City Desk

Town vs. Gown, No More?

After two years of acrimonious discussions between Georgetown University and its neighbors, the school—with the help of Mayor Vince Gray—announced yesterday that it’s reached a deal for the 2010 Campus Plan. Details could become available as early as today.

The plan will create a framework for a Georgetown community partnership that will fix the area’s short- and long-term issues, Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E Commissioner Ron Lewis said. One of the biggest complaints has been over off-campus housing for students: The thin walls between the Burleith and West Georgetown row houses don’t do much to shield retirees from the rooms packed with 20-year-olds full of joie de vivre.

Up to this point, neighbors had demanded 100 percent of students be housed on campus, while Georgetown has flatly refused.

That may change with the new deal. As Lewis put it, they’ve “found a way for a new cooperative spirit.”

“Georgetown is a neighborhood; Georgetown is a university,” Georgetown University President John DeGioia said. “This gave us an opportunity to realign our relationship with our neighbors.”

“Everyone wanted what was best for the community, but not everyone agreed on what was best for the community or the university,” Gray said. Both sides had to work through differences of opinions, he said.

The announcement was long on warm fuzzies and short on details, though ANC 2E is expected to post details of the plan so that community members can review and vote on them in advance of a June 18 filing to the Zoning Commission.

“This agreement was a better ending than we thought there would be to the totally different opinions about what could and should be done,” West Georgetown resident Betsy Cooley says. “It looks very promising, but [Georgetown University] really will need to come in with real actions and real activities.”

Even though neighbor Hazel Denton says she understand students’ desire to live in area housing, she wants them to remember the reality of living in a community with people who operate on different schedules.

“We want students who live off campus to not treat this as a right, but an earned privilege,” Denton says.

While it remains unclear where the university would provide students with additional on-campus housing, the Thomas & Dorothy Leavy Hotel and Conference Center is a possible option, says Stacy Kerr, a Georgetown spokeswoman. The school had previously agreed to put additional beds in the Leavy Center.

Kerr emphasized the importance of providing students with an attractive place to socialize, in addition offering to basic amenities. There will be a community meeting tonight to discuss more details about the plan.

“We seem to have a win-win situation,” says Denton, a West Georgetown resident and professor at Georgetown. “It’s thrilling to see that we’ve been able to reach a mediated settlement that both parties feel gives them what they need.”

Additional reporting by Shani Hilton

Photo by Stephanie Haven

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  • dcjaitch

    Love that Denton thinks people should treat the ability to choose where to live as an earned privilege. Glad we can lump her together with the likes of John J. Buckley and Louis Kraemer.

  • RT

    I agree. You've gotta love the endorsed notion of agism that is explicit in these town vs. gown debates. The old fogies, who chose to live near these colleges that have been around for 1-3 centuries, are offended at the notion of students living in their posh midst. These people should be ashamed of themselves, not gloating. The city should call them on their antics rather than playing into their elitism.

  • DR

    Hazel Denton's segregationist attitude is frightening. She thinks that she should decide who has the "privilege" of living in her neighborhood. It's the exact same attitude used to keep so-called "undesirables" out of white neighborhoods. Ms. Denton, the best thing you can do the improve the neighborhood is to leave.

  • sb

    “We want students who live off campus to not treat this as a right, but an earned privilege,”

    But it is a right. It's a privilege to attend the University. It's a right to be able to live in the neighborhood (if you pay the rent and follow the law). In fact, it's in the DC Human *Rights* Act that housing providers can't discriminate on the grounds of matriculation status.

    So Hazel Denton can keep on wanting that, but it ain't gonna happen.

  • dcjaitch

    Exactly right DR...John Buckley, Louis Kraemer, and Jim Crow.

  • Dizzy

    @sb - it already did happen. It's illegal for the city or landlords to discriminate on the basis of matriculation status. It's not illegal for a university to place housing restrictions on its students; GU already does so by requiring first- and second-years to live on-campus.

    The residents know that they can't enforce these things themselves or through the city, but they can browbeat the University into doing it for them as provisions of student regulations.