CHARLIE LOWE/THE HOYA Faculty members residing in the areas surrounding the neighborhood must balance delicate town-gown relations.
                     CHARLIE LOWE/THE HOYA
Faculty members residing in the areas surrounding the neighborhood must balance delicate town-gown relations.

Georgetown professors who live near campus in West Georgetown and Burleith seem to be caught between two opposing worlds.

What Mayor Vincent Gray at an Oct. 3, 2011, Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E public meeting dubbed Georgetown’s “creeping presence” into the surrounding area has drawn scores of complaints from aggrieved neighbors.

According to Anna von der Goltz, a history professor who lives in university-owned housing close to campus, faculty members who have feet in both the school and the surrounding community can feel conflicted.

“They do see themselves as caught in the middle,” von der Goltz said.

“I talk with and hear from my neighbors very frequently, and their observations on this subject are the same as mine,” ANC 2E Chair Ron Lewis wrote in a Nov. 8, 2011, supplemental report to the D.C. Zoning Commission. “The loud and disruptive late-night student behavior has continued this fall at the same objectionable levels as in the past.”

The university’s compromise agreement with neighborhood groups on its 2010 Campus Plan last summer, including the landmark formation of the Georgetown Community Partnership, has ushered in a new phase of cooperation and detente. But tensions nonetheless remain, as confirmed by the university’s March announcement that it would redouble its efforts to enforce off-campus noise policies while launching a new shuttle service to Dupont Circle and Adams Morgan on weekend evenings.

As residents themselves, some professors characterized the disturbances from student parties as less severe and less widespread than neighbors typically make them out to be.

“There have been problems with student noise, but it’s not constant throughout Burleith,” said Eric Langenbacher, a professor in the government department who has been a member of the Burleith Citizens Association for nearly 15 years. “I live near 35th and T, and we haven’t had problems with student noise — party noise — for years.”

Matthew Kroenig, a professor in the government department who lives a few blocks from campus in West Georgetown, agreed with Langenbacher.

“The students don’t bother me at all,” Kroenig said. “I know some neighbors complain about noise. I think if you’re outside Rhino late at night on a weekend, then it can be a problem. But if you go a couple blocks up the hill, it’s an incredibly tranquil neighborhood.”

Even when neighbors do find a party to complain about, Langenbacher said that they should not automatically blame Georgetown students.

“If I can think back to some of the more problematic houses over the years, they aren’t usually students,” Langenbacher said. “They’re usually young professionals and whatnot.”

In addition, Kroenig pointed out that noise from parties is to be expected for those who live near  college campuses.

“The university has been there since 1789, so I’m pretty sure it was here before any of the residents bought their houses,” Kroenig said. “They kind of knew what they were getting themselves into … buying a place a block from the university. If you live a few blocks from a college campus, there are going to be college students.”

Von der Goltz added that new measures such as shuttle services will have minimal impact on reducing noise.

“I think students will also have house parties if they live in the neighborhood,” she said. “It’s not going to solve the whole problem.”

Although the university seeks to move more of the student population back on campus, Langenbacher believes that living off-campus is a valuable component of student life.

“I think that it is important for young people to learn how to live in various kinds of neighborhood,” he said. “There is a lot of value added from living off-campus.”

But sometimes creating reasonable policy to accommodate both student needs and neighbor desires is complicated by the residents themselves.

“There has been a group of neighbors that is quite angry,” Langenbacher said. “They’ve been angry for a long time. If you talk to them or get into it with them, the anger shows. The anger is not just directed at students or representatives of the university but sometimes toward neighbors who don’t entirely endorse their views.”

Within the BCA, Langenbacher said that members who are vocal may appear to represent the organization even if not everyone in association shares the same complaints about students.

“I do know for a fact because of conversations I’ve had — email exchanges on the Burleith Listserv and stuff like that — that not everybody was in agreement with the vocal stance that the Burleith Citizens Association took in regards to the campus plan,” Langenbacher said. “There are issues with student noise and whatnot that are legitimate issues and they have to be dealt with … but the BCA has to understand that there are people with feet in both worlds. I myself would have liked to see a more balanced stance on the part of the BCA, but that’s not always how it works out.”

Von der Goltz agreed, saying that some neighbors seemed to oppose “anyone who is not seen as conforming to a particular standard.”

“In general, I think Georgetown homeowners are somewhat peculiar and pedantic,” von der Goltz said. “Longtime residents are quite keen to keep things ordinary and tidy.”

But she also said that she understands both student and neighbor perspectives.

“You can kind of see how tensions would erupt,” von der Goltz said. “In some ways, it can be avoided, and I’m sympathetic to both sides.”

In a demonstration of the ambiguity that characterizes his unique position, however, Langenbacher stressed that the university had to regain the trust of the neighborhood.

“A lot of people in the community perceive that the university made rhetorical efforts in the past, and there was no follow-through,” Langenbacher said. “They didn’t put their money where their mouth was.”

Langenbacher added that the BCA was “cautiously optimistic” about town-gown relations in part because of leadership changes within the BCA and the university and initiatives like the Georgetown Community Partnership.

As for specific solutions, Langenbacher believes that signs across the neighborhood reminding people to limit noise, a Listserv for students who live off campus to allow the dispersal of notices reiterating rules and norms and more meetings between students and neighbors would help.

Kroenig had an idea that’s probably not going to gain traction with either side.

“I think the students should just invite their neighbors to the parties. I think they’re just envious that they’re missing out on the fun.”

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