Heated Words Fly in Campus Battle
Georgetown is simmering, change is in the air, and University’s 10-year plan is a polished 2.0 version, new and improved, or so some would say. Last Monday, residents gathered for a meeting with the University, represented by Linda Greenan, Assistant Vice President of External Relations, Alan Brangman, University architect, Todd Olson, Vice President of Student Affairs and Provost James O’Donnell.
To say the meeting was business, cut and dried, simply would not be true.
Residents were indignant. One went so far to exclaim, “My quality of life is terrible … I don’t know when a toga party is going to erupt on my block!”
Toga parties excepted, the 10-year campus plan is taking a definite form as it approaches the final stages of planning. Greenan was clear from the get-go that, “We don’t intend that there will be changes,” which means that the plan presented Monday will be the same plan that will come before the zoning board in late May or early June.
As of the Monday meeting, there are several changes included in the updated plan, such as the removal of the Campus Convocation Center.
For those concerned about toga parties, the plan promises to double the SNAP car patrol, a University program employing a security officer and car to patrol the neighborhood, addressing noise complaints and other behavior issues. Moreover, there will be two community advisers, explained as “live-in educational and disciplinary advisers for off-campus students and liaisons to the local community.” They are expected to start in August 2010. Another addition will be three MPD reimbursable detail officers for the academic year as a pilot program. If the program succeeds in the first year, officers will remain during the summer months.
One of the bigger points of contention is the proposed enrollment increases. The University is protective of its flexibility in projecting growth, as they look forward to creating “innovative programs that appeal to professionals.” Estimates have been made however, with a projected graduate increase of approximately 2,475 students, while non-traditional undergraduate enrollment is expected to grow by 104 students, based on 2010 data.
This growth means that the campus itself will be expanding, and one contentious location for growth is the 1789 block. Alan Brangman discussed several key changes regarding this historic area. Brangman was emphatic that all building on the block will take place on University land; no renovation will take place outside campus boundaries. Moreover, the number of graduate beds proposed was reduced from 300 to 120 beds. The building plans themselves also were reduced from five stories to two or three. Parking will be available under this structure, with 10 percent allotted to residents. A ZipCar presence is also a possibility, although nothing has been confirmed yet.
Brangman was insistent that although the plan will be presented to the zoning commission, “this doesn’t close out the process” and neighborhood input will still be considered. In fact, the University is emphasizing the spirit of collaboration, repeating their commitment that “the dialogue doesn’t stop,” as Greenan stated. In a later meeting with The Georgetowner, she cited changes made in 2006 and 2008 as clear evidence of the University’s commitment to working with the community to better implement the changes. So far, she said, the University has received its share of positive, albeit quiet, feedback from less vociferous neighbors.
“People appreciate Georgetown University,” she said. “They see us as part of the community.” She pointed out that the students had done a lot in the community, both with the University and as individuals: “They are dogwalkers, babysitters … A lot of people like our students.”
Olson, who also talked with us after the forum, recounted a recent Community Clean Up day, with students and residents working side by side to clean up Georgetown. He also pointed out that the University has continually supported Trees for Georgetown and the Georgetown Senior Center. “The large majority of our students deserve and earn our respect,” he said at the forum, advocating minimal police involvement in student conduct issues. He later outlined an “ambitious, evolutionary way” of improving discipline through In fact, data collected by the University even shows that as high as 75 percent of houses that called the University to report problems have never been heard from again.
These statistics raise hopes that an additional SNAP car will be effective in resolving neighborhood issues. Olson makes the point that calling 911 can take MPD officers off of the streets where they are most needed, drawing them into a situation better suited for a SNAP officer, who can alert the University on the issue and address it appropriately.
Despite what the statistics may be, there is clearly a pervasive neighborhood belief that “it is not enough.” Some residents are angry, feeling that their voices are not being heard, or that they are simply being ignored by the University, which, they claim, is simply pushing the plans through, disregarding many complaints and issues. ANC Chairman Ron Lewis, for one, was vocal, warning the University against disregarding the community’s input as they go forward to the zoning commission. For its part, the University has expressed its commitment to stay engaged with the community. “We are constantly out in the community,” Greenan explained. “We are constantly meeting with people.” And while residents have raised “fair issues” in the past, she said recent efforts at civil, one-on-one talks with the community “didn’t get off the ground.”
But in spite of these efforts, many residents are still crying foul. “I feel like we’re here just so you can check a box off with the city,” one neighbor said at the forum, referring to what he perceived was the University’s cursory probing of community input. Clearly, the town and gown tensions are far from settled as the 10-year plan approaches its ultimate review by the zoning commission. If the plan is approved, it will be unclear what role the community will play in planning the joint future of the neighborhood and the campus.