Neighborhood Groups Have Their Chance to Testify on Campus Plan
'There’s a big difference between the picture [university officials] try to paint and actual reality.'
The Zoning Commission hearing Monday was the first chance the Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners (ANC) had to present their case in opposition to Georgetown University's campus plan. Georgetown University's team followed with a cross-examination, a strained exchange of some 40 questions and answers.
"There’s a big difference between the picture they try to paint and actual reality," said ANC Commissioner Ron Lewis.
One slide from the ANC presentation that the Zoning Commissioners took particular interest in listed activities forbidden on campus, mostly related to drinking, and showed the same list of activities had no limitation off campus.
"GU is fully aware of alcohol-fueled misconduct and GU doesn’t seem to mind imposing objectionable conduct on the community that GU itself won’t accept on its own property," Lewis said.
Commissioner Ed Solomon played the good cop to Commissioner Lewis's bad cop.
Solomon spoke of his desire to find a way for the university and the community to happily coexist. He was supportive of the University's efforts to create the Student Neighborhood Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Alliance for Local Living (ALL). But these efforts and good will were for naught, he said.
"I am deeply disappointed that it did not mitigate the impact of student group houses in north Georgetown," Solomon said.
Commissioner Jones came prepared with photos of the mess allegedly left by students, including trash strewn on the street from upended trash cans, and backyard tables covered in empty beer cans.
"It only takes one backyard party to severely impact an entire block," said Jones, referring to the closeness and small nature of the homes in the neighborhood around the University.
Jones said GU uses the community "as part of its residence hall system" and in the end pursues its own "revenue interests over the interests of the community."
Zoning Commissioner Hood spoke to the commissioners, saying they had been shown a "promised land" that never materialized after the last campus plan.
"What would it take now, besides us voting against it? What kind of work can be done, what can be done to garner your support?" asked Hood.
Lewis ticked off a list of items including housing all undergraduates in on-campus or satellite facilities, managing transportation to get buses off residential streets and creating a better discipline system for bad student behavior.
But the community is "reluctant to trust" the University said Lewis.
Attorney for the University, Maureen Dwyer, moved swiftly through a list of questions during her cross-examination of the community groups.
She questioned Lewis about the frequency with which community leaders met with the university officials.
She questioned Solomon about his role as a landlord to Georgetown University students. Solomon said he has "no problem with students" and rather with the university's housing policies that put "students in the middle."
Once the cross-examination wrapped up, a group of parties in support each took their three minutes to speak favorably of the plan. The motley crew included two former ANC members and a priest.
Jonda McFarlane, a former ANC commissioner and former Georgetown resident, said she and her husband "found that the university was a plus more often than a minus," when she lived on Prospect Street.
She said she had her fair share of interactions with students, some positive, some negative. But, "kids are kids and they are not mature adults a lot of them...there are issues that have to be worked through..engaging them is the key," said McFarlane.
Commissioner Peter May echoed a remark he made about problem student houses more than once during the evening, "it only takes a couple of extreme cases for you to get really upset."
McFarlane answered May saying, "every place you live has problems, but you can make a lot of progress by simply taking it on."
And if it's so unbearable, “go somewhere else,” she said.
The next hearing is June 2 at which time members of the community in opposition will have an opportunity to make their case against the proposed campus plan.