Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Tom Smith, Deon Jones talk Campus Plan at ANC town hall

Tom Smith, Deon Jones talk Campus Plan at ANC town hall
ANC Commissioners Tom Smith, left, and Deon Jones take questions at a town hall Tuesday.

Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Tom Smith sat in the Tavern last night, eating dinner with about 20 AU student leaders to discuss housing and neighbor relations, with a paper napkin draped over his lap.

Dining on a chicken caesar salad and a Diet Coke, Smith said contrary to popular belief, local residents don’t hate the students.

To his left was his new colleague, School of Public Affairs freshman and ANC commissioner, Deon Jones who calls Smith, “Mr. Chairman” working on a slice of pepperoni pizza.

Jones and Smith represent AU and local residents on the local ANC, after a “contentious” November election where SPA freshman Tyler Sadonis challenged Smith’s seat.

Smith toured AU’s campus yesterday with student guide Josh Halpren, Sadonis and Jones before his Tavern dinner and a town hall with Jones.

One stop on the tour included Sadonis’ tripled room in McDowell Hall. Smith had never been inside a dorm room before.

Smith said calling Sadonis’ room “tight” would be an “understatement.”

“I think it’s very helpful in terms of putting a face on an issue,” he said.

Smith said he supports AU’s effort to increase student housing, so long as it’s not on the current Nebraska Parking Lot.

AU’s draft Campus Plan, a 10-year facilities plan detailing the school’s proposals for 750,000 square feet of new buildings, additions and renovations, includes a new East Campus on the Nebraska Parking Lot.

Smith said he believes there’s room on the “core campus” for more residence halls and thinks the draft Campus Plan needs more beds.

“My fear is that we’re not building enough student housing,” he said.

AU Chief of Staff David Taylor said earlier that AU believes the East Campus would give students a better on-campus experience.

“We can’t drive it further in, you’re not going to put housing on the quad,” he said. “At the end of the day, we still need housing, we need to utilize that parcel and we think that’s an entirely appropriate place for students to be.”

In the draft plan, AU asks that the total percentage of students housed on-campus be lowered to 55 percent, from two-thirds of students, because of “community resistance” to the East Campus and other new dorms. But AU says it would house 100 percent of freshmen and sophomores, up from the current 85 percent.

Smith said triples would still be needed after all the new housing is completed and the community is looking for a way to force AU to eliminate triples as a condition of the plan.

“To me, it’s unacceptable that we have triples,” he said.

Town hall

Smith and Jones answered questions about the new D.C. noise law, the Campus Plan, the November elections and community relations at the town hall later.

Eric Reath, an SPA sophomore and speaker of the Undergraduate Senate, asked Smith how he plans to rebuild his relationship with AU students after the November elections.

“I don’t have an answer for you,” Smith said, adding that he’s been trying to have this sort of forum with students for four years. “The campaign was particularly painful.”

Nate Bronstein, an SPA junior and president of the Student Government, asked Smith and Jones about their thoughts on the proposed East Campus.

Jones said triples are “unlivable” and he’s glad to see housing as a priority in the Campus Plan.

“I’m not thrilled with the idea of student housing on the East Campus site,” Smith said, adding that the community has hired an outside planner to look for alternative sites for residence halls.

Carla Faustino, an SPA freshman, said no one feels the current draft of the Campus Plan is the best one and asked the commissioners how it can be modified to be acceptable for all parties.

Jones said town halls like this one are a good start, adding that there have been “a lot of childish games” on both sides.

The commissioners also sounded off the D.C.‘s new noise law that makes it illegal to make “unreasonably loud noise” in the District between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.

If the noise disturbs one or more people in their homes, the offender can face up to 90 days in jail or a $500 fine.

Jones said he believes the law unfairly targets students. He said he has a problem with the penalties and police discretion as a result of the law.

Smith said he believes the law was never intended to target students, but rather protests that disturbed communities. But he said he was “surprised” the law is so general and said it needs revision.

Smith and Jones spoke in front of about in front of about 50 people, including students, local residents and a few AU administrators.

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