Today, Georgetown representatives will go before the D.C. Zoning Commission one last time to defend the school’s 2010 Campus Plan, the document that outlines the University’s plans for growth and development over the next decade that must be approved by the city. The plan, which was officially filed last December, has been a source of contention with neighborhood groups since discussions began in late 2008. After poring over the latest filings against the plan–one from Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E and one joint filing from the Citizens Association of Georgetown and Burleith Citizens Association—the Voice has assembled the main points of conflict and provided some history of the negotiations.
Frustrated by loud, late-night parties and poorly maintained rental houses, neighborhood leaders have continually pressured the University to provide more on-campus housing for its undergraduates. In the first iterations of the plan, the University proposed building apartment-style housing in the “1789 block,” or the area between Prospect and N Streets and 36th and 37th Streets. In May 2009, the University claimed the development could add up to 250 beds.
Under pressure from community leaders who felt the development was too dense and too close to their homes, the University reduced the proposed number of beds to 120 that November, and said that the apartments would only be open to graduate students, not undergraduates. Campus plan opponents were unimpressed. “I think it’s a mistake to assume that graduate students live a monk-like existence,” ANC Chairman Ron Lewis said in a 2009 ANC meeting. Unable to make the 1789 block proposal palatable to neighborhood groups, the University scrapped it. The official filing in December 2010 included no new undergraduate housing plans.
In March 2011, under increasing pressure from the ANC, CAG, and BCA, the University proposed converting the Leavey Conference Center into a dorm, adding 250 beds on campus. Georgetown Metropolitan blogger Topher Matthews theorized that the University made this concession in an attempt to win over the D.C. Office of Planning —and, by extension, the Zoning Commission—but the University had no such luck. On May 5, the OP issued a report recommending that the University be required to house 100 percent of its students on-campus. The OP said if the University didn’t have the space to build new dorms, Georgetown should reduce enrollment until it matched the number of on-campus beds. The OP report was a huge win for campus plan opponents, but that was no accident. Over the summer, the Voice and D.C. Students Speak obtained emails via a Freedom of Information Act request that revealed the ANC had extensive influence over the report.
In the latest filing from CAG/BCA, the neighborhood leaders again demanded that 100 percent of undergraduate students be housed on campus, but they wrote that Georgetown “again dug in its heels and state [sic] that housing 250 students is all that it is feasible to do.” However, CAG and the BCA have learned a lesson from the three years of negotiations. “When faced with sufficient opposition to its plans GU can discover other feasible solutions,” they wrote. They gave the “controversial loop road proposal” as an example, saying the University eventually abandoned the proposal after sufficient pressure from the community, even though both the University and its consultant initially had insisted that the loop road was “the only feasible solution.”
PARTIES AND NOISE
Earlier this year, the City Council altered a noise ordinance, now prohibiting any noise that is “likely to annoy or disturb one or more persons in their residences” between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. The arrestable offense can lead to 90 days in jail and a $500 fine. However, the joint filing from the BCA and CAG said, “Loud parties in group houses and other late night noise—disregarding D.C. laws and basic rules of civility—remain the norm.”
According to the ANC 2E filing, the discrepancy in the University’s on-campus versus off-campus party regulations pushes parties off campus. Rules such as the single-keg limit and the party registration system, implemented in May 2007, encourage students to host parties in off-campus homes. The ANC 2E filing cites several Commissioners’ personal observations of disruptive student behavior. Jeff Jones, Ed Solomon, and Ron Lewis all detail their experiences with off-campus parties in West Georgetown and Burleith. “The objectionable impact includes both parties and outdoor noise as students move in groups through Burleith very late at night,” wrote Solomon. “Large groups of students still consistently make disruptions of late-night noise and commotion traveling through the neighborhood on their way to or from parties.”
The filing from the BCA and CAG suggests that housing all undergraduate students on campus would not only tamp down on the house party scene, but would also mitigate the transient noise issue. Their filing predicts that the so-called “Undergraduate Solution” would eliminate transient noise in Burleith, allowing SNAP and MPD to focus on the small number of routes to and from bars on M Street and Wisconsin Avenue. Their filing states that “enhanced enforcement of noise violations, along with the decline in undergraduate off-campus group houses, should bring the transient noise problem down to manageable proportions.”
Neighbors stepped up their complaints about student trash in spring 2009 by asking the city’s trash inspector to investigate student homes. In response, the University introduced stricter trash policies for on-campus townhouses and off-campus houses in August 2009. The Office of Residence Life instituted “on-going walkthroughs” to inspect the trash situation at each house. The first violation is a $50 fine and five work sanction hours per resident, the second violation is a $100 fine and 10 work sanction hours per resident, plus housing probation, and the third violation is a $150 fine per resident and an apartment living suspension. The University also introduced a twice-daily trash pick-up on “neighborhood streets.”
