Illegal Zone

By the

April 19, 2001

I’m still trying to figure out how the District of Columbia Board of Zoning Adjustments writes their reports. After reading the latest report from the BZA concerning Georgetown’s ten-year plan, I’m convinced that the board is playing some kind of joke on the University.

The BZA did not approve Georgetown’s request for a 389 student enrollment increase. The board wants to require Georgetown to keep a list of students’ license plate numbers and make them public. They want Georgetown to inform parents about all code of conduct violations, want conduct violations made public and want the use of certain on-campus facilities kept within their own designated time frame.

At a meeting back in November, when the plan was scheduled for approval, the BZA voted in favor of the campus plan. At that meeting, most members of the board seemed to agree with the plan as it existed, enrollment increase and all. The chair of the committee even commented that the University had taken exceptional measures to address neighborhood problems.

Then two weeks ago, the board came out with its new report which seems like a whole-hearted reversal of its November decision.

Some of the BZA’s demands must be jokes. Doesn’t the board recognize the questionable legal (if not moral) problem with providing neighbors who don’t like students with the make, model and license plate number of students’ cars?

The board cites neighborhood complaints of off-campus student behavior as a reason for denying the enrollment increase. Yet by denying the increase, they make it impossible for the University to afford campus improvements that would bring students back to campus for entertainment and living space. Rephrasing that, the BZA has taken the resources away from Georgetown that it needs to accomplish what the BZA has asked it to do.

Worst of all was the way the board went about the reversal. Since November, the University has proceeded to pursue plans outlined in the ten-year proposal. The BZA gave the University good reasons to believe the plan had been approved with several minor yet-to-be determined stipulations.

The stipulations the BZA eventually imposed are not minor at all; they drastically alter the school’s ability to pursue anything in the plan.

The BZA appears to have given into a small number of neighbors complaining about student behavior. Students have not behaved perfectly around here, but truly significant progress has been made in the area of neighbor-student relations. Last year at this time, the school was embroiled in one near crisis after another. This year has preceded relatively smoothly.

By releasing the report they did, the members of the BZA have antagonized people on all fronts. Administrators, who have worked hard to meet the BZA’s conditions, are questioning whether it is worth bending over backwards to please a board that changes its conditions on an apparent whim. Students are questioning whether anything they do will be enough to please certain neighbors.

As of Wednesday, the University and its legal counsel are still exploring possible responses to the BZA’s decision.

My first response would be to ask them if they were joking.

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