Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Student Housing

Development


Town-gown planning can be more constructive

The DC Zoning Commission will hold its final hearing tonight on the Georgetown University campus plan. Some neighborhood groups and ANC 2E continue to strongly oppose the plan, despite a number of concessions on the part of the university. Does DC's campus planning process actually help solve problems or just create strife?


Photo by the author.

The process does not encourage effective dialogue or compromise. In this case, the university has made concessions at several points directly in response to opponents' concerns, with seemingly no effect on the tone of the conversation.

The university has removed a proposed smokestack, agreed to add hundreds of residence beds, removed proposed housing and retail on the 1789 block, reduced the proposed future graduate student population by thousands, added a direct shuttle between campus and M Street, and expanded the number of police patrols and trash pickups. Yet neighborhood groups remain opposed.

It seems clear at this point that there are probably no concessions the university could make that would satisfy the Citizens Association of Georgetown (CAG), the Burleith Citizens Association (BCA), or ANC leadership, short of building enough housing for 100% of undergraduate students. That would be an extremely difficult and expensive proposition for the university, and it's not clear where this housing could go.

The opponents' position suggests that the very presence of students in the neighborhood is an insurmountable problem. This ignores the many positives that students bring to the community, and the fact that many non-student residents choose to live in Georgetown because of its liveliness and urban density. My wife and I feel safe walking home at night knowing there are other people walking about. Without the presence of so many students in the neighborhood the streets would be emptier, and would feel darker and less safe.

Students in the neighborhood are not inherently a problem. The real issue is bad behavior from some students, and what steps the university should take to mitigate those specific negative impacts. That is the sort of conversation that could happen, and that the planning process should encourage. Unfortunately, it hasn't.

Instead, positions have become entrenched and opposing sides treat each other as enemies. For example, the university established the Student Neighborhood Assistance Program (SNAP) to respond to neighborhood issues, but residents have encouraged neighbors to avoid SNAP and call 911 for any student-related problem, then say that SNAP is ineffective and cite the rising number of 911 calls as evidence of worsening behavior.

As a Georgetown resident and a Hoya alum, I think we deserve a better dialogue. But how do we get to a more meaningful conversation?

Structural changes may be necessary.

Campus plans are reviewed every 10 years. The very nature this 10-year cycle leads to brinkmanship and negativity. Some people feel that they have no leverage with the university in the intervening 9 years, and that they must obtain a decade's worth of concessions all at once. Universities think the same way. They increase their focus on town-gown issues in the years leading up to a campus plan hearing, and sometimes don't treat intervening years as seriously.

Also, like in many local political issues, the loudest voices have the most impact. People with extra time, or who feel particularly aggrieved, become the main voices of the neighborhood, while the larger number of everyday people goes unheard. I have spoken personally to many neighbors, and while many have specific concerns about student behavior or Georgetown, none of them suggest the extreme position of the opposition groups (and the DC Office of Planning) of pushing 100% of students onto campus.

This is a difficult problem. It may take some experimentation on the part of the city to determine if a better process is possible. Here are a few ides.

Option #1: Abolish the 10-year campus plan process entirely.

With the rewrite of the city's zoning plan, DC could determine which development projects or campus issues should be subject to zoning review, and use the regular public hearing process for them. While doing this would remove some of the long-term planning conversations, it would also remove some of the once-a-decade brinkmanship, which would ensure more frequent conversations between universities and neighborhoods.

Option #2: Create a college and university category in the zoning code.

The current zoning code classifies colleges and universities as residential areas and requires a "special exception" for any non-residential use. This is despite the fact that many of these institutions were established decades or centuries before the zoning laws, and have never been primarily residential. Undergraduate students represent around 10% of the city's total population, but the zoning code treats them as abnormal, and frames discussions of university expansion as having an inherently adverse impact.

The creation of a specific zoning category for colleges and universities would allow a larger discussion of the positives these institutions bring to the city, what negative impacts they may create, and the proper roles and responsibilities of universities in 21st century Washington.

A new category would be particularly helpful given the number of universities that have been opening buildings in the District lately, whether for "semester-in-DC" or more comprehensive educational programs.

Option #3: Broaden the conversation about the campus plan.

Several meetings were held in the run-up to the zoning commission hearings, but a small number of people have controlled the debate. Ideally more people should be brought into the conversation. Rather than allowing public opinion to be filtered through the parties directly in support or opposition, perhaps a citywide body such as the Office of Planning should be holding town halls to get more broad public input.

Option #4: Broaden the involved parties.

Universities are integral parts of their communities in many ways. They may offer library or gym memberships, allow for auditing of classes, or open some lectures to the general public. More such efforts by the university to directly connect students with non-student neighbors would begin to build the relationships and trust that are necessary for more positive outcomes. Rather than thinking of universities as an "other" to be opposed, neighbors might be more inclined to look for mutually beneficial solutions.

