Fed up with what they call vulgar, noisy, beer-guzzling behavior of college students living in their neighborhoods, several citizen groups are pressuring Georgetown University to require students to live on campus and to limit the number of students it admits until it builds more on-campus housing.
And just to be sure the university is listening, leaders of the groups are threatening to hold back support for the university's 20-year campus development plan now awaiting city approval. That approval is needed for the university to sell tax-free bonds for new construction. D.C. law requires city officials considering the issue to give heavy weight to neighborhood views.
"If it weren't for the master plan, we would have been totally ignored," said Theodore J. Jacobs, president of the Burleith Citizens Association.
Jacobs and other residents of Burleith as well as some in nearby Glover Park, Foxhall and Georgetown complain that groups of students who often share houses don't take care of their lawns and hold noisy all-night parties that disrupt their neighborhoods.
Some say students curse, urinate and vomit in public, cavort on rooftops, engage in street brawls and litter their streets. A few say they have been verbally assaulted, even threatened when they have confronted the students about their actions.
A resident of the 3600 block of Whitehaven Parkway NW said students told her they would poison her dog if she complained to their landlord. A resident of the 3700 block of R Street NW said students stole a crucifix, candleholders and a prayer book from a campus chapel and threw them into his yard. A resident on 37th Street NW said students tossed a sex toy through his mail slot after he complained that their stereo was too loud.
A few confess and apologize. After shattering a beer bottle in front of a house, one left behind this note: "Hello, I broke a bottle on your path. It was a drunk thing. Understand? Please?"
And in response to community complaints, the university has promised as part of its 20-year plan to provide 925 new beds on campus by 1997, enough for essentially every undergraduate who wants one, said William D. Green, the university's vice president for administration and facilities. The university now has beds for 80 percent of its 5,300 undergraduates, more than any other university in the city, say campus officials.
In addition, Green said, the school has agreed to create a new position -- director of off-campus housing -- who will work with the community to address problems with students who live in nearby neighborhoods.
Still, the university has also said it will increase enrollment by 73 students this year and by up to 340 in the next five years, two years before it plans to finish building new dorms.
The enrollment projections anger many of the nearby residents, who say increasing numbers of rowdy students are lowering property values and causing families to move away.
The angriest residents live in Burleith, a 16-square-block neighborhood of row houses north of the campus and home to 350 students, according to Frederick Flemming, an advisory neighborhood commissioner there.
He said "speculators" are buying houses and packing them with students, many of whom choose to live in Burleith because the rents there are lower than dormitory fees or rents in Georgetown.
"It's the domino effect," Flemming said. "We are right at the balance point of being an academic slum."
Sophia Henry, a real estate broker who has lived in Glover Park for 23 years, said students acted more civilized years ago when they lived as boarders with families. But the trend in recent years has been for groups of students to rent entire houses, she said, and since then, their behavior has grown more outrageous. "They don't feel there are any constraints. They are not in their own environment, and they think everything goes."
But university officials said they have to enroll more full-tuition students even before they can build the new dormitories to help offset the costs of financial aid to minority students. In the meantime, they have said they will move the more mature graduate students on campus into off-campus housing to make room for more undergraduates.
However, they say they will never require undergraduates to live on campus as the neighbors demand because some students don't want to and would go to another school rather than do so.
"It would make us less competitive with other universities," said George Houston, the university's senior vice president and treasurer.
Community leaders say their demands are not unreasonable, and they are digging in their heels. If the university will not work with them to keep undergraduates out of their neighborhood, they will not support its plan, they say.
On Tuesday, the D.C. Board of Zoning Adjustment will open its microphone to opponents, and some community leaders say their groups will be there in force.
"We don't think their concessions are nearly enough," Jacobs said.