the parties together every so often could lead to more productive remedies of the problems, problems that Hilton eventually and grudgingly admits might actually exist.