How the BZA will Decide Georgetown’s Future

By the

August 30, 2001

Georgetown students have confronted discrimination from neighbors for many years. ?For as long as many can remember, university-neighborhood relations in the quiet and elite D.C. neighborhood of Georgetown have been periodically characterized as antagonistic and unfriendly. ?The increased tensions between students and neighbors are reinforced by decisions of government offices such as the Board of Zoning Adjustment.

But many now say discrimination has recently gone beyond an upset neighbor or a rambunctious college student; this time discrimination could affect the long term success of Georgetown University and the equality of its students. ?Though the Board of Zoning Adjustment has approved the University’s latest 10 Year Plan, conditions later placed on the University could make enacting the plan both fiscally impossible and in violation of federal law. ?And according to Georgetown students, certain BZA conditions violate students’ rights as protected under the D.C. Human Rights Act.

The University and Georgetown students are not going to give up this battle without a fight. ?As students prepare to educate others and increase pressure on the D.C. government, the University is preparing its legal case. Initially, on Nov. 8, 2000, the BZA seemed to have approved Georgetown’s 10 Year Plan; the BZA’s members announced support of the plan but said they would later set certain conditions the University would have to follow in order to maintain BZA support. ?At that point, the University was concerned the BZA would not grant the requested enrollment increase of 389 students, which was needed to pay for the operating costs of buildings proposed in the 10 Year Plan. ?On Aug. 6, however, the BZA finalized the list of 19 conditions necessary to maintain its approval. Now the University has until Sep. 5, 30 days after receiving the finalized conditions, to bring the BZA to court over the legality of the conditions.

Conditions with Questionable Implications

The University finds six of the BZA’s 19 conditions particularly questionable. ?Georgetown has already filed a motion with the BZA to postpone implementing three conditions that Georgetown administrators claim would for the University to violate the federal Family Educational and Privacy Act of 1974.

First, the BZA denied Georgetown’s request for an enrollment increase of 389 students and maintained the enrollment cap of 5,627 students.

The BZA stated that the University should “specify that off-campus housing is a privilege that can be revoked due to student misconduct, whether a violation occurs on or off campus.” This condition also includes that the University must staff and fund the Off Campus Student Affairs Program and ensure it conduct at least one annual education program for students living off campus.

The seventh condition informed the University that it must report any violation involving a student living off campus to the landlord and to an appropriate government agency. The University must “monitor enforcement of reported violations to determine whether necessary inspections have occurred and whether fines have been issued and paid, and shall keep detailed records of reported complaints and responses.”

The BZA ordered that the University make available data involving complaints of student misconduct and the outcome of each complaint. The University must also report this information quarterly to groups including the Office of Planing, the Zoning Administrator, the Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E and the Alliance for Local Living.

The 10th condition stated that Georgetown must report a violation of the Code of Student Conduct to the parents or guardians of the violator to the extent permitted by law.

Finally, the BZA ordered the University to maintain a record of the license plate numbers of motor vehicles kept by all students. Georgetown must direct students to register the vehicle in D.C. or obtain a reciprocity sticker. Georgetown must also withhold parking privileges to students who do not obtain D.C. registration.


Georgetown students such as ANC Commissioner Justin Wagner (CAS’03) are particularly disturbed over the condition that defines a student’s ability to live off campus as a “privilege that can be revoked.” University students are a protected class according to the Human Rights Law of the District of Columbia. ?The D.C. Human Rights Act was designed to “put an end to … discrimination by reason of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, family responsibilities, matriculation, political affiliation, disability, source of income and place of residence or business.” ?(DC Human Rights Law, 1-2501) ?

In the past, Georgetown students have confronted discrimination from neighbors. In 1996, Georgetown University students’ right to vote was challenged at the polls by community activists. ?For the first time, two students, James Fogarty (CAS ‘98) and Rebecca Sinderbrand (SFS ‘99), ran for the Advisory Neighborhood Commission, an organization that represents the neighborhood in advising the District on matters that affect the particular area.

Fogarty defeated Commissioner Beverly Jost and Sinderbrand defeated Patricia Scolaro by only six votes.?Jost discovered that 360 students had voted in Scolaro’s district. ?Scolaro and Jost then contested the election in a lawsuit, Scolaro vs. the Board of Elections, which ruled that students should not have the right to vote in D.C. elections because they are not D.C. residents. ?For two years, the lawsuit went through D.C. federal and state courts, each one confirming that students did indeed have the right to vote in the District.

