“Development Invades the Preserve of the Wealthy,” declared the Washington Post headline. A new residential project near American University called Westover Place had neighbors up in arms, worried that their peaceful lifestyle would be disrupted by a horde of new residents.
“Here you have these fine established residential neighborhoods, which will be impacted with increased density and traffic and all kinds of things that really could be very damaging,” Polly Shackleton, the D.C. councilmember representing the neighborhood, told the Post.
Illustration by Robert Meganck
Raymond F. E. Pushkar, vice president of the Spring Valley-Wesley Heights Citizens Association, complained that the city was “allowing all sorts of development in established neighborhoods.” Neighbors worried that the new residents would worsen traffic and make it harder for them to find parking spaces.
That was September 1977. Fast forward 37 years, and residents of the area are still making the same complaints. Only this time it’s the people who have moved into once-controversial Westover Place raising a stink.
Their target is AU, specifically the “East Campus” dormitories that the school plans to build on a parking lot near Westover. The battle over the East Campus has been going on ever since the university presented its campus plan in 2011. The residents of Westover Place, a gated community east of AU between Massachusetts and New Mexico avenues NW where townhouses routinely sell for more than $1 million, worry that the proximity of additional students will create noise, worsen traffic and parking congestion, and provide regular visual reminders that they bought homes directly next to a college campus.
The university has taken a number of steps to accommodate neighbors’ demands. As the campus plan approval process kicked off, Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3D requested that “student residences should be built with tinted windows that shield from residents’ views the type of window hangings that are characteristically found in the windows of AU’s student dorms.”
AU didn’t exactly move to block out views of Pink Floyd, Bob Marley, and “My Goodness My Guinness” posters, but did agree to orient the dorms such that no windows will directly face Westover Place.
Neighbors demanded a buffer between their homes and the dorms. The university consented to placing administrative buildings in between, and to creating a 65-foot landscaped space between those buildings and Westover Place, fenced off so students couldn’t congregate there.
With neighbors worried that the East Campus would bring too many students to the area, AU agreed to cut the number of beds there from 770 to 590. To address noise concerns—and for the safety of people passing below—AU decided to use windows that open only four inches.
But some neighbors want the university to go further. In a June missive to the Westover Place email list, a group of residents listed their demands. Four inches were evidently four too many: The windows on the East Campus buildings, they wrote, shouldn’t open at all. A fenced-in buffer wouldn’t suffice either; a stone wall should be erected parallel to the Westover Place homes that border the campus. And the university should place a guard at the entrance to Westover Place to make sure that no AU students or faculty park in Westover.
Read more The Calm Before the Dorm