Mayor Gray Slams Campus Plan
Published: Monday, October 3, 2011
Updated: Thursday, November 10, 2011 01:11
D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray spoke out against Georgetown's 2010 Campus Plan at the Advisory Neighborhood Commission District 2E's monthly meeting Monday night.
"I've met with all parties involved, and I support the community," he said. "In this instance, I'm in one place and the university is in another."
Though he commended the university for taking on new initiatives to smooth relations with surrounding neighborhoods — namely daily trash pick-up, shuttle buses to M Street and the increased presence of Metropolitan Police Department details near campus — Gray stressed that his sympathies lie with neighborhood opponents to the Campus Plan.
The mayor told the audience of about 100 ANC 2E residents that he would not support lifting enrollment caps on District universities as he had suggested at a job creation summit in January. According to Gray, his change in opinion is due in part to the outpouring of neighborhood concerns stemming from the effects of off-campus student residences on the surrounding community.
"I want to work with universities in a number of ways, but now I'm not looking at [lifting enrollment caps] after seeing the concerns."
Scott Stirrett (SFS '13), chair of student advocacy group DC Students Speak, said that Gray's refusal to support the elimination of enrollment caps failed to take into account the economic gains that come with growing universities, citing Georgetown's status as the District's number-one employer besides the federal government.
"Lifting enrollment caps is something that definitely makes sense," Stirrett said. "D.C. officials need to take note of the economic benefits caused by universities in D.C."
Concerned by what he termed the "creeping presence" of universities into surrounding neighborhoods, Gray also said that he is not opposed to implementing the PILOT program, a payment in lieu of taxes program with a setup similar to the voluntary payments Harvard University pays to the city of Boston in lieu of real estate taxes. He said that District universities' resources could help municipal services run by the D.C. government.
"What we're looking at is, are there any city services ... that the universities can step up with the vast capacities that these universities collectively have ... to do that?" he said.
Gray's remarks in favor of neighborhood interests were met with vocal support from the audience.
Burleith Citizens Association President Lenore Rubino said she is grateful for Gray's backing of neighborhood interests in the Campus Plan.
"We've witnessed the devastating loss of single-family homes being turned into student housing," she said.
Eitan Paul (SFS '12) raised concerns to the mayor about the recent developments in the redistricting debate, which would see Georgetown students grouped into one disproportionately populous single-member district.
Councilmember Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) replied that he has sought to incorporate all interested parties in the redistricting process, adding that concerned individuals could testify at a final hearing at the end of the year.
"The issue that makes people the maddest is redistricting. There's still an opportunity to be involved, but not everyone goes home happy," Evans said.
Gray expressed his support for the redistricting process; however, he stressed that it is beyond the purview of his executive responsibilities to become involved.
"That's the democratic process at work," he said.
But in Paul's opinion, an organization with significant power like the mayor's office needs to step in to move the redistricting process forward.
"It's difficult for a group that is already underrepresented to democratically represent itself in a proportionate way," he said.
Gray expressed his support for instituting a town hall for college and university students, as proposed by Jake Sticka (COL '13), the student commissioner on ANC 2E.
"I try to be extremely inclusive, and I would be amenable to that," Gray said, adding that he hopes the outcomes of the Campus Plan and redistricting processes will satisfy all stakeholders.
"There's been positive movement [in the neighborhood], and hopefully things will continue in that direction," he said.
In the public works portion of the meeting, Sticka fielded a motion against changes to Metrobus lines D2 and G2 schedules, which would have cut evening services. The motion passed unanimously, and the proposal will be brought to the District Department of Transportation tomorrow.