Following the 1996 election, community member Westy Byrd was investigated for charges of voter intimidation against students during the 1996 election.

In 2000, the District Office of Planning promoted a plan to amend the D.C. Human Rights Act to remove students as a protected class under certain circumstances. ?Outrage from many District residents, including students, prevented further development of the amendment.

Though students have always been able to reaffirm their rights as equal citizens, many residents of the Georgetown area still believe students should not be treated as regular citizens. Many students feel that the BZA supports unequal treatment for students, according to Philippa Sparg (SFS ‘03) and Matthew Ingram (CAS “04), co-chairs of Campaign Georgetown, a group formed to protect students’ rights in the community. Sparg and Ingram say that the condition that housing can be revoked is particularly discriminating.

The Battle of the 10 Year Plan

Since the adoption of the 1958 Zoning Regulations, Georgetown University has submitted nine campus plans to the Board of Zoning Adjustment for review and approval. Each 10 Year Plan outlines the University’s predicted growth and change for the coming 10 year period.

University officials argue that this plan is necessary for the growth and development of Georgetown. “We need to stay competitive, and if there are no improvements, I wonder if we could,” University Architect Alan Brangman told The Voice last year.

Key Points of the 2000 Master Plan

? A total of four new buildings: a Science Building, a new Business School facility, an Administrative/Academic Building and a new Physician’s Office Building at the Medical Center.

? Additions and renovations to the Ryan Administrative building to create the first Performing Arts Center in Georgetown’s history.

? Renovations to existing buildings, including the Leavey Center, Lauinger Library, Walsh, St. Mary’s, Dahlgren Library (at the Medical Center) and Lombardi Cancer Center.

? A redesign of Harbin Field, which will add an additional 1,300 seats and an addition to McDonough Gym.

Why the enrollment increase?

As part of the 2000 Campus Plan, Georgetown has included an increase in undergraduate enrollment of 389 students over the current enrollment cap of 5,627 students. ?In an attempt to recognize the desire of neighbors to reduce the number of students living off-campus, the University has agreed to postpone taking advantage of the requested enrollment increase until the Southwest Quadrangle opens in the fall of 2003, which will provide on-campus housing for an additional 780 students. ?Once the Quadrangle is finished, the University will begin phasing in the enrollment increase over a seven-year period. ?The Campus Plan predicts that once the University reaches the full enrollment increase in 2010, 16 percent of students would live off campus.

The University says the enrollment increase is essential because it will cover the operating costs of the four new buildings proposed in the 10 Year Plan.

In March, Vice President of Student Affairs Juan Gonzalez told the Voice that he did not believe the 10 Year Plan could be realized without the enrollment increase

“They affect us at the core of future growth implants,” Gonzalez said.

Background on the 2000 Master Plan and the BZA

On July 17, 2000, Georgetown officials met with the Board of Zoning Adjustment to discuss approval of the University’s 10 Year Plan and give Georgetown neighbors a chance to respond to the plan. ?In response to Georgetown’s proposed increase in enrollment, the BZA requested that Georgetown provide evidence that the Off Campus Program can effectively work with the current number of students living off campus. ?The BZA then postponed making a decision about the Campus Plan until those questions had been resolved.

On Sept. 5, the BZA again postponed a decision on the plan and asked the University to present a plan to address neighborhood concerns over off-campus students. ?The University worked on the Campus Plan and developed several initiatives in improving relations with the community. ?

The Advisory Neighborhood Commission approved of the Campus Plan. ?The commissioners agreed to work with the University on ensuring that students act in a manner that adheres to the standards and expectations of the neighborhood.

On Nov. 8, BZA conditionally approved the University’s 10 Year Plan, citing the University’s handling of the BZA’s earlier concerns.

“I commend Georgetown on its great effort to ameliorate the problems addressed,” BZA Chair Sheila Cross Reid said after the November decision. ?”The University has demonstrated it has taken very seriously the complaints from the community.”

At that time, the BZA postponed making a decision on the University’s request for an enrollment increase of 389 students. There was discussion of delaying a decision on the enrollment increase until the completion of the Southwest Quadrangle.

The BZA suggested three possibilities for the University to deal with the enrollment issue: to increase its on-campus housing, to make sure that students living off campus “act in a neighborly way,” or to refrain from an enrollment increase altogether.

University administers have said the enrollment increase is a necessary part of paying for projects in the 10 Year Plan. ?

What does Georgetown plan to do?