I have lived in Georgetown for the better part of the past 15 years. I hold undergraduate and graduate degrees from Georgetown University. We can do better. We deserve better. Let's make it happen.

Development


Neighbors oppose redevelopment of Dupont parking lot

The First Baptist Church of Washington proposes to build a 9-story, 228-unit apartment building on the site of its surface parking lot at the corner of 17th and O Streets, NW. Some nearby residents object to the plans due to concerns over noise, parking, and the specter of the project becoming a student dormitory.


Existing site. Photo by author.

The site is one of the last remaining surface parking lots in the Dupont neighborhood. Building apartments would improve neighborhood walkability, increase the city's scarce rental inventory, and provide needed revenue for the church to continue its charitable activities.

The main hurdles for the project before development can proceed are endorsement by the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC 2B), approval by the Historic Preservation Review Board, and acquisition of a zoning variance needed for a portion of the lot.


Proposed building. Image by Keener-Squire Properties.

The property is currently split between two zones. The portion of the lot facing 17th Street, NW is zoned to allow 90-foot buildings. The remainder of the lot is zoned for 65- 70-foot buildings. The project will need a zoning variance in order to build to the 90-foot limit allowed for buildings on 17th Street. Even with that variance, the proposal only calls for half the density permitted by zoning.

Most of the surrounding buildings are around 90 feet tall, so this proposal fits nicely with the established neighborhood scale. The building design by architecture firm Eric Colbert and Associates has already been approved by the Dupont Circle Conservancy and garnered positive reactions from members of the ANC. Commissioner Mike Silverstein commented that the project's design fits nicely with the modern architecture of other nearby buildings.

Although it does not appear to be their main concern, project opponents have seized upon the height variance issue in order to stop the project as proposed.

Some residents who attended this month's ANC meeting were vocal in their opposition to the scope of the project. Fliers were distributed to meeting attendees that warned of noise, trash, and parking issues. Opponents' main concern seems to be that this development could become a "dorm" for undergraduate students and young people.

While it is true that the proposed building will consist of one-bedroom and efficiency units, 8% of which will be set aside as affordable housing, there is little chance the building will become a dorm. Property management company Keener-Squire reports that of the over 1,100 similar units they manage in the Dupont and Logan Circle neighborhoods, only about 2% are occupied by undergraduate students.

Johns Hopkins University does maintain a campus in an adjacent building, but it houses graduate programs attended primarily by part-time students who are unlikely to be living in the area specifically for school.

As for parking concerns, the new apartments will be located in one of the most walkable and transit-accessible areas of the city, mere blocks away from retail and the Metro. It is likely that few residents of the building will actually own a car. Regardless, the church will construct 93 underground parking spaces, 36 to replace those lost from the current lot plus 57 additional new spaces to comply with zoning requirements.

The most controversial issue may be a proposed rooftop common area. Residents are concerned about the noise a rooftop common might generate. This is a reasonable concern, but similar amenities have become a fairly common element of DC residential buildings, and there seems to be no particular reason why this specific rooftop deck should be disallowed.

Even so, both the developer and architect have said that they are willing to make changes to the rooftop area in order to abate as much noise as possible. The current design is partially enclosed, so perhaps there is opportunity to enclose more.

The full Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission has delayed a final vote on this proposal until after a special meeting of the Zoning, Preservation, and Development Committee to discuss the project. That meeting will take place at 7 pm on Tuesday, September 6, at the Hotel Dupont.

Correction: The article originally said the zoning provides for 65-foot buildings. However, while this is true for the basic zoning, the Inclusionary Zoning law increases the maximum height to 70 feet.

Education


Improve campus life to fix Georgetown town-gown relations

The Office of Planning's recent recommendation to require Georgetown University to house 100 percent of undergraduates on campus would both severely damage Georgetown student life and fail to achieve the campus plan opponents' objectives. A better approach would be to make campus a more desirable place to be.


Photo by swe.anna on Flickr.

If Georgetown improved student gathering spaces, brought back Healy Pub, reduced restrictions for on-campus parties, added more housing and helped students avoid problematic landlords, many students would voluntarily move on campus and spend more social time there.

OP's report followed more than two years of negotiations over Georgetown's 2010 campus plan and changed the debate considerably. Recognizing that there is likely no room to build enough dormitories to house 100% of undergrads on Georgetown's campus, the OP report would mandate that the University reduce enrollment to equal the available housing.

In the Zoning Commission hearings, OP representatives also hinted that they would look favorably upon satellite housing and forced triples, like there are at American University. But satellite housing would only further fragment campus life.

