Georgetown Current

Georgetown’s Campus Plan Approved Quickly

December 7, 2016

By Brady Holt
Current Staff Writer

When universities seek approval for their campus plans — multi-year outlines of their operations and upcoming development projects — it typically takes days for the Zoning Commission to hear and sort through detailed and conflicting testimony.

But in Thursday’s hearing on Georgetown University’s plans, the only threat to expeditious approval was the number of participants who wanted to thank each other. “We don’t want our ‘Kumbaya’ hearing to go to another night,” commission chair Anthony Hood warned toward the end of the nearly four-hour hearing.

Even that concern was for naught in the unusually amicable proceeding, as zoning commissioners that night unanimously approved Georgetown’s 2017-2036 campus plan. No advisory neighborhood commission, community group or even individual resident spoke in opposition to the plan.

Parties credited the Georgetown Community Partnership — a forum in which residents, university officials and students identified their common goals and reached compromises on conflicting ones. The result was a campus plan that all parties had agreed upon even before it was submitted — a far cry from the rancorous battles that typically plague such zoning cases, including some past Georgetown campus plans.

University officials were in the midst of such a fight back in 2012 but then they backed off and instead formed the community partnership, which developed a short-term compromise. Its success was the foundation for the 20-year plan that the Zoning Commission approved last week.

“It has become a genuine robust partnership where people think about what everyone needs, not just their own perspective,” testified Ron Lewis, chair of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E (Georgetown, Burleith).

Zoning commissioners praised the progress.    

“I remember vividly what it was like at that first presentation and what the feeling in the room was,” commissioner Peter May said at Thursday’s hearing. “There was so much tension at that moment, and everyone was so ready to strike. To get to this point here and to have everybody at the table is just such a remarkable change.”

The campus plan was first released in June and then modified leading up to the zoning hearing. Key provisions include:
■ the maintenance of existing enrollment caps of 14,106 total students, including 6,675 undergraduates; over the 20-year period, graduate student enrollment could increase by 2,000 from today.
■ up to 1.3 million square feet in approved development, including a large addition to MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, an expansion of the Lauinger Library and the redevelopment of deteriorating Yates Field House. Officials said, however, that besides those top priorities, many other possible projects would proceed only if the university raises enough money for them. And some sites for additional student housing would only be developed if other options, preferred by the university, haven’t been achieved by 2030.
■ a requirement that undergraduate students live on campus for at least three of their four years at Georgetown, including both their freshman and sophomore years. The university must maintain its capacity to house 95 percent of its undergraduates on campus, and must renovate some of its existing housing to make it more appealing to students.
■ development of a “student life corridor,” where renovated buildings would flank a pedestrian-friendly connection through the heart of campus, roughly following the existing Tondorf Road.
■ a requirement to continue working through any issue — from the details of new development projects to complaints about student behavior — through the Georgetown Community Partnership.

The campus plan lays out the outlines of future development projects, but many will need “further processing” approval for which architects will present specific designs. Commissioners said that when those projects meet zoning requirements, they will quickly approve them without a hearing unless someone files an objection. The first further processing case, which will require a hearing, is the hospital addition. Little debate is expected, though, as the parties worked through the details while developing the full campus plan.

A couple of small areas of contention did appear at the hearing. The D.C. Department of Transportation wanted to ensure that approved transportation improvements are actually completed within 20 years, and asked the university to build a connection to a Glover Archbold Park bicycle trail if one is constructed.

David Avitabile, attorney for Georgetown, said the university hopes to carry out the transportation improvements — notably, making Healy Circle more pedestrian-friendly — but doesn’t want to commit now because funding isn’t yet available. With the trail, he expressed concern about encouraging cyclists to commute through the campus. Separately, Foxhall Village resident John Bray raised concerns about the impact of increased hospital traffic on Glover Archbold Park.

Zoning commissioners said they were comfortable with the parties’ carefully developed compromise, and trusted that the community partnership could resolve any outstanding issues.

