OFF CAMPUS LIFE Cloisters Proposal Raises Questions By Amanda cGrath Hoya Staff Writer

The Cloisters may be in jeopardy due to a proposal by the townhouse community’s homeowner’s association.

The proposed bylaw amendment would prohibit more than three unrelated individuals from living in one of the residences that make up West Cloisters, a high-priced townhouse development off of Reservoir Street near the north end of the university’s campus. According to Jim Kinsella, president of the West Cloisters’ Homeowner’s Association and a four-year resident, the bylaws of East Cloisters has contained a similar clause for nearly 10 years.

“People in the Cloisters have generally been big supporters of students in the past, which makes this move somewhat puzzling,” ANC 2E Commissioner Justin Wagner (COL ’03) said. “I don’t think it’s intended against students, but unfortunately they’re changing the lease for the interest of the Cloisters with unintended consequences of hurting students.”

Kinsella said the move was not directed at students specifically. “Students I’ve known while living here have been, quite frankly, very good neighbors to have. Our actions are more pointed at real estate speculation, not necessarily at students. Obviously as a homeowner’s association, when you end up including a number of properties held for investment purposes, you end up with people not anchored to the community,” Kinsella said.

Kinsella attributed the proposal to recent concerns that increased real estate speculation in the Georgetown area may hurt the Cloisters’ ability to remain a community of permanent resident homeowners, rather than short-term leasers.

“The problem we are running into is the number of people buying real estate for speculative reasons and later renting it out again. They’re hoping to take a stake out in Georgetown property and hoping it will go up in price. This flies in the face of the very reasons our present homeowners live here,” Kinsella said. He said that because of dramatic rises in real estate value in the Georgetown area and the limited spaces, speculation in the area, including the Cloisters development, has grown considerably. Residents of the Cloisters, according to Kinsella, were concerned mostly with maintaining the nature of the Cloisters as a community of homeowner residents.

Georgetown students have regularly been among the residents of the Cloisters. “There are students that live there,” Wagner said. “They want to live there in the future and should be able to.” Kinsella said the proposal would not impact current student residents. “For students present here already, this will pose no effect, we will grandfather it in,” Kinsella said. “It may obviously have a small effect relative to students as we go down the road.”

One student Cloisters resident and homeowner, who wished to remain anonymous, said she believed that the move was specifically aimed at students, and that she believed the amendment would pass. “I think it will happen. There is a minority of people here that strongly feels students don’t belong in the community,” she said. “People who run the homeowners association are very anti-student.” The student said she has been “harassed” at her door by some members of the homeowners association and that on several occasions she has been “brought to tears,” by the issue. She said she and her roommates had hired a lawyer to investigate the legality of the proposal.

She said she and her roommates are respectful of the Cloisters’ bylaws and no more disruptive than other residents. “We cause no more of a problem than anyone else, but we’re being targeted by virtue of being students,” she said. “We are students – we spend most of our time studying. We don’t throw parties. There are quiet hours after 10 p.m. that we respect as everyone else does,” she said.

While complaints against students living off campus have historically been a cause of conflict between the university and neighborhood residents, Wagner said there have been minimal complaints against students in the Cloisters. “There have never been any complaints to [the Metropolitan police Department] from the Cloisters concerning students,” Wagner said. “It’s not really a trouble spot.” Kinsella also acknowledged that student residents have not been a significant cause of complaint for other Cloisters residents.

The student resident, who owns her property, said she does not plan to leave if the amendment is passed. “I’m not going to fold in and cash out. It wasn’t a small decision to buy this property,” she said, noting that the townhouse’s value is over $1 million. “These are four or five bedroom houses, they’re not meant for two or three people.”

Kinsella said the move was not unprecedented. “Essentially what we’re trying to do is bring our [bylaws] in line with the East’s, which already has this clause,” Kinsella said. He said there has not been extensive discussion of the matter among residents of the Cloisters.

“Just because someone does something first, it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea or it’s okay,” Wagner said. “I don’t buy that reasoning too much. My big concern is the motivation: why does the association feel the need to make this move, and why now?”

Wagner said he hopes this does not set a precedent for attitudes toward student residents in the area in the future. “The fact is the situation between student and residents has been improving,” he said. “Unfortunately, we still have the occasional move of this kind.”

According to Wagner, questions have also been raised about the ability of non-traditional families to live in the development under the restrictions of the bylaw amendment. Kinsella said this would not be a problem. “We have several non-traditional families here,” he said. “There will be board flexibility. We have a fairly diverse group of people in the Cloisters as it stands, so this is not a concern.”

Kinsella said that under the proposed change, the goal would be to keep the number of lease properties in the Cloisters under 25 percent. He said that as of now, the number of properties not occupied by the homeowner is around 20 percent. “The flexibility of the board will be in regard to maintaining the limit of 25 percent,” Kinsella said

He said that since many professional residents are present or away for extended periods of time as their businesses demand, the change would not prevent them from leasing out their properties while they are away. “We want to maintain flexibility, but a large number of lease properties detract from the property value,” he said.

According to Kinsella, a high percentage of townhouses owned by non-residents could affect the ability of current and future residents to obtain mortgages, since approval for mortgages is often contingent on a certain percentage of the community’s residences being homeowner-occupied.

The proposed bylaw change will be put to a vote at the April 10 meeting of the homeowner’s association. According to Kinsella, the proposal needs a 50 percent vote from the quorum in order for the change to be enacted.

“I don’t think it’s necessary and I don’t really agree with it,” Wagner said.

Though Wagner expressed concern about the legality of the proposal and its effect on future residents, he said he did not believe the ANC would take any action on the issue. “It’s an internal decision for people in the Cloisters, as long as it is congruent with the law,” Wagner said. He did say that it was an issue that should be watched, and even if no direct action is taken on the part of the ANC, they may, “propose changes.”

In 1997, local zoning authorities attempted to enact similar rules for all housing in the Georgetown area, a move that was met with significant student opposition. In reaction, Campaign Georgetown was founded and the first Georgetown students were elected to the ANC. The plan was ultimately dropped following concerns that it was discriminatory against students and in violation of the D.C. Human Rights Act.

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