Freshmen should not be forced to live in 170-square-feet triples while paying for some of the most expensive University housing in the country. Reducing enrollment by nearly 25 percent would represent a huge blow to the University's already constrained financial resources. These losses could lead to layoffs at the District's largest private employer.

Additionally, requiring all students to live on-campus would reduce the vibrancy and diversity of the already fairly staid surrounding community. Students live off-campus so that they can assert their independence and learn what it is like to live on their own. This arrangement, which furthers student ties to their community, should be encouraged, especially by a city hoping to expand its tax base.

Fortunately, the OP seems to recognize that their recommendations are not the only way forward. At the May 12 Zoning Commission hearing, OP representative Jennifer Steingasser repeatedly said that she was open to other solutions, so long as they brought students back on-campus and mitigated objectionable impacts in the community.

These solutions are possible. Today, Georgetown students spend time off-campus because they are frustrated by a lack of on-campus space that meets their needs. There's no real reason to live close to the center of student life, because there isn't one.

As long that is true, students will continue to socialize in the community and frequent bars on M Street, even if they are barred from living off-campus. A more holistic plan to remedying the objectionable impacts that OP sees is needed. Such a plan, which both recognizes the need to draw students back on-campus and their right to live off-campus, is laid out below.

Increase student space

For years, students have been advocating for more student space on campus. In 1999, a group of student leaders compiled the Report on Student Life, which recommended that the University reorganize Leavey Center and invest in a real student union. Plans for a New South Student Center were included in the 2000 Campus Plan but never came to fruition, and the proposal is again part of the 2010 Campus Plan.

Last year, the Student Space Working Group released a report that found that the same problems still exist a decade later. When surveyed, 64 percent of students said they desired more study space, 56 percent desired more social space, 49 percent desired more space for eating, 41 percent desired more meeting space, and 32 percent desired more student club space. The longer the students had been at Georgetown, and the more involved they were in extracurricular activities, the more frustrated they were with the space available.

What's more, when asked to identify the center of student life on campus, a plurality of students (33 percent) said it was Lauinger Library. This perception demonstrates a core problem. The spaces available do not meet the full variety of student needs, which means students need to use space in a way that conflicts with its intended purposefor example, we socialize in an area where other people are trying to studywhich renders the space ineffective.

As a result, a full 17 percent of those surveyed answered that there was no center of student life at all.

The closest thing we have to a student unionSellinger Lounge in the Leavey Centerhas not become the student-centered space it was envisioned as because of the presence of hotel guests and Georgetown Hospital staff.

If the campus were the real center of student life, more students would choose to live on-campus. The University can and should create spaces and opportunities for a healthy social scene to thrive.

Bring back Healy Pub

Many alumni still wistfully remember Healy Pub, the bar located in the basement of Georgetown's signature building. In 1987, responding to the higher drinking age, the University ordered the pub to shut down. Town-gown struggles began in full-force in the early 1990s, as student social life began to shift to private parties in Burleith and West Georgetown.

Now, a group of students are trying to bring the pub back. Since 2001, the student body has been paying into a Georgetown University Student Association Endowment Fund. The interest from the fund was supposed to finance student activities once the fund reached $10 million by 2011, but the University reneged on its promised $3 million contribution, so the fund has only reached $3.4 million. The student association leaders now consider the endowment a failure and plan to re-appropriate the money. We have $3.4 million to spend, and the Endowment Commission, identifying the same lack of student space we have, voted last month to put $3.23 million towards the pub.

The proposal is to model the pub after Queen's Head Pub at Harvard. On weekend nights, the area would function as a bar. Those under 21 would be allowed to enter, but they would not be allowed to drink. The rest of the time, the space would function as a lounge, where students could meet, socialize, work, eat snacks and reserve private rooms for meetings.

There are obvious obstacles. Once running, the pub will need an alcohol license, which obviously requires support from the Georgetown Advisory Neighborhood Commission.

Also, the Financial Aid Office and other administrators currently occupy Healy basement, so students need the University's assistanceand blessingin relocating the people already there to space that will be opened up with the completion of the new science center.

Although the New South Student Center is a necessity and a part of the plan that students welcome, it is not enough. A student-designed, student-run, student-financed space in the heart of Georgetown's historic campus would go a very long way to creating a stronger sense of on-campus community and toward bringing socialization back on-campus.

Reduce on-campus party restrictions

During finals week in 2007, Vice President of Student Affairs Todd Olson surprised students with the announcement of a new alcohol policy. Administrators had decided to institute a one-keg limit, require host training for parties, require students to register parties by Thursday morning, limit the number of students, and increase sanctions for violations, with a third violation leading to suspension. At the time, the Georgetown Voice termed the changes "draconian."

The following September, the student association president led administrators on a tour through campus on a Saturday night. To their surprise, "There were about eight people standing around [on the rooftops] and when they moved on to Henle, they could hear crickets in the courtyards." Before, it had been one of the biggest party weekends of the year.

