While some label the conflict between GW and the community as the typical “town-gown” dispute that would happen at any university located in a city, none of the college communities in the District view the schools in their neighborhoods with the same level of animosity Foggy Bottom has toward GW.
When it comes to GW’s relationship with local residents, “it’s no secret that there were challenges in the past,” said Michael Akin, GW’s director of D.C. and Foggy Bottom/West End Affairs. Though Akin said he’s optimistic that GW’s town-gown relations are improving, it seems that tension between the two groups is at an all-time high as the community is expressing its opposition to GW’s plans for the former hospital site.
While neighbors resent the University for encroaching on their once quiet and historic Foggy Bottom neighborhood, and for increasing undergraduate enrollment, other neighborhoods in the District don’t seem to have as many disputes over university development or student housing.
Neighbors that surround Howard University said the university presence in the neighborhood is welcomed because it brings development to an otherwise poorer area of the District.
“Most of the people that I represent … are very, very supportive of the general concept of revitalization,” said Tom Fulton, an Advisory Neighborhood Commission member who shares his neighborhood with Howard.
He added that the community appreciates the value that the university adds to their homes. “They’ve been waiting for years and years for their homes to not be depressed, as far as home values.”
Michael Smith, a member of another ANC whose single-member district includes part of Howard’s campus, said he senses “no ill will” between the community and the university, adding that neighbors don’t spend their time picking at the little problems.
“Crime is more of a problem here than it is down in Foggy Bottom,” he said. “People here have other things to worry about.”
Bill Skelsey, an ANC commissioner who shares his neighborhood with Georgetown University, said there have been problems between the community and the university in the past, but the parties rarely engage in dispute now, particularly because of efforts from the community group to better the relationship.
“Problems stem really from a very small minority of folks that require a disproportionate amount of our time,” he said.
Julie Green Bataille, Georgetown University’s Media Relations director, said that the school has created offices to facilitate community relations – similar to GW’s Office of Foggy Bottom/West End Affairs and Office of Off-Campus Student Affairs – and renovated dorms to keep students on campus, neighbors happy and show that Georgetown “takes seriously its role to be a good neighbor.”
Skelsey criticized GW community groups for not being willing to work at a better relationship and said the Foggy Bottom Association’s policy of cutting off communication with GW is “just a shame.”
Skelsey said that the difference between Georgetown and GW is that Georgetown has well-defined campus boundaries and a lot of space within its borders to develop – while GW’s boundaries are sometimes fuzzy and development space is minimal.
Robert Herzstein, a member of the Neighbors for a Livable Community, a group similar to the FBA near American University, said he does not foresee development problems between the university and community in his area.
“GW is very aggressive and seems to have a lot of money,” he said. “At American University they don’t have as much resources.”
Herzstein said American moved its law school off campus 10 years ago, and it also expanded to a couple of buildings on Wisconsin Avenue, angering neighbors. But he emphasized that the problems are not as bad as GW’s relationship with the community.
“We don’t want to become Foggy Bottom,” he said.
David Taylor, an American University spokesman who is the school’s liaison to the community, said, “We do try to treat each other with respect and courtesy throughout. Indeed it’s not unusual to get into disagreements in a meeting and after the meeting you share a joke and a smile.”
Carl Kessler, an ANC commissioner who lives near the University of the District of Columbia at Connecticut Avenue and Van Ness Street, said the university is mostly isolated from the neighborhood and students usually stay within campus boundaries.
But when the university does propose exterior renovations, the community is generally happy about them because they know changes will be small but beneficial, since the school doesn’t have the resources to devour a neighborhood.
“One problem with GW is that they’re expanding. They’re trying to intrude into the neighborhood,” Kessler said.
Even the relationship between GW’s Mount Vernon Campus and the surrounding neighborhood is a positive one, community members said. Alma Gates, a commissioner for the area’s ANC, said she has relatively few conflicts with the University.
“I think we have excellent relations and I think it has a lot to do with (Mount Vernon’s administrator and Dean of Freshmen) Fred Siegel,” Gates said, adding that Mount Vernon’s willingness to allow community members to use facilities, including Eckles Library, is an example of how the University is an asset to the community.