Photo by ColorblindRain on Flickr.
ANC 3D issued their report on American University’s campus plan. It’s laden with contempt for AU students, from their existing living in residential areas to the kinds of blinds or tapestries they hang in the windows.
Each DC university is required to submit a campus plan every 10 years. This decennial process opens the wounds of town-gown relations. American University has a tense relationship with its neighboring ANC, especially with its chair, Tom Smith, who has repeatedly tried to dissuade students from participating in neighborhood affairs.
While the report includes several legitimate concerns, it also incorporates salvos of unwarranted suspicion, resentment, and prejudice toward undergraduate students. Its recurring theme demands the university do whatever it can to segregate its undergraduate students’ dorms and classrooms within the core of campus, far removed from other area residents.
The most ridiculous claim is that the very sight of student dorm windows is itself a grave offense that requires action from the zoning code:
Student residences should be built with windows that do not open to limit noise impacts on neighboring residents and with tinted windows that shield from residents’ views the type of window hangings that are characteristically found in the windows of AU’s student dorms.
At the University of Maryland, I found that the window hangings “characteristically found in the windows” of dorms are in fact window blinds. Does the ANC object to window blinds? Do they demand Roman shades, valances, velvet curtains or simply taupe window treatments?
Another controversy surrounds the treatment of AU’s East Campus site directly south of Ward Circle NW. This site is currently a parking lot and report reasonably requests the university construct a “signature building” on the site.
However, the report contains a series of demands of what should not go on that site, namely students, conferences and retail space.
In fact the report laments “the loss of commercial space and neighborhood-serving retail stemming from AU’s need to find more space to meet its needs.” Then just 7 pages later, the ANC chastises the university for proposing to add retail space on Nebraska Avenue, noting, “This would be the only block with any retail on Nebraska Avenue throughout its length in Washington, DC.”
Which is it? Here the ANC clearly shows a preference for complaining about change over maintaining any intellectual consistency in its review.
Addtionally, while the report rightly agrees that bikesharing will reduce vehicle use, it also resents the incorporation of “the Capital Bike Share [sic] Program — for 10,000 mostly non-taxpaying residents — many of them temporary — living on premium-value residentially zoned property that is producing no property tax revenue”.
Though the ANC wants the university to pay the capital cost of each new campus station, which is a reasonable request, it relays the request in a classist, prejudicial way.
Student residents, who often have little or no income, tend to pay little in taxes, but that does not diminish their rights as residents. Furthermore, it’s troubling that the ANC resents any class of people “living on premium-value residentially zoned property”.
That’s what residents do: they reside on residentially-zoned property. The ANC suggests it’s upset that a certain kind of people are taking up space on this “premium” property.
Certainly the ANC has a legitimate interest in ameliorating legitimate nuisances, but regulating window dressing should not be the matter of the ANC or the zoning code. Furthermore, the ANC obliterates it own credibility offering contradictory sentiments on the reduction and proposed addition of retail space. Worst of all, the ANC report relegates AU’s students to second-class citizenship, treating them not as fellow residents, but as a nuisance class of people who must be segregated and concentrated into the center of the campus, far from “real” residents.
The ANC should eliminate its thinly veiled opposition to students as a class of people, remove trivial complaints about window dressings, and focus on more important matters: How a university, its students, and long-term residents can exist in harmony and mutual respect.