The University has indicated that it plans to challenge the BZA’s decision in court. ?On Aug. 6, 2001, the University filed a request with the BZA to postpone implementing the conditions ordered in the BZA’s March 29 decision. ?In the request, the University singled out three conditions as violating federal law, specifically the Family Educational and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA). Once a request for postponement has been filed, the University is committed to bringing the case up for judicial review.

FERPA was designed to protect the privacy of a student’s education record by preventing the disclosure of records without the consent of the student. ?According to FERPA, “education records” are broadly defined as ?documents which contain information directly related to a student and are kept by an educational institution.

According to the University’s request for postponement, the BZA’s conditions would require the University to disclose confidential student records, thereby violating FERPA.

The three conditions emphasized in the request said the University could not legally release the license plate numbers of all vehicles kept by Georgetown students, ensure students obey District laws or report all disciplinary action to parents.

After receiving the finalized conditions from the BZA on Aug. 6, the University has 30 days to file a lawsuit with a court. ?At this point, Georgetown has not yet decided whether to file in the D.C. Court of Appeals or in Federal Court.

Working with Neighbors

In response to the BZA’s request that Georgetown develop programs to improve the University’s relations with neighbors, the finalized 2000 10 Year Plan includes four such programs which, according to Julie Green Bataille, Assistant Director for Communications, the University has already begun implementing. SNAP, the Students’ Neighborhood Action Program, will train student employees to supervise potential problems in Burleith and West Georgetown. ?According to the 10 Year Plan, “SNAP intends to proactively identify and approach houses in the community that may raise concerns, respond to calls from the off-campus Hotlines and work more closely with MPD.”

Georgetown also added a full-time staff position in the Office of Off Campus Student Affairs to work with neighbors and students on problems with noise, trash and alcohol. ?The Campus Plan says this employee will conduct educational programs to “increase civic responsibility among students, and foster better relations with the community.”

The University has also implemented a neighborhood council, the Alliance for Local Living (ALL). ?ALL, initiated in the spring of 2001, aims to bring together students, administrators and neighbors to work through common issues and allow for constructive dialogue between all parties.

Georgetown has also adopted stronger sanctions for off campus violations of the University’s Code of Conduct. ?Certain of these sanctions will prohibit students from participating in extracurricular activities at Georgetown.

What do students plan to do?

For the fall of 2001, students groups such as Campaign Georgetown have designed a plan to educate the Georgetown campus and greater D.C. area of the discrimination included in the BZA’s decision. ?Campaign Georgetown plans to work with the Georgetown University Student Association and the student associations of other D.C. schools to build support for ending such discrimination.

According to ANC Commissioner Justin Wagner (CAS ‘03), students are confident that the University plans to defend students’ rights as well as the necessity of an enrollment increase, so students are not currently seeking separate legal counsel.

Instead, Wagner says he and other Georgetown students plan to join with students at all other D.C. schools such as George Washington University, Howard University, Gallaudet University, Catholic University, University of D.C. and American University to defend students’ rights as a unified whole.

Campaign Georgetown has also arranged a meeting with Mayor Anthony Williams’s Chief of Staff Calvin Robertson to discuss the BZA’s ruling and the potential violation of the Human Right’s Act.

Campaign Georgetown hopes such efforts will educate the residents of the District of the benefits of having Georgetown students in D.C. According to the Office of Communications, more than 1,400 Georgetown students are currently involved in weekly service projects in Washington. One example of service is that more than 200 students in the D.C. Schools Project teach immigrant students English and other subjects.

On Tuesday, Sep. 4, Wagner and Justin Kopa (CAS ‘03), also an ANC Commissioner, are introducing a Student Bill of Rights to the ANC. ?Wagner says he sees the Student Bill of Rights as the first step in setting a standard for how the community should handle student issues in the future.

Certain issues between the University and neighbors can only be solved through compromise. Wagner points out that although certain members of the Georgetown community fight the enrollment increase, Georgetown’s 10 Year Plan will eventually decrease the number of students living off campus.

But Wagner does not think the issue of restricting Georgetown students’ ability to live off campus is an issue that can be compromised.

“This issue is unique in that it involves the principle of human rights. Students shouldn’t make compromises on their rights. It simply isn’t an issue of compromise.”

According to Wagner, university-neighbor relations have improved in the past year. The increased communication among the two parties has the potential to lessen conflict.

“We need to grow together in cooperation as one community, not two distinct communities,” Wagner said.

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