In a Feb. 9 D.C. Zoning Commission hearing, Zoning Commissioner Peter May picked up a stack of letters written by Georgetown neighborhood residents, read off some excerpts, and said that students were creating objectionable impacts in the neighborhood. And with that, the neighbors won in their opposition to the University’s 2010 Campus Plan. Georgetown now has to prove that it will reduce student impact before the plan can be approved.
Most of why the neighbors oppose the campus plan has nothing to do with the plan itself. In reality, the plan as it exists is landscaping and leftover projects from the last campaign. None of the specific items in the plan will cause the “objectionable impacts” that the University is legally obligated to avoid.
In fact, neighborhood opposition to the campus plan is merely a tool that the neighbors use to get what they want from the University. For them, the ten-year plans provide the only opportunity they have to force the University to listen. What neighbors vehemently oppose about the plan is what it lacks—mitigation of student impacts.
Unsurprisingly, in effort to ensure that the plan passes, the University has acceded to the demands by implementing mitigation measures to show the Zoning Commission that they take neighborhood concerns seriously. All the University needs is to show the Zoning Commission that the mitigation methods are effective by April 30.
The neighbors are getting what they want out of the University (tighter control of students), and the University is getting what it wants out of the Zoning Commission (passage of the plan). In this way, it seems the neighbors’ unwavering opposition is vindicated. This mutually beneficial relationship leaves one group in dangerous waters—the students.
To appease the neighbors, the University has taken a variety of measures. It hired an off-campus public relations team to throw picnics and hand out fliers at Burleith Citizens Association meetings, agreed to convert the Leavey Center hotel into a dorm, instituted twice-daily trash pickups to keep the streets clean, hired a small army of reimbursable details to police students at night, established an M Street shuttle to reduce the transient noise of bar-hopping students, and even agreed to limit revenue with enrollment caps.
And now the Zoning Commission is suggesting even more frequent meetings between senior University administrators and neighbors. (According to Jennifer Altemus in a recent Georgetown Patch article, they met with senior administrators almost every week during the planning process). At the last Zoning Commission hearing, someone proposed a five-year check-up on the University’s efforts to reduce student impact.
There is a serious discrepancy here between how eager the University is to appease the neighbors and how unwilling it is to respond to student demands.
The University, after initially refusing to meet with students, rejected the Healy Pub proposal without so much as a feasibility study. And yet, the administration had the time to meet with neighbors on multiple occasions to discuss finding space and money for 250 more beds on campus.
GUSA suggested a shuttle to M Street to make the journey back from bars safer, and the administration failed to respond. But as soon as the District Department of Transportation suggested it four months later, the University agreed to the shuttle, along with increasing the number of Metropolitan Police Department reimbursable details in West Georgetown.
The University also keeps ill-maintained facilities, like moldy townhouses, and waits until students sign massive petitions to consider air conditioning in dorms a necessity.
But they will institute twice-daily trash pickup to keep the streets clean. They have instituted hotlines that neighbors can call if they have complaints about the students or about construction noise, and yet facilities can’t even deal with the pile-up of work orders. Off-campus housing might be a “student ghetto,” but on-campus isn’t much better. Besides not taking care of the mice, the University is reluctant to change the four-word “more likely than not” burden of proof in the code of conduct.
The University has tried to kill Georgetown Day. No one took the time to send out an email requesting volunteers, maybe because they were too busy hiring an entire off-campus student life team to throw PR picnics for the neighbors. This is just the tip of the iceberg; if the administration cared about making students happy half as much as it cared about looking good for the Zoning Commission, students wouldn’t have to create offices to advocate against University policies and wouldn’t have to sign a prenuptial agreement before interacting with the administration.
The neighbors’ methods have been vindicated. Let this serve as a lesson for the next 10 years, students: if you want something from the University, oppose the campus plan.
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