This article appears in the Dec. 7 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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Mayor Reverses Fillmore Closure Plan

December 1, 2016

By Mark Lieberman
Current Staff Writer

Reversing an earlier decision, the mayor and D.C. Public Schools have opted to continue the Fillmore Arts Center program through the 2017-18 school year — but only three of the five participating schools will receive arts instruction there, officials told parents in a letter Tuesday.

Two months ago, the school system’s interim chancellor announced that the Fillmore program, which provides centralized arts and music instruction at Hardy Middle School in upper Georgetown to students from five Northwest elementary schools, would be shuttered at the end of the current school year. Community advocates at several schools protested the decision.

Now Mayor Muriel Bowser and the school system have kicked in funding for another year of Fillmore for three of the participating schools: Key, Ross and Stoddert elementaries. Meanwhile, students from Hyde-Addison and Marie Reed Elementary will “transition to on-site arts instruction,” according to the letter from Brian Pick of D.C. Public Schools.

Hyde-Addison in Georgetown and Marie Reed in Adams Morgan are both currently undergoing renovations that will add more space for arts programming. Hyde students in particular would have a hard time getting to Fillmore next year, as students are slated to relocate into swing space at the Meyer Elementary campus near Howard University during the two-year construction project.

Pick’s letter to parents also announced that all of the District’s elementary schools will have access to Fillmore through workshops and other periodic events. Education officials did not respond to requests for further comment on the decisions by The Current’s deadline Tuesday night.

In an interview, Bowser said she decided to continue the program because of the several schools that “did not have an option, space-wise or programming-wise.” However, Hyde and Marie Reed will be able to accommodate arts instruction at their temporary swing space and permanent locations, she said.

In a separate statement, the mayor cited strong community feedback about Fillmore and praised D.C. Council members from wards 2 and 3 for their advocacy on behalf of the program’s proponents. Ward 3 member Mary Cheh, in a statement of her own, said she’s “delighted” that Fillmore will continue, and not perturbed that two of the five participants will no longer have regular instruction there.

“Continuing Fillmore for a select number of schools is not unfair to other schools in the sense that the schools who benefit are overcrowded and don’t have the capacity to have regular art classes,” Cheh said. “It has been, as many parents have said, ‘art on a cart’ — which is not satisfactory.”

John Claud, a Stoddert parent and president of the Friends for Fillmore Arts group, said he thinks the news could portend a longer stay for the Fillmore program, given that Key, Ross and Stoddert don’t have any arts space of their own in the works for the near future.

“I’m sad that the kids at Marie Reed and Hyde-Addison are losing out on such a good program,” Claud said. “I’m sorry that DCPS doesn’t share all of my enthusiasm for it, but I’m glad to see there’s some continuation anyway.”

For some, though, Fillmore represents a stopgap solution in a longer journey toward in-house arts education for all. John Lever, a Hyde-Addison parent and Citizens Association of Georgetown member, told The Current he likes the program but thinks all elementary students should experience the arts in their own schools, without having to take two bus rides.

“Fillmore is the best Band-Aid money can buy,” Lever said. “The Fillmore Arts Center is a great short-term to mid-term solution, but it’s not the right long-term solution for any school.”

Meanwhile, Stoddert parent and Glover Park advisory neighborhood commissioner Brian Turmail said he’s encouraged by the Fillmore news and pleased that a rumored trailer in the Hardy parking lot to replace the existing Fillmore space did not come to fruition. But he remains concerned that Fillmore faculty members will have doubts about working somewhere that’s so often threatened for closure.

Under the current arrangement, Fillmore gets a flat $600,000, plus the arts instruction budget of each of the five schools it serves, for a total of roughly $1.6 million. Last spring, D.C. Public Schools wrote to the community that the city spends $1,149 per student to operate Fillmore, in comparison to spending $458 per student across all other elementary schools for art and music instruction.

Bowser said Fillmore might not be a permanent solution, but space concerns make Fillmore suitable for the short term. “We want to be able to address the arts education needs of all of our students … and Fillmore is working for them,” she said.

Current correspondent Cuneyt Dil contributed to this report.

This article appears in the Nov. 30 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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Streetcar Plans Taking Shape Along K Street

November 24, 2016

By Mark Lieberman
Current Staff Writer

City officials are continuing to refine plans for a DC Streetcar extension from Union Station to Georgetown, though Ward 2’s D.C. Council member has doubts about the project’s viability.

