The Zoning Commission hearing on the Georgetown University Campus Plan continued Thursday night, with the Office of Planning (OP) providing testimony on its report and responding to cross examination by the University.
OP's Deputy Director for Development Review & Historic Preservation, Jennifer Steingasser, faced intense questioning by Georgetown University that at times left her either without answers or repeatedly responding that the questions were beyond the purview of the OP.
Georgetown's attorney, Maureen Dwyer, was a fierce examiner and in the first five minutes of questioning suggested that Steingasser and OP did not "understand the numbers" for the student enrollment and had made evaluations based on this faulty understanding.
Dwyer pushed Steingasser to consider the tremendous cost of constructing new dorms or leasing additional housing for its students to comply with the OP requirements for 100 percent of students housed by fall of 2016. Steingasser consistently pushed back that economic concerns were not a factor for planners and were not a consideration in the interpretation of zoning regulations.
Steingasser emphasized her agency's attempt to provide flexibility for the University and that the proposed numbers and timeline were simply offered as guidelines for the Zoning Commission as a means to "pull the students back" from the community.
Dwyer asked if in the history of the OP had ever before called for 100 percent housing or a roll back on enrollment in any campus plan review.
"I don't believe so. No," said Steingasser, adding, "we have recommended denial of campus plans."
"Hasn’t the University proposed what it thinks is meeting a balance," asked Dwyer.
"OP doesn’t believe it’s been accomplished," responded Steingasser.
After Zoning Commission questioning and responding to the University, Steingasser remained steadfast to the findings of the staff report released last week.
She responded "yes" each time as Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner, Ron Lewis, asked her if she maintained the assertions made in the OP report including:
- that the residential balance in the neighborhood had been upended
- that the proposed plan is inconsistent with the Comprehensive Plan
- that the high percentage of student occupied housing adversely affects quality of life and the housing stock and is not consistent with "neighborhood conservation"
- that she continues to recommend enrollment caps and university provided housing for undergraduate students.
The Commissioners were measured in their questioning.
Commissioner May commented, "I couldn’t get used to the 20-somethings living next to my house until they had a child."
But he added, "I can see how much better it would be for a student living in a house rather than a concrete block dorm room."
Commissioner Selfridge asked a handful of questions. He inquired about previous commitments by the University to maintain certain high levels of students housed on campus.
OP responded that the Univeristy had set goals, including the 1990 goal of housing 100 percent of its undergraduate population.
It appears the University "fell short of their goals” joked Selfridge.
Commissioner Hood said, "at some point we’re going to say this is as much as we can take; this is it."
"We need to start achieving what we’re trying to do here," he added, returning to the opening paragraph of the OP report that talked about preserving the neighborhood while encouraging a robust university.
The earlier part of the evening focused on the Loop Road as community organizations wrapped up their cross examination of the Univeristy's presentation made at the first hearing. Neighbors raised the specter of the road one day being used for the vague future hospital use that might occupy another part of the campus grounds.
A group of nine students were each given three minutes to speak before the commission, an exception was made since the last day of school is Friday, May 13.
The next hearing is scheduled for Monday, May 16.
Check back later today for a video of interesting moments from the meeting, including the tense exchange between Dwyer and Steingasser and compelling statements from students.