Since the beginning of 2011, Georgetown University and the residents of the surrounding Georgetown and Burleith neighborhoods have been battling through Advisory Neighborhood Commission meetings and Zoning Commission hearings over the university’s proposed 10-year campus plan.
The 2010-2020 Campus Plan maps out university development over the next decade. Residents of West Georgetown and Burleith disapproved of the plan, which was filed on Dec. 30, 2010.
The plan, which includes mostly approved changes within campus boundaries, also calls for transportation and parking improvements, enrollment proposals, on-campus housing policy changes and off-campus student life initiatives.
“The biggest issue that I have with off-campus Georgetown students is their lack of respect for the neighborhood,” said Margot Rymond, a resident of West Georgetown. “The university is located in a residential area and the students act as if they’re in the middle of the city!”
After an ANC meeting in February, the ANC submitted its findings and recommendations to the Zoning Commission, stating that the plan “as proposed would have serious adverse affects on the community.”
Along with the ANC, the Citizen’s Association of Georgetown and the Burleith Citizen’s Association are leading the charge against Georgetown’s plan.
The major objections to the plan are regarding GU’s enrollment rates, which have increased every year, along with the number of students living off-campus in Georgetown and Burleith. With more students in the neighborhoods, residents have complained of loud noise, excessive trash and the conditions of the homes lived in by students.
However, according to university data, the number of students living in West Georgetown and Burleith has actually declined over the years.
West Georgetown (Including Cloisters)
Undergrad Student Residences
Grad Student Residences
Undergrad Student Residences
Grad Student Residences
The above tables show GU student residences in West Georgetown and Burleith from Fall 1999 to Fall 2010.
According to a report filed for the Spring 2011 semester by Off-Campus Student Life (OCSL), 1,255 undergraduates and 339 graduates were living in privately owned off-campus housing in West Georgetown and Burlieth.
As a response to earlier complaints by residents, OCSL mandated that all students attend an orientation session during Fall 2010, which provided students with information regarding living safely and responsibly off campus. Another session was offered in April 2011 for students who were planning on staying in their homes during the summer break, which explained their responsibilities as members of the neighborhood.
Since the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year, GU has worked to address the quality-of-life issues regarding noise and trash that the community has raised.
“One hundred tons of trash have been collected during the daily pickups that have been implemented,” said Linda Greenan, assistant vice president for external relations. “We’ve also instituted an M Street shuttle service to assist our students in getting back to campus from the M Street commercial area, which so far has been used by 7,500 students.”
As another measure of enforcement, the university has hired seven off-duty police officers to work with the Student Neighborhood Assistance Program (SNAP) and patrol high-traffic areas.
The university created SNAP a few years ago to assist students, increase safety and respond to the concerns of neighbors regarding student conduct.
“During the school year, SNAP operates Thursday to Saturday nights from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m.,” Greenan said. “We have GU staff members and security officers that patrol West Georgetown and Burleith in special SNAP cars.”
Although it seems that the university is taking steps to lessen the perceived negative impact its students have on the community, those efforts appear to not have a lasting effect on the residents.
“It’s good that GU has implemented these changes, but it’s almost too little too late,” said Sheryl Thompson, a Burleith resident.
Students who live in private off-campus residences aren’t happy with the negative attitudes the residents have toward them, which some feel are unwarranted.
John Ryder, a senior at Georgetown and resident of West Georgetown, has mixed feelings toward his neighbors and GU’s off-campus programs.
“The house I live in has gotten a bad reputation with the neighbors over the past few years, and we’ve become a ‘target house,'” Ryder said. “The director of OCSL told me and my roommates this directly. As a result, we often have the SNAP car come to our door, even when there is minimal noise coming from our house, as neighbors point to our address for any noise they hear on the block”
“Unfortunately, OCSL and SNAP don’t tell us who makes the complaints, so we don’t have any chance to resolve problems directly, which we would definitely prefer,” Ryder continued. “We’re all adults; we would like to be able to work things out with our neighbors reasonably and in a responsible way. I think we could have much better relationships with our neighbors if we could interact with them directly.”
Campus Housing Plan
With all of the issues regarding housing, the campus plan calls for additional on-campus housing for students.
“The plan includes an additional 250 beds,” Greenan said. “Our first housing proposal was rejected because the community members didn’t like where the residence hall was going to be located, even though it was within campus boundaries.”
“It was felt that it was too close to the residential community,” she said. “We’ve now proposed a different location, which is the hotel of our conference center. We’d turn that into a residence hall. Doing this would allow us to house 80 percent of our students.”
While there may be some opposition toward the campus plan, some residents don’t see why others are complaining.
“When you move into the neighborhood, it’s not like the university just appears out of nowhere,” said David Hughes, a resident of Burleith. “It’s been here for over 200 years.”
“The university is a part of the community and when you decide to live here, it should be understood that you’re probably not going to have the pristine, ideal suburban life. There are college students living here, and it comes with the territory.”
The residents and university will have one last opportunity to testify in front of the Zoning Commission.
“This last hearing will focus on transportation,” Greenan said. “If there is too much testimony, then it’s possible that the Zoning Commission will decide to set another date for a final hearing. If this does end up being the final hearing, we anticipate an oral decision early next year.”