Neighbors complained that they noticed an increase in off-campus parties and student noise. Students expressed fear of throwing parties on-campus, citing the new increased sanctions and party registration requirements.

Now, the dynamic has shifted somewhat. Many students express similar fears of 61-Ds for noise violations or Office of Off-Campus Student Life sanctions for off-campus parties.

Students know that despite their best efforts, parties often take on a life of their own, especially at the beginning of the year when groups of freshmen search high and low for a party to crash. Therefore, students decide to throw their parties on- or off- campus depending on where they perceive they'll attract the least trouble.

If we want students to socialize on-campus, we should consider this constant calculus. To an extent, we can shift the party culture by simply shifting the incentives. As we have seen in the last few years, it's not enough to increase the punishments for out-of-control off-campus parties. We need to also loosen the restrictions on on-campus parties.

Meet all undergrad demand for on-campus housing, starting with hotel and 1789 Block

The University maintains that it has provided housing for all undergraduates who have requested it. However, should the above measures be implemented, more upperclassmen will want to live on-campus so that they can be closer to the center to student activity. This is especially true if the expansion locations are well-integrated with existing student patterns.

Considering the existing campus, the two sites for additional housing that seem most sensible are the Leavey Center hotel and the block bounded by Prospect, N, 36th, and 37th, known informally as the "1789 block."

Although the Leavey Center has many flaws as a student center and should ultimately be replaced, it has recently become more student-friendly with the opening of the Hariri Business Building, which connects to Leavey. This trend will continue when the new science center opens in fall 2012 (plans call for the science center to connect to Leavey via open lounge spaces). The addition of student housing to Leavey will help ensure that foot traffic in the building returns to being predominantly student-driven, as opposed to hotel guest- or hospital staff-driven.

The "1789 block" which was once a part of the 2010 Campus Plan, would add up to 250 beds and 8,500 square feet of neighborhood servicing retail in the middle of a university-owned block right outside the university's gates. This project would be within a block of three other university dormitories and two university academic buildings. The "1789 block" would be closer to the front gates than the preexisting Nevils apartment complex and LXR dorm. This space is already a center of student activity, and additional commercial areas so close to campus would entice more students to the area.

The University estimates that these two projects could house approximately 500 undergraduates. This would bring the total number housed on-campus to 5,553, which represents about 92 percent of Georgetown's traditional undergraduate enrollment. This figure compares favorably to every university in Washington and is in line with schools like Harvard, Princeton and MIT, which OP praises in their report as models.

Rate My Landlord

Even if these measures are successful, approximately 8 percent of undergraduates will still have the ability to live off-campus.

However, those students who choose to move out of University housing often pay high rents for low-quality neighborhood housing. Slum landlords regularly fail to maintain their property or respect tenant rights. Students are blamed for the unsightly rental houses, when it is the landlord's responsibility to pay for upkeep.

Theoretically, the Georgetown Office of Off-Campus Life is there to "address the needs and concerns of off campus students." In practice, the office spends as least as much time serving its secondary function: acting "as a liaison between the university and our neighbors, encouraging dialogue about issues of mutual concern."

Lost in the shuffle are the students, who need a stronger advocate in their negotiations with landlords.

One service that would make a big impact would be a "rate my landlord"-type website, where students and other subletters could share information about rental rates, housing quality, upkeep and landlord responsiveness.

Students don't want to live under poor conditions. With more transparent information, students can demand better treatment and drive the slumlords out of business.

The takeaway

In the long run, holistic solutions that aim to improve campus and community life will be far more effective than draconian mandates, which will mire us in legal battles for years to come. We ask that the Zoning Commission, University, and community rethink their approach. The only solutions that can truly address persistent town-gown tensions will be the ones that also take student interests into account.

Education


On-campus housing not the answer for Georgetown

In "GU takes student ghetto approach to housing undergrads," Ken Archer argues that Georgetown University has created a "student ghetto" by failing to guarantee undergraduates four years of on-campus housing. In response, he suggests four locations where the University should build "multi-use" facilities behind the gates.


Photo by Payton Chung on Flickr.

However, the University's very real financial and space constraints, historical context, and students' actual needs don't support this approach.

Historical context

It' s hard to substantiate the claim, echoed by many other neighbors, that the University has created a larger "student ghetto" than there was in the past.

Mr. Archer uses 1980 as a benchmark. But a 1979 Hoya student newspaper article reported that only 3,058 students were offered on-campus housing in 1980, or 58 percent of Georgetown's 5,293 undergraduates. Today, the University houses 84 percent of its undergraduates. In 1980, 2,235 students lived off-campus. Last semester 1,077 students lived off-campus, not including those studying abroad.*

Mr. Archer might still be right that something fundamentally changed in the 1980s. However, I think he misses the true cause. In 1986, the drinking age in D.C. rose from 18 to 21. As a result, the University implemented a harsher alcohol policy in 1987 that made drinking a punishable offense. The University also ordered the closure of the University Center Pub in Healy basement.

