by Brady Holt
Current staff writer
The University of the District of Columbia is out of compliance with some aspects of its campus plan, a university spokesperson said, acknowledging a complaint filed by the Van Ness/North Cleveland Park advisory neighborhood commission.
Spokesperson Michael Rogers said in an interview last week [July 1-5] that the university is still evaluating the neighborhood commission’s conclusions about which particular commitments it has not met — many of which are procedural — but did not argue that the school needs to improve.
“No question about it — there’s noncompliance,” he said. “All of this predated me and the current president, so we’re trying to figure out who’s responsible for what and what we promised so we can move forward. There’s a general understanding that where there’s noncompliance we need to correct it.”
According to neighborhood commission chair Adam Tope, the biggest problems surround traffic, parking and special events, and he alleges that the university has also failed to adopt a variety required community notification procedures, among other issues.
The Zoning Commission approved UDC’s 10-year campus plan in summer 2011. Universities operating in residential areas — such as UDC, at Connecticut Avenue and Van Ness Street — must periodically demonstrate to the Zoning Commission that their operations don’t harm people who live near their campuses. As part of that campus plan process, a university is ordered to meet certain conditions to avoid impacting the community and to demonstrate that it is taking positive steps.
Most of the issues identified in this case, which the neighborhood filed in a formal Office of Zoning complaint June 13, are in the latter category — a lack of documentation rather than a direct community impact.
For instance, the school hasn’t provided required information to the community about where it is housing students off-campus, how many students it enrolls, neighbors’ complaints about students, or traffic and parking counts, according to the filing. The school also hasn’t publicized its community meetings in the required ways, or circulated minutes. It hasn’t formed outreach programs with apartment buildings where students live, or with the Metropolitan Police Department.
Other issues — all part of UDC’s campus plan requirements — are more substantive, according to the complaint:
■ The university has not worked with the community to update its student code of conduct to address neighbors’ complaints, or established a program to educate students on “good neighbor” issues.
■ The university has not implemented a new transportation sustainability fee that would fund Metro fares and Capital Bikeshare memberships.
■ The university has not required its students, faculty and staff to park on campus or in commercial garages, or established a policy to enforce such a rule.
■ The university has not coordinated with the community about large events.
The university’s campus plan order in total covered 28 conditions. According to the neighborhood commission, UDC is meeting just 16 of those.
“I was frankly shocked at how bad it was,” Tope said in an interview. When residents suggested he check up on the university’s practices, he said he expected “one or two items here and there that weren’t quite in compliance.”
In addition to university policies and actions, the campus plan also governs development projects and enrollment. UDC is building a new student center and also hopes to construct its first on-campus dormitories
during the plan term, in an effort to boost its competitiveness and increase sagging enrollment.
“It’s hard for the ANC and the neighbors to support building dorms if [the university] can’t even follow basic things in the first year of the campus plan,” said Tope.
Rogers, the university spokesperson, said the school isn’t ready to respond to specific alleged campus plan violations. He noted that there has been significant recent turnover at the university, including a new president who started little more than three months ago.
“We are taking a good look, a deep dive at the complaint, and we plan to address it,” he said.
The neighborhood commission is also asking zoning officials to fine the university up to $100 per day for its noncompliance. “Arguably that’s just moving money from one pocket of D.C. to another, but I think the principle of seeing a penalty put down … is just an important step,” said Tope.
Rogers said the university hasn’t determined whether fines would be warranted.
More important, said Tope, is that the university comply with its campus plan requirements. “This contains all the things the community wants, so we want to get there.”
Tope did praise the latest version of plans for the proposed dorms, shown June 26 at the UDC’s quarterly
community meeting. The dorms, to be built on a soccer field next to the university pool, would be designed to channel sound toward Connecticut Avenue and away from neighbors, said Tope.
Tope also said the university shared its latest target opening date for its student center directly at the corner of Van Ness and Connecticut — after numerous delays, the latest estimate is late 2014.
Reprinted, with permission, from the July 10th issue of The Northwest Current.