Even in a meeting to calm neighborhood fears and provide reassurance, George Washington University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg made clear his first priority is protecting the interests of his students, faculty and the university?s investments.
Trachtenberg spoke at a Sunday, May 4 meeting of the North Rosslyn Civic Association and explained details of his plan to use The Gallery at Rosslyn, a 19-story, 317-unit luxury apartment complex, for student housing.
The meeting was intended to ease neighborhood fears that the presence of GWU students would hurt property values in Rosslyn, and previous reports indicated that GWU officials would limit the number of student apartments to about 125 units.
On Sunday, Trachtenberg said that?s not the case. ?My first priority is to fill it with GW-related people,? he said.
Trachtenberg envisions the building residents as mostly students, at least initially. In the long run, he said, he hopes to provide more units for faculty and staff, and use the luxury complex at 1800 N. Oak Street as a bargaining chip to attract top-notch professors without having to raise salaries.
ONLY ONE PROFESSOR is scheduled to live in the building next year, while 92 students have signed up to fill 43 apartments and university officials continue to market the building to students.
County codes require 38 apartments be reserved for affordable housing, rented at $907 per month. Trachtenberg said the remaining 279 units will eventually be filled with as many GW faculty, staff and students as possible.
That doesn?t sit well with neighbors. ?I think the extent of GW?s plan is much greater than was seen before the meeting,? said Marcus. ?He seems to envision that the entire building is going to be GW-occupied except for the 38 affordable housing units.?
Some current Gallery residents have no affiliation with GWU, and their leases must be honored for next year. Paul Derby, treasurer of the Highview Homeowners Association and the North Rosslyn Civic Association, asked Trachtenberg if he would give those residents the opportunity to renew their leases.
Giving current Gallery residents the chance to renew their leases would help Rosslyn, Derby said, by encouraging residents to build strong ties to the neghborhood. But Trachtenberg said that unless the university is legally required to do so, he sees no reason to renew leases for non-university residents at The Gallery.
It wasn?t an answer many residents wanted to hear. ?I thought he was unresponsive,? said Kirk Miller, who lives across the street from The Gallery.
MILLER WAS ONE of several attendees who felt discussion didn?t go well. ?I?d say at the beginning, people bent over backwards to act in a civil way,? said Marcus. ?But there were a number of moments where tension gave way to outright anger.?
Trachtenberg didn?t back down from controversy and on several occasions told residents that they had no reason to doubt his words, ?if for no other reason than because you?ve never met me before.?
?We?re not coming in dressed as Cossacks,? he said. ?We?re not terrorists.?
But those who have dealt with Trachtenberg in the past say Rosslyn residents have plenty of cause for concern. University officials have had difficulty complying with DC laws on student housing, and Trachtenberg admitted Sunday that was one reason for sending students across the river into Rosslyn.
For years, Ron Cocome, president of the Foggy Bottom Association, has been dealing with GWU and its students. Once the university establishes a foothold in an area, he said, nothing will stop it from expanding.
After Sunday?s meeting with Trachtenberg, some residents think Cocome may be right. Joseph Famme opposed construction of The Gallery in the first place and said many neighbors feared university administrators had plans all along to take over the building. ?There?s been a lot of mistrust generated,? he said.
STUDENTS MOVING IN will mean more cars moving into Rosslyn, some current residents say, which will overcrowd The Gallery?s garage.
?All our historical data suggests there?s more than enough parking in the building,? said Trachtenberg. When residents pressed the issue, Trachtenberg said if parking becomes a problem he would consider limiting the number of cars allowed to each apartment. Any such restriction would have to apply to all residents, he said, not just students.
Neighbors also expressed concerns about student behavior turning the residential apartment into a kind of fraternity row in the sky. Meggie Baker, a GWU junior, said that wouldn?t be a problem, because students will choose to live in The Gallery to be away from campus life. ?People who are living in The Gallery at Rosslyn are going to be the more studious people,? she said.
Kris Hart, also a junior and a former fraternity president, said parties are common on campus but won?t happen often in Rosslyn. ?Everybody I know that?s moving out here has either a fiancée or a job on Capitol Hill,? he said.
HART AND BAKER JOINED four other GWU students at Sunday?s meeting, trying to show residents they need not fear student neighbors. All six students were picked by Trachtenberg to attend the meeting, and none planned to live at The Gallery next year.
Baker said she considered it, but ultimately agreed with her roommates. ?We?re never going to go to class if we live out here,? she said.
Trachtenberg told residents it was unfair to assume students would misbehave. ?We have here an example of ageism,? he said. ?If you don?t want to be politically correct, you don?t have to. I understand that there is a bias against young people, but? we brought them up better than you expect.?
Because building managers could report violations of the university?s code of conduct, he said, ?the likelihood is that the students are going to be better behaved than, necessarily, the other residents.?
?There are a lot of people who are really taken aback by this plan,? said Marcus. ?There?s a big difference between the luxury apartment the developer committed to and the kind of student housing Trachtenberg is talking about.?
Nevertheless, Marcus has resigned himself to the idea of having GWU as a neighbor and says he will now work with university officials to try to develop a memorandum of understanding that will resolve neighborhood concerns.
He was happy to have met with Trachtenberg, but he wasn?t sure the meeting had its intended effect. ?I don't think that Mr. Trachtenberg was able to
alleviate everyone's concerns,? Marcus said. ?In fact, in some respects I think people came out with more concerns than they had in the first place.?