According to the latest BCA/CAG filing, the neighborhood association leaders think this solution has been inadequate, and even counterproductive. “The GU trash collection efforts (1.5 tons of trash per day, according to GU!) has perversely lead to even greater student disregard for trash collection times and container requirements,” the report said. “They just toss their trash on the sidewalks at whatever time is convenient. As a result, Georgetown streets are still littered with trash most hours of the day and night.” Ken Archer, a member of the CAG Beautification Committee, said in the filing, “GU’s twice-per-day pickup of uncanned trash has shown no signs of reducing rat infestations and is probably attracting more rats by inducing students to throw trash on their lawn daily with no fines and undermining CAG’s efforts to reduce rats.” The ANC included a photo gallery of student trash in its filing.
In early Campus Plan discussions, neighborhood leaders complained that Georgetown University Transportation Shuttle buses to Dupont Circle rattled their houses. Some neighbors asked that the University reroute the buses to avoid Reservoir and Q Streets. The University agreed to route all of its buses out of the Canal Road entrance. But to do so, the University needed to build a “loop road” where the buses could turn around. The ANC still criticized the loop road, citing environmental concerns and the length of construction time. However, the University got even more pushback from the Foxhall Community Citizens Association, which feared the noise pollution the buses might cause for their community. This September, the University eliminated the loop road in favor of a turnaround location near Harbin Hall.
In February, the ANC also called for a late-night shuttle to M Street to reduce transient noise in the neighborhood. But although the University created the M Street shuttle after the District Department of Transportation also recommended it, in its latest filing, the ANC said the M Street shuttle was of “only of marginal value.” The ANC said the shuttle can only serve 400 to 500 students per night, and students still “continue to travel on foot noisily and disruptively through our entire community in West Georgetown and Burleith during the same late-night hours, to and from the group houses as well as on foot to and from campus, often impaired by alcohol.” In the BCA/CAG joint filing, the association leaders referred to the M Street shuttle as the “drunk bus.”
At the same time, the ANC repeated its request that the University discontinue “its separate late-night shuttle van through the residential streets,” also known as SafeRides, which students can call if they feel unsafe. The filing said students waiting for SafeRides are loud getting on and off the bus and socializing while they wait for the bus to arrive.
In 2000, the University implemented the Student Neighborhood Assistance Program in response to neighborhood complaints. Though similar programs operated throughout the 1990s, SNAP was instituted during the debate surrounding the 2000 Campus Plan. The University encourages neighbors to call the SNAP neighborhood hotline, rather than calling the Metropolitan Police Department, in response to loud parties. However, the ANC and the neighborhood associations insist that SNAP has had little to no effect on student “misconduct.” The University characterizes the program as an attempt to educate, rather than punish, students. Responding to such descriptions, the ANC writes, “GU cannot realistically ‘educate’ its off-campus students to, for example, go to bed earlier, or not speak in groups or on cell phones at two or three a.m. so that neighbors hear it from the sidewalk or from the house next door through the town-house walls.”
In an effort to police late-night student behavior in response to neighbor complaints, the University also began employing reimbursable details in fall 2010. These off-duty MPD officers patrol the Georgetown and Burleith neighborhoods and are endowed with full powers of arrest and citation. The neighborhood associations think that, like SNAP, these details have done nothing to quell student noise. They write that both “typically sit in their cars and do nothing to deal with noise and student misconduct until a complaint is filed.” Although the University has hinted that it might further increase the number of reimbursable details it employs, the ANC writes that this effort will be ineffective, pointing to the scarcity of available officers, as well as their general ineffectiveness. Also, these officers are aware that they are employed by the University, “an institution that has demonstrated a disturbing lack of enthusiasm for effective MPD enforcement against student misconduct and noise,” they wrote.
Ultimately, the neighborhood associations conclude that no amount of policing or enforcement can solve the problems caused by students living together, including “vulgar language, loud late night conversations, slamming doors and running up and down the stairs at all hours of the night.”
Instant text messages and social media
“In numerous ways, the situation has actually become worse than it was 10 years ago. For example … The huge growth in use by students of instant text messages and social media to notify large numbers of people immediately of the locations of parties and other gatherings.
This has increased disruption with larger, faster gatherings and increased noise.”
—ANC filing, page 14
Animated cell-phone conversations
“The sound of someone talking on a cell phone carries late at night and wakes residents up – for example, even when a single student, engaged in an animated cell-phone conversation, is standing or traveling on foot on the sidewalk by residents’ bedrooms at 3:00 a.m. This happens over and over again. It is not illegal, but it is highly objectionable.”
—ANC filing, page 14
Loud afternoon parties
“As I write (at 4:30 p.m. in the afternoon!) my student neighbors at [address deleted] 37th Street are starting a very loud party in their backyard with extremely loud music. If it continues late I will call the police and send you another email. Not sure what the rules are about afternoon parties!!“
—Burleith resident, CAG/BCA filing, page 11
“GU reserves the right to modify any and all of its student conduct measures at any time. (GU’s proposed Campus Plan dated December 30, 2010, sec. 3.3, p. 14.) And GU certainly cannot expect us to believe that any 11th-hour clamp-down it may have attempted over the past several months – in the spotlight of an impending Zoning Commission decision – will or could be sustained by GU over the long run.”
—ANC filing, page 5
CORRECTION: Jeff Jones is the ANC Commissioner for ANC2E, SMD03, not Jim Jones.
The article has been amended accordingly. The Voice regrets the error.