Students responded by moving their parties off-campus. The University instituted additional restrictions in 2007, introducing a one-keg limit and requiring that parties be registered beforehand. There aren't more students actually living off-campus now, but they might be louder.

Regardless of the cause, the 1990s were a highly contentious period. In 1996, neighbors were so bothered by the "student ghetto" that they tried to displace students by proposing a zoning overlay that would prevent more than three unrelated people from renting group homes together. The Zoning Commission rejected the proposal in 1998, ruling that it was discriminatory against students.

In response to the overlay, over 1,000 Georgetown students registered to vote in D.C. to elect two undergraduates to the Advisory Neighborhood Commission. Then-ANC Commissioner Westy Byrd distributed flyers warning students of the consequences of registering and was subsequently charged with voter intimidation (though the US Attorney's Office declined to prosecute).

Once the two students were elected, the losing ANC commissioners launched a lawsuit against them that dragged on until 2002. When I wrote a feature story about this time period, several people stressed to me how much better town-gown relations are now.

But opposition to the 2000 Campus Plan was just as fierce. Some of the points in the
Burleith Citizen Association's response letter could be used verbatim as arguments today. ("In fact, the University already has facilities on campus not presently used for undergraduate student housing that would be suitable for that purpose now or in the near future.")

At the time, the Board of Zoning and Adjustment sided with the neighborhood, refusing the University's request to increase its enrollment cap and requiring the University to publicly disclose information about student misconduct complaints. The University appealed, and in 2003, the DC Court of Appeals overturned the decision, declaring it was not the BZA's purview to rule on the University's disciplinary code.

The Southwest Quad also opened in fall 2003, bringing 780 students onto campus. There is a September 2003 newspaper hanging in our student newspaper office with the headline, "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood: Have Georgetown's persistent town-gown battles finally come to an end?" The short answer: absolutely not.

It helps the neighbors' cause to pretend town-gown relations are worse than they've ever been, which is why some neighbors have been using this tactic for decades. The reality is, history is only repeating itself. In 1997, Mayor Marion Barry celebrated with the Georgetown ANC over their success in keeping a Papa John's from opening in the neighborhood. In 2010, Mayor Adrian Fenty held a press conference at the shuttering of our beloved Philly Pizza.

In 1979, Citizens Association of Georgetown Vice President Thomas Parrott told the Hoya he opposed the 1980 Campus Plan because it would extend campus boundaries to include Nevils Hall. In 2011, CAG President Jennifer Altemus reminisced about her time as an undergraduate living in Nevilswhile opposing the construction of University housing literally across the street.

Within historical context, it does not seem we are reaching a tipping point. Town-gown relations have ebbed and flowed for years. So we're finalizing the ten-year plan and residents say students are taking over the neighborhood? We're right on schedule.

"Multi-use" buildings are not the answer

Mr. Archer erroneously believes students are unhappy with the Southwest Quad and similar proposals because they are not "multi-use." Take it from a student: we couldn't care less.

Adding 800 beds on-campus would require building additional dorm-style accommodations, with double and triple rooms, common rooms and common bathrooms. Dorms are vastly inferior to off-campus options, which include kitchens, living rooms, single rooms, washing machines, dishwashers and all the furnishings of independent living.

We don't care if the dining hall is an elevator-ride away or a 10-minute walk. We want our own kitchens. We want area for entertaining. We want independence. We want apartments.

Mr. Archer's specific recommendations don't work for students. Considering Darnall's square-shaped floor plan, extending over Epicurean could only be marginally useful. But to any student, the proposal to expand Darnall would just be a sick joke.

Darnall is commonly considered the worst freshman dorm. Every floor houses about 50 people in 173-square-foot doubles. The beds are so close together that roommates can reach out and touch hands. For freshmen, this is fine. I myself survived Darnall Floor 1. But no upperclassmen would live there willingly. At New Student Orientation, ifsomeone says he was assigned to live in Darnall, the appropriate response is, "Oh... I'm so sorry."

The University actually provides townhouses and several nice apartment complexes: Village A, Village B, Nevils and Henle. But apartment complexes are more expensive than dorms, and they are not as space-efficient. In 1979 the Hoya reported that building Village A cost about $58,000 per unit$169,180 in today's money. It's also harder to
build apartment complexes in the tiny slivers of space the architectural firm suggested.

