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For months now, Georgetowners and Burleithians have been mustering against their local university’s 10-year-plan, which involves expanding the graduate student body without adding more while adding little on-campus housing*. It’s an existential struggle: Residents of these leafy, genteel neighborhoods fear the conversion of single family homes into rowdy rentals, because God knows what comes after that.
Last night, the Burleith Citizens Association gathered at Duke Ellington School of the Arts for an update. BCA president Lenore Rubino, a real estate agent, said that she and the Citizens Association of Georgetown had been meeting with University leadership in hopes of hammering out a compromise, but that talks had broken down.
“We know that Georgetown not only has the space to build dorms, it has the means to build dorms, if it so chooses,” she said. “We don’t want to hear why Georgetown can’t. We want to hear that they can.”
Another person not telling Burleithians what they want to hear: Councilmember Jack Evans. While voicing support for the residents’ concerns—even saying that he opposes Georgetown’s plans to add more students without more on-campus housing—he says he has no influence over how the Zoning Commission ultimately rules on the campus plan.
“The city council doesn’t have a role in this,” he said. “My support is there, but it’s not something I can make happen for you, or make happen for anybody…I wish I could solve your problem with a magic wand, but I can’t.”
Could he help change the composition of the Zoning Commission, which now has two developers on it? someone wanted to know. The Council already has, Evans answered—they tabled one nominee who would have made it three developers.
Could he hold Council hearings on the campus plan? “That’s never been done before,” Evans mused.
How about testifying before the Zoning Commission in their support? another asked. No can do, Evans answered—if he did that, he’d have to testify for everyone who had an issue at the Board of Zoning Adjustment or ABRA as well.
Then there’s the question of the $90 million in tax-exempt bonds, most of which Georgetown wants for a new science center. Evans passed them out of the Committee on Finance and Revenue, and the Council is expected to give final approval at its next legislative session. Couldn’t he extract concessions from the university in exchange for approving them?
Evans answered that it just wasn’t something he was willing to do. If the Council started rejecting qualified revenue bond applications, he said, the federal government might just take over the program, and he’d rather be the one with even nominal control. “We have no ability to say, they don’t qualify. Our real role is to pass it,” Evans said. “If we didn’t, Congress would pass it anyway.”
Ultimately, a weary Evans expressed regret over all the sound and fury that might be better directed elsewhere. “A lot of time, energy, and money gets spent and not a whole lot moves,” he said.
So there you have it, Burleith: Your councilmember can’t do much for you. Oh, except for one thing: The smokestack that the university says won’t increase emissions. Somehow, he has influence over that part.
“I will never allow them to build an 85-foot smokestack,” Evans said. “I will lay in front of the trucks, I will do whatever it takes to stop that.”
* CORRECTION, November 7: Georgetown does plan to add 120 beds for graduate students and/or faculty in the 1789 block, which is outside the university gates, but closeby. The proposed increase in graduate and professional student enrollment is 3,188 over ten years.