AU neighbors and members of the D.C. Zoning Commission voiced their concerns about the expansiveness of the AU Campus Plan at a June 10 Commission hearing.
Seven AU officials including Chief of Staff David Taylor and Assistant Vice President of Facilities Development and Real Estate Jorge Abud presented the most recent version of the Campus Plan at the Zoning headquarters in Judiciary Square.
The board members took issue with the three residence halls proposed for the East Campus. They said students living in these residence halls might disrupt traffic patterns, put a stress on local parking and create disturbances in the community.
Dan Van Pelt and Rob Schiesel of the consulting firm Gorove Slade Associates presented traffic analysis reports that showed a majority of the people driving on the major streets near campus are not students or other AU-affiliated individuals; they are D.C. residents passing through the area to other parts of the District.
Abud pointed out that resident students with cars on campus are not currently allowed to park on local streets. Students living on the East Campus would park in the East Campus underground parking garage.
The layout of the residence halls on the East Campus would create a community feel and a sense of unity among East Campus students, Abud said.
In addition, the amenities and new stores to be included on the site would make students less inclined to venture out into the surrounding community.
The University is in negotiations to build a Panera Bread and an Apple Store in the two East Campus retail spaces.
Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Tom Smith criticized these retail space additions during his cross-examination of the AU representatives.
“Stores like these would appeal to more people than just AU students,” he said. “Will this affect overall traffic in the area?”
Abud said outside visitors to these stores would have to use pay-as-you-go parking in the East Campus parking garage.
The board members also questioned AU’s relationship with the surrounding community.
They asked how AU deals with neighbor complaints about upperclassmen living off-campus, one of the major issues raised by individuals that submitted letters about the Campus Plan to Zoning Board Chair Anthony Hood.
Associate Dean of Students Michelle Espinosa said the University works to respond as quickly as possible to these complaints.
“If a neighbor complains about a house full of AU students making too much noise, I’ll e-mail those students the next day to ask them why this happened,” she said.
Hood said he was concerned AU has not done enough in recent years to repair community relations and keep students from causing neighborhood conflicts.
“I’m hearing some of the same complaints from neighbors that I heard ten years ago when I reviewed the 2001 Campus Plan,” he said.
Abud told Hood the University does not have a regulatory process to deal with individual questions or concerns about the Campus Plan. AU officials have talked to members of the community through ANC meetings and have made all Campus Plan documents public on the AU website, he said.
Hood felt this outreach effort was not sufficient.
“That kind of response is the reason why I’ve had to read so many letters from the neighbors about the Campus Plan,” Hood said.
He went on to say that cooperation between AU and its neighbors would be crucial to the implementation of the Campus Plan.
“At the end of the day, this is about all of us living together,” he said.