Likewise, the University is already using the parking lot at the end of library walk to reroute the GUTS buses, as the neighbors have demanded. If the University could add apartments on top of O'Donovan Dining Hall or the new athletic facility, maybe it would attract some interested upperclassmen. But the architects did suggest adding on to Village C, so they likely already considered adding on to other buildings as well.

Considering that expensive apartment-style accommodations are the only options that will keep students on campus, when University officials insist there is no room to build on the traditional campus, they're not being wily. They're being realistic.

Going forward

The campus plan is a balance of sometimes competing interests: the University's desire to expand its offerings and bring in revenue, the neighbors' desire to preserve Georgetown's historic character and family-friendly atmosphere, and the students' desire for access to quality, affordable housing and state-of-the-art University facilities. This
balance requires compromise.

One seemingly obvious solution has since been taken off the table. I would like to see a reconsideration of the 1789 Block proposal, which could have housed 250 students in apartment-style accommodations. Neighbors considered this space "off-campus," even though it is University-owned and wedged between existing classroom buildings and University housing. After their ceaseless complaints, the University relented and struck the project from the plan.

In regards to noise, Mr. Archer says, "27% of student group homes have had run-ins with the police in the past year." Honestly, I'm surprised it' s not more. Neighbors urge each other to call the Metropolitan Police Department about noise before even talking to their student neighbors or calling the Student Neighborhood Assistance Program.

Admittedly, parties get out of control, and destructive behavior should not be tolerated. But calling the MPD about noise complaints takes resources away from real emergencies, like the too-frequent robberies, muggings and sexual assaults.

Neighbors are also quick to blame students for houses in disrepair. I have some Burleith horror stories of my own, as CAG likes to use as evidence for their cause. When I
subletted a room this summer, we had to exterminate bedbugs and pantry moths. The landlord left us to pay for the damages.

Students don't want to live in filth. But it's a seller's market. We don't have the resources or bargaining power to advocate for ourselves, and it's not a summer subletter's job to take on beautification projects. More of the condemnation needs to be directed at landlords who take advantage of students and fail to maintain their property.

Most importantly, neighbors should direct their frustrations at specific problem houses rather than write off students as a group. Responding to a student question at the Campus Plan meeting last Thursday, Ms. Altemus said, "We welcome students into the neighborhood if they obey the laws." If only she meant it.

Ms. Altemus and Mr. Archer do not decry our behaviorthey decry our very presence. But under DC Code, it is illegal to discriminate against people based on their "matriculation status," which is why the Zoning Commission struck down the overlay preventing more than three unrelated people from living together. As a group, we have as much of a right to live here as anyone else.

Finally, DC Students Speak and other involved students are making good-faith efforts to engage residents about the campus plan. About 30 students showed up to last Thursday's meeting, and 784 people have signed a petition in support of the plan. My newspaper, the Georgetown Voice, has been attending these meetings from the very beginning. We want a stake in this community. Writing us off as a "student ghetto" doesn't even give us the chance.

* Since there has been so much debate about these numbers, I'll explain my methodology. The 1979 Hoya article said that 1,558 students won the housing lottery, 660 lost and were then "forced to look for off-campus housing," and 1,500 spaces were reserved for freshmen and students with health problems or special circumstances.

A History of Georgetown University, Volume 3 Appendix A, says for academic year 1980-81, the University enrolled 2,091 college students, 462 nursing students, 1,201 school of foreign service students and 838 business students, adding to Mr. Archer' s total of 4,592. However, he forgets to count the School of Languages and Linguistics, which merged with Georgetown College in 1995 and enrolled 701 students in 1980-81.

This brings us to a total of 5,293. If Georgetown had 5,293 undergraduates and housed 3,058, then 2,235 lived off-campus, though not all requested housing.

I have not yet found good statistics about how many students studied abroad during this time. However, considering that study abroad has gotten immensely popular in recent yearsaccording to the Office of International Programs, 57 percent of current students study abroad at some pointI think it's most accurate to exclude students who are studying abroad from the current off-campus count.

The 2010 Campus Plan shows specific enrollment figures for students on the main campus dating back to 2006. There are fewer students on the main campus in the spring because more students study abroad that semester, so under the 2000 Campus Plan, Georgetown reported the enrollment as an average of the two semesters.

I have chosen the most recent data available, fall 2010 alone, when there were 6,130 undergraduates enrolled at the main campus. The University provides 5,053 beds, so assuming every bed was filled last semester, 1,077 students lived off-campus.

Education


GU takes student ghetto approach to housing undergrads

On December 30th, Georgetown University filed its 10 Year Campus Plan with the DC Zoning Commission. While the Plan has led to frayed relations between the university and the Georgetown neighborhood, the central dispute concerns what is not in the plan: an increase in on-campus undergraduate housing.


Photo by decaf on Flickr.

