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GU Campus Plan Tweaks Win Praise in Community

By Mark LiebermanCurrent Staff Writer

Georgetown University released an updated version of its 2017 campus plan draft last week, retaining the essential features of the previous version and incorporating revisions suggested by neighborhood leaders and residents.

Major changes to the plan include addressing potential future expansion options for the Henle Village and Village A apartment complexes, as well as removing the previously proposed demolition and reconstruction of St. Mary’s Hall, home of the nursing school and located just west of Georgetown MedStar University Hospital. Other tweaks are mostly administrative in nature.

The draft campus plan was released to the public in early June, with the university hosting public briefings and accepting comments through July 15. Neighborhood leaders and residents responded favorably to the draft plan at the time, and the largely favorable opinions extend to last week’s update.

Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E chair Ron Lewis told The Current yesterday that he was happy with the June plan and remains satisfied with the latest iteration. Stakeholders agreed that the university’s St. Mary’s Hall doesn’t need to be reconstructed and that a demolition process there would be disruptive, Lewis said.

“I don’t have anything more,” Lewis said. “I think the plan they unveiled in June was a very sound plan and the result of a lot of collegial work with the community, the students and all the stakeholders.”

Several neighborhood leaders in the Palisades, just west of the campus, raised minor concerns about some wording in the June plan that would have permitted the university to develop housing for graduate students along MacArthur Boulevard NW. Under the earlier plan, such a project could have proceeded without consulting with neighbors ahead of time, provided that the consultation process would prove detrimental to the cost of the endeavor.

Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3D, which includes the affected stretch of MacArthur in the Palisades, raised objections to that provision at its July meeting. Since then, ANC 3D representatives met with the university and negotiated an agreement, according to chair Tom Smith. The resulting language in the new plan prevents the university from taking action on MacArthur between Foxhall and Reservoir roads NW without consulting with neighborhood groups. The new plan also makes specific reference to the Palisades Citizens Association as a stakeholder worthy of consultation.

Smith told The Current that he and his colleagues had hoped for even stronger protections for the neighborhood but that they’re satisfied with their discussions with Georgetown.

“I think what we achieved was reasonable. It provided for a good outcome for all of the residents of the Palisades,” Smith said. “It’s a much improved product as a result.”

Meanwhile, Bob vom Eigen of the Citizens Association of Georgetown said he had also been concerned about the possibility of graduate student housing beyond the campus, but for a different reason: He’s wary of the university encroaching on the immediately surrounding neighborhood. But the updated plan convinced him that the university will focus its energies in areas that don’t affect the residents of Georgetown in negative ways.

ANC 3D voted unanimously in support of the draft plan at its August meeting Monday night — “pretty remarkable, especially given that it’s in draft form,” Smith said. ANC 2E will consider the draft plan at a meeting Aug. 29.

The document maintains the university’s trajectory toward housing as many students as possible on campus, with plans for additional residences closer to campus, as well as renovations to existing buildings. It also includes the expansion of the hospital — a welcome inclusion for vom Eigen, who thinks the current facilities could use a major upgrade.

So far, the campus plan process has not sparked much heated debate in the neighborhood; rather, community working groups have been involved with its development from the beginning. Lewis said the lack of contentious back-and-forth in this campus plan process is a result of the work done after the protracted battle that dogged each iteration of the last campus plan a few years ago.

“The way everyone has approached the new campus plan is a world of difference from the beginnings of the predecessor plan,” Lewis said. “It’s all based on successful agreements we ultimately reached with the earlier plan.”

Georgetown University plans to send the updated draft to the Zoning Commission in September for consideration, with a hearing expected in late 2016 or early 2017.

This article appears in the Aug. 17 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.