Mounting community opposition to the 2010 Campus Plan gained a new ally on March 17, when D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) declared her intention to testify against the proposal.
Cheh made the announcement at a Foxhall Community Citizens Association meeting, after the FCCA unanimously voted against the plan. The D.C. Zoning Commission will hold hearings on the campus plan April 14.
Councilmember Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) has also openly voiced opposition to the plan, but has said that he will not testify it in front of the commission. Evans’ Director of Communications Andrew Huff declined to elaborate on the reasoning behind this decision.
“Nothing else to add — the councilmember simply believes it is inappropriate,” Huff said.
Scott Stirrett (SFS ’13), president of DC Students Speak, said his group does not support Cheh’s decision to testify.
“Commission hearings are not something where [the] council should have political influence,” Stirrett said. “Cheh’s decision to testify creates an undue political distraction.”
Cheh’s Chief of Staff David Zvenyach said that the zoning commission is nonpartisan, but added that the councilmember’s decision to support the FCCA and other area residents against the campus plan is not unprecedented.
“Cheh has testified before the commission and before other bodies before on behalf of the community,” Zvenyach wrote in an email.
In a Feb. 10 letter to the University Vice President of Facilities and Student Housing Karen Frank, Cheh outlined her concerns over the plan, including the construction of a circular road to facilitate shuttle bus turnaround as well as the proposed increase in graduate student enrollment.
In the letter, Cheh requested demographic data for graduate students currently living near campus.
“Such additional details may help ease concerns of Foxhall residents who fear that the growth in graduate student enrollment will cause an influx of likely transient students into their neighborhood,” Cheh wrote.
Bob Avery, president of the FCCA, said he and Cheh had recently been given a tour of the campus by Georgetown officials.
“I think that was a significant turning point for Mary Cheh,” Avery said. “She looked at those roads and said ‘[the loop road] doesn’t make sense.'”
Vice President of Student Affairs Todd Olson appeared on a local WAMU radio show Monday and answered a call-in question about how the campus plan dealt with transportation.
“We have a shuttle bus system, our Georgetown University Transportation Shuttle bus system, that now carries over 2 million riders a year,” Olson said on the show. “We’re looking to build a loop road on our campus that would more effectively serve our needs and allow us to keep buses off of neighborhood streets. … We believe it not only makes sense for traffic movement, but also for sustainability.”
Avery, however, questioned the validity of this explanation.
“We don’t understand why Georgetown wants to raise all of these environmental issues,” Avery said. “You start thinking about hidden agendas and all those other things.”
Avery said he believes Burleith faces greater problems than Foxhall in terms of student resident behavior, but added that the FCCA is concerned that such issues could spill over into their own neighborhood.
“We are fearful of Foxhall becoming more like Burleith,” Avery said. “There is a tipping point when graduate students become the dominant culture, and that becomes a problem. It is important to emphasize that this is not anti-student,” Avery said.
Avery speculated that the FCCA influenced Cheh’s concept of how the Foxhall community is being affected.
“What Cheh feels now that she didn’t feel before is that Georgetown now is simply too big,” he said.
The Advisory Neighborhood Commission-2E passed a resolution Feb. 28 opposing the campus plan. ANC-3D, which includes Foxhall, approved a similar resolution March 2. Such resolutions are given “great weight” by the zoning commission, according to ANC 2E Chair Ron Lewis.