Why should Georgetown University be expected to build additional on-campus housing for undergraduates?

If you visit the couple dozen blocks around the University in West Georgetown (west of Wisconsin Ave) and Burleith, you will find a student ghetto that simply wasn't there in 1980. The area is becoming characterized by dilapidated houses and unbagged trash strewn across lawns.

27% of student group homes have had run-ins with the police in the past year. The university touts this as a success. Residents, particularly young children, are awakened at all hours by screaming students, and many have begun moving away.

Current students often object that the University has conceded to resident opposition to other elements of the Plan. It seems to them that the residents will never be satisfied.


Red markers are undergraduate houses. Yellow markers are graduate houses.

The principal concern for two decades, however, has always been developing on-campus housing equal to growth in undergraduate enrollment. When the University agrees to this development as it once did, it knows that it will find a residential community more open to compromise on other initiatives even though they may raise residential concerns.

The university has two objections, however, to the expectation that it build additional on-campus housing.

The adverse impacts standard

First, the university asserts that Georgetown provides on-campus housing for a larger percentage of their undergraduates than any DC university other than Gallaudet. In reality, it's actually almost identical to GW, AU and CUA.

This would be meaningful if it mattered, but the Zoning Code puts in place a standard that is relative to each university: enrollment must not result in adverse impacts on the adjoining communities.

What's so special about Georgetown? Why does housing 20-30% of undergraduates off-campus adversely impact Georgetown more than Spring Valley, Foggy Bottom or Brookland?

Georgetown has a unique housing stock. Because it was built pre-zoning, its homes arose organically from a real community, providing the human scale of construction and diversity of home sizes that naturally follow from the needs of a multi-generational community.

With hundreds of small and medium-sized rowhouses with thin walls and little or no front yards, Georgetown's housing stock cannot sustain the introduction of over a thousand 18-22 year-olds without turning into a student ghetto.

This housing stock embodies so much of what has been lost in America's built environment over the past 50 years, as smart growth leaders like Duany and Speck and Kunstler demonstrate in their thoughtful sketches of Georgetown.

As Travis Parker from the DC Planning Office said recently to Georgetown residents, Georgetown is what it is because it was built before zoning, such that OP's current zoning rewrite aims "to enable other neighborhoods to have what Georgetown has".

We can't appeal to Georgetown's example while simultaneously allowing the displacement of the multi-generational community which sustains and is sustained by its housing.

Requiring Georgetown University to meet the "adverse impacts" standard of DC law, however, is supposed to prevent any such displacement from occurring.

The central challenge, then, is how to maintain the world-class status of the area's leading university and the multi-generational community living in an historic district on the National Register right next door.

Where to build on-campus housing:
The second response provided by the University to the expectation that it build additional on-campus housing is that there is nowhere else to build.

Page 13 of the plan claims that the university looked for more locations and found problems everywhere, chief amongst them the limited amount of green space. Other problems mentioned include "topography limitations, and engineering and design challenges".

This, too, is not really relevant. The University has increased undergraduate enrollment consistently over the past several decades without an equal increase in on-campus beds.

However, investigating the claim that there's no more room for on-campus beds gets to what may be the heart of the problem. When the University says there's no more room for on-campus beds, what they really mean is that there's no more room for single-use dorms.

But mixed-use buildings are not only an important consideration in any dense, urban development, they are also more attractive to students who don't want to live in "just dorms". One student reporter makes the same point.

Neighbors often cite the fact that an architectural firm identified space for 800 additional beds on campusif the University built on every plot of open space there exists on campus. (And built only dorm-style housing that no student would ever opt to live in as an upperclassman.)
How about the following 4 locations:
  1. Athletic Training Facility: This to-be-built structure could quite easily include additional floors of dorm space.
  2. O'Donovan Dining Hall: This 2-story structure is next to the 9-story SW Quad dorms. It's quite common to have dining halls in dorms. Why not add multiple floors of dorm space above the dining hall?
  3. Epicurean Dining Hall: Again, dining halls in dorms are quite common. Why not extend the Darnall dorm out over the front of Epicurean?
  4. End of Library Walk: While this is admittedly green space, it is unused by students given its remote location against the Canal Rd entrance and surrounded by parking and cars. It's really just unnoticed landscaping, not civic space. This was proposed by the University's architect as a potential dorm spot.
When asked about these sites, the VP of Communications says "the proposals you suggest are interesting", but that "it would be inappropriate to comment on whether or not they have merit without the benefit of a full analysis".

She insists that "we've conducted a thorough review of locations for residence halls on campus", but when asked whether these fairly uncreative proposals were considered, she "cannot confirm whether or not these were included in our review or not".

The only conclusion that one can reach is that the Georgetown town-gown dispute is not being caused by an anti-density stance on the part of the residents. It's being caused by an anti-development stance, particularly mixed-use development appropriate to a dense urban context, on the part of the University.

