Neighbors aim to block Georgetown U. development plan
Thursday, April 29, 2010
As Georgetown University prepares to submit its 10-year development plan to D.C. officials, two residents associations are organizing an effort to block the proposal at zoning commission hearings, insisting that their neighborhoods are turning into college dormitories.
School administrators presented the campus plan to more than 100 community residents at a three-hour meeting Monday evening at Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School. To the university, the plan is a part of its efforts to grow and stay competitive as a top-tier institution.
"We are trying here to give the most honest aspirations of the institution that we can," Provost James O'Donnell said at the community meeting.
To neighbors, it would mean more parties, noise and trouble in their back yards.
Among the proposed construction projects is a complex on what the university calls the 1789 Block, bounded by 36th, 37th, N and Prospect streets NW. The complex would include housing for graduate students and faculty, retail space and below-grade parking. The university's medical center would also be expanded.
Several residents favored the construction plan for its potential economic value, but most said they worried that it might bring more traffic to an already congested area. Their main concern, however, was the possibility of more students living in their neighborhoods.
Under the plan, the graduate and professional student population would increase by about 40 percent, from 6,275 this year to 8,750 in 2020. The undergraduate population would remain about 6,000. Other than the addition of 120 beds on the 1789 Block, the plan includes no additional on-campus housing -- something that the Citizens Association of Georgetown and the Burleith Citizens Association requested in meetings with the university over the past year.
"There are too many kids in Georgetown, and the neighborhood can't absorb them," homeowner Eugenia Kemble said at a recent Citizens Association of Georgetown meeting. "The neighborhood is going down."
Georgetown has compromised with neighbors on several points, including by eliminating plans for a convocation center and significantly scaling back plans for retail space in the 1789 Block. Neighbors respond that those changes do little to solve the problem of students living nearby.
For example, 917 undergraduate and 1,132 graduate students live in privately owned homes in the 20007 zip code, according to university. Neighborhood residents say that those numbers do not convey the scope of the problem because their homes are also disturbed by "walk-by noise" when students who live on campus return from restaurants and bars.
"My quality of life is terrible," Ann Kenkel said. "I can't relax anywhere in my house because, truly, I don't know when loud noise or a party is going to erupt. I have purchased the equivalent of white noise machines to drown it out."
Lenore Rubino, the president of the Burleith group and a real estate agent, said that an influx of graduate students would cause real estate values to drop.