The D.C. Department of Transportation has also identified two storage sites for streetcar vehicles, both in Georgetown: one near Washington Harbour at 3050 K St. NW, and the other near the north side of the West Heating Plant at 29th and K streets NW. Two other discussed sites — the far west end of Water Street NW, and the intersection of New Hampshire Avenue and H Street NW — have been removed from consideration.

As proposed, the 3.5-mile streetcar line would continue at Union Station from the H Street NE route that began operating in February. The new line would follow along H Street before turning onto New Jersey Avenue NW and then K Street, past Mount Vernon Square and under the Whitehurst Freeway into Georgetown as far as Wisconsin Avenue.

There are two options for how much of the new route would follow dedicated lanes not open to other traffic: one with 28 to 51 percent dedicated lanes, the other with 73 to 90 percent.

The latest updates came last Thursday at the project’s fourth public meeting, which focused on the potential streetcar’s impacts on Georgetown, Foggy Bottom and the West End.

Details were in short supply at the meeting, according to several attendees, and transportation officials reminded residents that several key studies have yet to be conducted, including those looking at impacts on traffic and historic preservation.

In an interview, Ward 2 Council member Jack Evans said that he likes the concept of the streetcar but that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, whose board he chairs as one of D.C.’s two voting representatives, also has major needs.

“I don’t know where you would get the funds to pay for it,” he said. “If it’s a choice between Metro and the streetcar, I think everybody would pick Metro.”

Evans added that if Congress repeals Obamacare, the city will spend millions funding health care initiatives, further tightening the local budget.

The council member is also hesitant about a streetcar extension given the operational headaches that came during and after construction of the current streetcar line in Northeast, from Benning Road to Union Station.

“If you’re going to run a streetcar down K Street, you have to figure out how it’s all going to work,” Evans said.

Despite an ambiguous path to funding, planning continues. In Foggy Bottom, the plans currently show a ramp connecting pedestrians from the 25th Street NW streetcar stop onto the 24th Street bridge over K Street. The streetcar would travel under Washington Circle to avoid the traffic within it.

Patrick Kennedy, chair of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2A (Foggy Bottom, West End), told The Current he thinks that ramp would be useful for connecting streetcar passengers to George Washington University and surrounding areas.

The stretch of roadway between 25th and 26th streets would be modified to expand the side median to make pedestrian access easier along K Street. That move would require either maximizing sidewalk trees at the expense of on-street parking, or vice versa.  Kennedy said he’s open to those options.

The biggest change for that neighborhood, already announced in previous plans, would add a right-turn loop ramp for drivers who wish to turn left onto 27th Street from westbound K Street at the Whitehurst Freeway, to prevent cars from intersecting the dedicated streetcar lane. Kennedy said he thinks the ramp is a good idea that would be worth pursuing even without the streetcar.

In Georgetown, the streetcar’s westernmost stop would be located at Wisconsin Avenue and K Street NW. The stretch of K just west of Wisconsin would be used as a turnaround area.

One option with shared lanes would preserve parking on both sides of K Street in Georgetown, while another option with dedicated streetcar lanes would force vehicle lanes to the edges of each street with the streetcar in the middle, removing parking spots along the busy thoroughfare.

Longtime Georgetown resident Joe Gibbons, a member-elect of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E who attended the streetcar meeting as a private citizen, said it’s still too early to support one option over another. He wants to see more extensive research conducted near the end of K Street, given that several other projects are in the works there, including possible boathouse additions and bike path refinements.

For the streetcar storage area, the choice between the two sites will come down to the amount of space needed, historic preservation and traffic concerns, and community input, Transportation Department spokesperson Terry Owens told The Current.

The project timeline has been extended since the last public meeting. The Transportation Department’s federally mandated evaluation process is now scheduled to wrap up after one more public meeting in winter or spring 2017. A completed assessment will be published and available for public comment next fall.

A final decision is scheduled for early 2018, half a year later than previously announced. Analysis is “taking longer than expected,” Owens wrote.

This article appears in the Nov. 23 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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