Wednesday, February 02, 2011

New AU Campus Plans

From a posting on the Tenleytown Listserv. This will no doubt garner much discussion about the future shape and form of both the Spring Valley and Wisconsin Avenue corridors. There is a real opportunity to work with American University to catalyze these areas, while at the same time addressing the issue of student group homes throughout the communities. However, stark opposition will simply, at best, maintain the status quo and push the discussion into future campus plans. The community should consider how colleges and universities nationwide have been economic growth engines for their communities and think creatively about how American University can be a community asset and focal point.

Dear Tenleytown and AU Park Neighbors:

We are writing to let you know that American University has proposed to move its law school to the Tenley campus, which is located Nebraska Avenue and Yuma Street. Under the proposed 2011 Campus Plan, available on AU's website, the law school would also expand from 1,700 to 2,000 students, plus an estimated 500 faculty and staff. The property is the current home of the University's Washington Semester program, with a small resident
population estimated at 300 students.

Unlike the location of the current law school, the Tenley site is zoned for residential use. AU purchased the Tenley property in 1986 and proposed to build a new law school there, but zoning problems and fierce opposition by the neighborhood forced AU to abandon the project and sign an agreement to limit future expansion.

When we first heard of the latest proposal last spring, the neighbors adjacent to the property re-formed the Tenley Campus Neighbors Association (TCNA). Our starting proposition is simple--what was a bad idea for the neighborhood in 1986 is probably still a bad idea today.

Despite serious reservations about the entire project, our group has diligently attempted to engage AU in constructive dialogue over the last year. Although we have been successful in getting AU to consider our input on the design aspects, the statements in the draft Plan suggesting neighborhood "buy-in" are misleading. The fundamental issues with developing the Tenley site in 1986—traffic, parking, density, historic preservation concerns etc. have still not been addressed by AU, nor are they adequately addressed in the current draft campus plan.

TCNA has the following specific objections to the draft plan:

Traffic and Parking—AU now plans to more than quintuple the number of students and personnel using the site to 2,500 people. The most obvious consequence is that there is simply no way to accommodate the additional traffic and parking pressures in our neighborhood. The current students on the site do not drive.

With regard to parking, AU proposes an underground parking lot with 400 to 500 places, but many of these spots would be used by faculty and staff. Even if half the campus population used Metro (a very optimistic scenario given that, according to AU, only 10% use Metro now), where will the extra 1,250 or so additional cars park? And since the law school is will be a 24/7 operation, many students will be parking after
the Zone 3 parking restrictions lapse.

If even more parking is built, where will all that extra traffic go? The proposed law school will contribute to further gridlock on Wisconsin and Nebraska, forcing even more commuter traffic to cut through our neighborhood.

Future Development. The AU campus plan indicates that new buildings will only be erected on the east side of the property near Nebraska Avenue. But AU has also announced plans to raze certain historically sensitive properties on the west side of the property. This suggests that AU's ultimate intention is to develop the important green space on the western part of the property, which intrudes deeply into our
neighborhood. AU should commit to a plan now for the west side of the property that minimizes its impact on the neighborhood. Some community uses, such as a tennis court or park, are a possibility.

Other Neighborhood Impacts. Any benefit of moving the law school must be weighed carefully against the costs to the neighborhood. AU claims that moving the law school will lead to the "re-vitalization" of the Tenley corridor. There is ZERO evidence that this will be the case. Many AU students, including law students, already visit this area. In fact, more gridlock and parking problems may actually have a negative economic
impact on local merchants. And more "group houses" and a massive new construction project will certainly diminish our property values.

To be sure, AU's proposal will impact Tenleytown and your quality of life. We suggest you take the following actions:

1. Please write or e-mail your ANC representative and City Councilmember Mary Cheh to express your views.

AU intends to submit their plan to the DC Zoning Commission in March. Your elected ANC representatives have an important voice in the DC zoning process. Please write them now, highlighting the following likely issues:

* Too many students and faculty (increased from under 500 to 2000 students, plus 500 additional faculty and staff)
* Noise (including group houses)
* Traffic
* Parking
* Historic preservation concerns
* Other objectionable conditions


Matthew Mulling said...

This post seems to be created by someone who clearly does not fully understand the dynamics of the law school and its population. The 10% Metro use statistic is patently false, even if it is a conservative statistic. The fact is that the vast majority of students use the Metro currently, and many of those that do not currently simply do not like waiting for the current shuttle system (which would be irrelevant when the law school is placed next to the Tenleytown Metro).

Placing the law campus right next to the Metro is much more beneficial to the community simply for the fact that the students would not have to commute as far from the trains and buses, thus creating less traffic in terms of distance and automobile transit.

The idea that the placement of the law campus would lead to an increase in group houses is also strange at best. The area is already a few blocks from the main AU campus, and the group housing stock is likely saturated.

And the fact is that more businesses would likely be attracted to the area as well. Tenleytown is already getting two new establishments in coming months (Panera and a sports bar). The placement of the law school will likely mean more coffee shops (Dunkin Donuts) and sandwich shops, for example.

More to the point, the University has always been there. You are in AU's neighborhood - it isn't just your neighborhood. Expansion of the school was always a possibility that homeowners would have to contend with.

Anne said...

Matthew, changing the zoning from residential to commercial is the main problem When AU bought the property in 1986, they signed an agreement with the neighborhood that there would be a maximum of 500 residential students on the campus, and that there would be no expansion of the buildings on the property.

They are reneging on that agreement on BOTH counts.

DC Poster said...

The 1986 agreement is probably not subject to follow-on campus plans and subsequent zoning decisions. There is probably precedent for this, but the neighbors will probably end up testing the enforcement of that agreement in court.