After nearly five hours of testimony and questioning at the Zoning Commission hearing for Georgetown University's 10-year campus plan Thursday evening, the only certainty was that there would many more hours to come. Cutting the evening off at 11 p.m. the commission scheduled up to four additional dates in anticipation of several more long nights of intense questioning and discussion.
The night began as university representatives and students arrived in force wearing pro-GU stickers. Neighbors turned up to show their opposition, wearing their own red and white buttons.
The University had one hour to present its plan after which commission members took turns to ask for additional information and question university representatives.
There were a few sticking points for most commissioners in the initial round of questioning: first, the confusing calculations of the number of students enrolled and housed by the university and then the ultimatum-like tone set by university officials in opening statements.
Commissioner Peter May had the first question, "What is the actual percentage of students living on campus?"
Vice President for Student Affairs, Todd Olson said "the percentage will be around 79 percent of traditional undergraduate students” when GU adds the proposed 250 new beds.
The University has changed its methodology for calculating students, relying now on actual headcount rather than financial equivalents. By previous methods, the university could have claimed that some 82-84 percent were housed on-campus.
Satisfied with the answer, May then questioned the university's persistent description of enrollment caps as "voluntary." Maureen Dwyer, the attorney for the university, admitted that the team was parsing its language to fit with any potential legal proceedings. After all, the last campus plan went through several rounds of appeals and was not finally approved until 2007, she explained.
"You're not exactly setting a really good tone for the discussion" said May in response.
Commissioner Michael Turnbull echoed May's sentiments, "your introductory remarks very much sounded like an ultimatum...there is a tone that was not 'hostile,' but a little tough."
In opening statements the university indicated that any conditions such as the voluntary caps on enrollment were "interdependent" with other aspects of the plan gaining approval. If one element was changed, then GU would have to consider all other conditions as well.
Commissioner Konrad Schlater dove right in, asking the university officials, "what do you attribute the broad-based opposition to this plan?"
Georgetown President Jack DeGioia's ultimate answer was that "there are inevitable tensions that exist between a campus of 6, 675 students and those living in close proximity."
Chairman Anthony Hood wanted to know more about the University's efforts to work with neighbors and to find common ground. Olson descibred a variety of efforts to work with neighbors, adding that the university has “been committed to this for the long term.”
After an initial round of questioning, the commissioners explored more specific questions and concerns. Once the commissioners finished, the advisory neighborhood commissions and other neighborhood organizations had their chance to cross-examine. To read more of the specific questions asked of University officials by the Zoning Commission and neighbors, check back later today for a follow-up story.
The evening finished before all parties with right to cross-examine had finished. The hearing will pick back up with additional time for cross examination, followed by testimony from groups in opposition. Future hearings on the campus plan will be held: May 12, May 16, June 2(if needed) and June 6 (if needed).