The University's flip-flops on housing

There was a time when the University agreed with this. In the 1990 Campus Plan, the University committed to "adopt as a long term goal of the University, the ability to provide housing for 100 percent of its undergraduate students on campus" and "to create a residential college environment".

The residential college model relies on mixed-use dorms in which residential life is integrated with other aspects of campus life, particularly intellectual life. In-dorm dining halls are where students and adults (faculty, grad students, clergy) living in the dorm together commune over meals.

It was the right vision for Georgetown, not least because it's the model adopted by several universities ranked higher than Georgetown. Harvard, Yale and Princeton are the most well-known universities with residential colleges, and all three house over 90% of undergraduates on campus.

Apparently the plan changed, because the dorms that were finally built in 2003 (the Southwest Quad) are single use dorms that, in the words of the GU student reporter, "no student would ever opt to live in as an upperclassman". It is another student ghetto.

And the beds that they added were outpaced by the increase in enrollment since the previous dormitory construction.

Not only is single use on-campus housing unattractive for upperclassmen, Georgetown's housing is the 2nd most expensive in the country.

The path forward for Georgetown, both to comply with DC law and to better compete with higher ranked universities appears to be the path that GU was on 20 years ago: Offer a residential college environment in mixed-use facilities at a more affordable price.

If you agree, sign a petition opposing the Campus Plan. If you don't agree, sign a petition supporting the Campus Plan.

Either way, come to a special Georgetown ANC meeting this Thursday, January 20th, 6:30 pm at Duke Ellington School for the Arts to hear the different positions and make your voice heard.

Development


Student housing could fix problematic College Park bar scene

College Park officials want to shut down popular student bar The Thirsty Turtle after three people got stabbed there earlier this month. In the long run, College Park could best address its bar problems if it stopped fighting every student housing proposal.


Image from the Thirsty Turtle.

I went to the University of Maryland and lived in College Park for four years, but never set foot in the Thirsty Turtle until a week before my graduation. As I wrote in my then-weekly column for the Diamondback, I was put off by the atmosphere, the music, and the obviously underage crowd.

But I can't blame the Thirsty Turtle's owners for turning a blind eye to underage drinking. After all, they can't stay in business without getting bodies on the dance floor, and the majority of the people living within walking distance of the bar are under 21. Housing in College Park has been increasingly difficult to find as more and more students choose to live close to school, yet the City of College Park continues to fight new proposed student housing developments tooth and nail. In many ways, they're the reason why downtown College Park is so gross.

The University no longer guarantees on-campus housing to upperclassmen, meaning that many have to live off campus. The most logical place for students to look would be in downtown and Old Town College Park, the only neighborhoods within walking distance of school. Rentals make up more than three-fourths of all housing in Old Town, according to University of Maryland Off-Campus Housing Services and research by Rethink College Park. Landlords say that there are far fewer vacancies in Old Town than in "further out" areas.

Girl on Knox Road, 2006
Housing in and around downtown College Park is both limited and of low-quality. Photo by the author.

As a junior, I was lucky enough to find an new, clean apartment on Knox Road, maybe a thousand feet from Thirsty Turtle and the rest of downtown College Park. But many of my friends ended up in one of the few new student apartment complexes in the city, which are able to charge astronomical rents because of limited supply and the notion that all college students need granite countertops and tanning beds. Those who didn't want or couldn't afford to live there landed in single-family homes situated well away from campus, in neighborhoods like North College Park or outside the city, in University Park, Hyattsville or Berwyn Heights.

Of course, many students move to these areas by choice. Student housing in downtown College Park is often run-down and unsafe. Because of their proximity to the bars and fraternities and sororities, many of these houses host loud parties on the weekends. If you're not into that scene, you have to look elsewhere. The student population is not a monolith, but the available housing in downtown or Old Town College Park only attracts certain kinds of students, and the amenities that locate there reflect that.

"We're Burnin' Up!"
College Park's city leaders cater to the whims of permanent residents at the expense of its transient, but larger, student population and their needs.

Rethink College Park has made a strong case for why more student housing is needed in Old Town and how wrong local leaders are in opposing it. For years, the city of College Park has been trying to draw business to downtown with a proposed boutique hotel and a parking garage that usually sits empty.

If we actually want a nice downtown where bars don't have to accept underage patrons and stores don't close after a few months, we need more students living there. Build for everyone, and everyone will come, not just the kids who'll take a rat-trap apartment because it's within stumbling distance of a bar.

Thirsty Turtle's practices may be wrong, but they're as much the result of lax oversight as they are of a college town that insists that students don't have a place there. College Park's leaders should recognize that and find an approach to redevelopment that includes the kids who gave the town its name.

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