History of CAG
The Citizens Association of Georgetown has, in one form or another, been representing the interests of Georgetown residents in local affairs for more than a century.
The Early Days
The organization traces its roots to 1878, when the Georgetown Citizens Association was established as the District of Columbia’s first civic group. By the early 1920s, the group was successfully campaigning for the community’s first zoning rules to block an invasion of apartment buildings in what was then a community comprising mainly single-family homes. Another neighborhood group, The Progressive Citizens Association of Georgetown, admitting women as members and promising a more activist approach, was organized in 1926. Led by Eva Hinton and Harriet Hubbard, the group soon made a name for itself with a successful campaign to extend Georgetown’s new, single-family zoning to most of Georgetown above M Street.
Georgetown Declared A Historic District
Over the years, the two groups worked as allies and won a number of major victories for the community. Chief among these were creation of Georgetown as an “Historic District” with enactment by Congress of the Old Georgetown Act in 1950, P.L. 81-808. Among other things, the Act defines the Historic District’s boundaries and gives the Commission of Fine Arts advisory powers over all exterior construction and building alterations within that area. The same year the Act was passed, the two neighborhood groups also convinced Congress to block the demolition of the Old Stone House on M Street, considered the oldest surviving house in Washington, D.C. In 1967 the federal government designated the entire Georgetown Historic District a National Historic Landmark.
A Merger of Two Associations
In 1963, the Georgetown Citizens Association and the Progressive Citizens Association merged to form the Citizens Association of Georgetown (CAG). In recent years, CAG has devoted itself to protecting the interests of Georgetown’s residential community in a time of great neighborhood change. The association has focused its efforts on everything from reclaiming the Georgetown waterfront for a new park to promoting stricter liquor license laws and enforcement, and working with local police on a variety of successful crime-prevention programs. CAG also works with the Georgetown business community and Georgetown University on behalf of residents on initiatives to help preserve the neighborhood’s livability, beauty and historic character.
CAG’s Role Over The Past 30 Years
Our Past President, Cheryl Gray, wrote an insightful article capturing CAG’s role as Georgetown developed through the 70’s and 80’s. The original article can be found in its entirety in the CAG Newsletter October 2011.
Cheryl Gray, Past President, explains why Georgetown would be a very different — and less desirable — place today without CAG’s efforts. Two aspects impress the most: the diversity of issues that the community has faced over the years and the hands-on role that CAG has played in almost every issue.
The day-in and day-out challenges of historic preservation have long been central to CAG’s mission. Today’s HPZ Committee spends countless hours reviewing construction proposals, attending government board and commission meetings and advising Georgetown residents on how to comply with legal regulations on historic preservation. CAG is an important player in the ongoing effort to preserve the historic integrity of Georgetown, and without CAG’s constant attention to historic preservation, the community would not look and feel as it does today.
CAG has waged some particularly fierce battles around a few big development projects. CAG was centrally involved in debates about the development of the area south of M street, which fifty years ago was a decaying industrial area — and even launched a lawsuit in 1970 to prevent high-density development of the area. This area’s development could have gone in many different directions, and the vibrant neighborhood we see today — from Cady’s Alley to the Ritz Carlton complex to the Four Seasons Hotel — is a result of careful planning with extensive input from CAG.
Take the question, for example, of whether or not to have a waterfront park on the Potomac. The first documents suggesting a waterfront park for Georgetown date from the feasibility study prepared in 1971. CAG has been there throughout, following developments closely, ever pushing for the park. It is hard to believe that it has taken 40 years, and now the park is one of the most wonderful public spaces in our city.
Two other perennial issues that never go away are liquor licensing and parking. The diverse mix of shops, restaurants, and bars that we see along M Street and Wisconsin Avenue is not a result of economic forces alone but reflects the strong engagement of CAG in debates over liquor licensing and clean-up of the business district over time. In 1993 CAG participated in an in-depth study of the parking issue, further refining the current system of residential permits and 2-hour parking regulations. Whether working with the ANC to achieve the Georgetown moratorium on new ABC licenses in 1989 or monitoring the existing licensed establishments, CAG has always been there to argue for the interests of the community.
Crime in DC hit a high point in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and Georgetown was no exception. CAG attacked the problem head-on, setting up a neighborhood watch program, and hiring a neighborhood security officer to patrol the residential streets – a public safety initiative still very much active today.
Georgetown University has also had a central role in Georgetown’s development. The University prepares a Campus Plan every 10 years, and CAG has always been there to study the Plan and advocate for the community. CAG has played a very active role in pushing for more on-campus housing and limits on enrollment expansion. CAG has been active in many issues in addition to those noted above —from building height and signage rules to noise pollution to property taxes to sidewalk improvement to tree planning to rat control to the current zoning.
Only with the tireless dedication of our members, has CAG been able to continue its legacy of historic preservation, community engagement, beautification, and representation in order to safeguard this special community we call home