GWU’s campus plan progresses, GU’s stalls

March 25, 2010

While Georgetown neighbors are still waiting to see the University’s final 2010 Campus Plan, which the University had planned to present at the beginning of January, neighboring George Washington University is moving ahead on schedule with the 2010 Campus Plan for its Mount Vernon Campus. GWU will present its plan for expansion at a hearing before the D.C. Zoning Commission this Thursday.

Georgetown’s 2010 Campus Plan—the draft of which included plans to increase graduate enrollment, add graduate housing, and reroute GUTS buses—has faced opposition from neighbors since it was first presented in May 2009.

Residents are especially frustrated that the University is planning to increase graduate enrollment and has not planned any additional on-campus housing for undergraduates, despite complaints about the noise and trash problems caused by undergraduates living off campus. The Citizens Association of Georgetown recently created a fund called the “Save our Neighborhood Fund” to finance their efforts to oppose Georgetown’s plan. The “Save Our Neighborhood Fund” website features testimony from neighbors about acts of vandalism committed by Georgetown students and complaints about students’ disorderly behavior on weekends.

GWU, on the other hand, has enjoyed a much better relationship with the neighbors of its Mount Vernon satellite campus.

Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Anne Heuer, who represents the district containing the Mount Vernon Campus, said residents there approved GWU’s plans.

“It’s a reasonable plan, considering how they could have developed,” Heuer said. “It could have been much bigger. [The residents] are supporting the University’s plan.”

Additionally, GWU has managed to submit its plan to the Zoning Commission with only a slight delay, despite the fact that GWU’s plan includes the development of six new buildings and a 15 percent increase in the number of students living at Mount Vernon. GWU administrators said last year that their hope was to present the plan sometime around February 2010.

Heuer said that the neighbors had asked the University that certain conditions be met in its plan, and that the University had been generally accommodating. One point the University had not agreed upon was lowering the proposed increase in the student cap from a 15 percent increase to a 10 percent increase.

Drew Spence, a reporter for GWU’s student newspaper The Hatchet who has covered the university’s campus expansion plans, said that some local community groups opposed the plans, but that the opposition was generally centered on issues like traffic and has not turned into a major conflict between the university and its neighbors as it has at Georgetown.

“The majority of residents who have expressed frustration with GWU, have done so because there is a certain issue they are concerned about … not because they dislike the students in general,” Spence said.

Heuer credits the good relationship between GWU and its neighbors around the Mount Vernon campus to the efforts of GWU administrators, specifically GWU Dean Fred Siegel.

In contrast, Jennifer Altemus, president of the Citizens Association of Georgetown, suggested that the tension between the University and its neighbors is due partly to unresponsiveness from the University.

“Many people feel that the residents’ concerns voiced in the [November] meetings have been ignored. They find that a bit frustrating,” Altemus wrote in an e-mail. She noted that residents have not yet seen the final draft, which they hope will address their concerns.

Ed Solomon, the ANC Commissioner for the Burleith neighborhood, said that he didn’t fault Georgetown University administrators for the poor relationship between the University and the residents, and said that residents’ opposition stemmed mostly from concerns about potential changes to the quality of life in the neighborhood that the University’s plans could bring.

Heuer also noted that the Mount Vernon campus differs in notable ways from other campuses that have had town-gown issues.

“We don’t really have any problems with the university like some do around Georgetown and American,” Heuer said. “But [GWU’s Mount Vernon Campus] is a much smaller school, we’re not exacerbated by a lot of cars. You don’t have a lot of students living off campus.”

Georgetown’s Director of Media Relations Andy Pino said the Campus Plan Steering Committee was in the process of finalizing the 2010 Campus Plan but did not have a specific date for its completion or for its presentation to Georgetown neighborhood residents.

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