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Smaller, shorter, quieter! (American University)

Following the progress of two large development projects—the Department of Homeland Security at St. Elizabeths in Ward 8, and American University’s proposed campus plan in Ward 3—it’s hard not to feel a little cognitive dissonance.

At the first, officials are struggling to figure out how on earth they’re going to make a highly secure federal complex integrate with a community that could really benefit from new residents and daytime foot traffic to local businesses. The problem is, they can’t even tear down an historic wall separating the office buildings from Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, forcing employees to walk a long way if they want to get a bite to eat in the neighborhood.

At the second, neighbors are doing their darndest to keep all evidence of human presence to an absolute minimum. ANC 3D’s 37-page draft report on American University’s proposed campus plan, which uses the word “objectionable” 44 times, includes the following comments:

  • “All student housing must have a minimum 120-foot landscaped buffer—that includes mature trees—with any neighboring residential property.”
  • “Student residences should be built with windows that do not open to limit noise impacts on neighboring residents and 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 should install a fence at the rear of the site to provide an additional buffer with the community—the height and style of which should be determined in consultation with the Westover Place neighbors.”
  • “Student serving retail as part of the East Campus project along Nebraska Avenue is out of character with Nebraska Avenue; adds to an already congested and hazardous corridor. Student-serving retail should be located at the core of the campus convenient for student use and in a way that does not interfere with neighbors’ enjoyment of a primarily low-density residential neighborhood environment.”
  • “Although 4-story dorms may be located on Nebraska Avenue, no building should be built on the East Campus site visible to neighbors’ property that is higher than the town homes at Westover Place.”

And of course, they are completely opposed to AU increasing its enrollment from the current level of 10,298 to 13,600. They’d rather see a hard cap of 10,600 for the next ten years.

This sounds like exactly the type of neighborhood that would be perfect for the 14,000 employees DHS was planning to bring to Ward 8. They can come in from Maryland and Virginia and leave at night, bringing their lunches so they don’t have to muddy the residential character of the neighborhood with shops and cafes. Maybe there would even be better coordination with the other DHS complex across the street—they could build a tunnel under Nebraska Avenue to connect them. By contrast, American University would be perfectly suited to Anacostia and Congress Heights: MLK would fill up with coffeeshops and bars, students would have all the low-cost housing they could ask for, and local residents could benefit from jobs that don’t require a high-level security clearance—not to mention the opportunities of a credible institution of higher learning in their backyard.

Seriously, guys. It’s the best idea ever.