Georgetown Current

Park Service Study Lays Out Boathouse Options

April 24, 2013

By Katie Pearce
Current Staff Writer

The National Park Service has come up with a variety of development options for the Potomac riverfront in Georgetown, one of which could create three new boathouse facilities along the shoreline.

Last week the agency released a study of potential uses for the “nonmotorized boathouse zone” that extends from the western end of Georgetown Waterfront Park to about a quarter-mile upriver from the Key Bridge. Although funding isn’t available, the study indicates a Park Service commitment to some expansion of boathouse offerings.

All three proposed development scenarios would revamp the outdated Washington Canoe Club building and create a new boathouse just east of Key Bridge that could host rowing programs for local schools.

Beyond that, the proposals vary according to density. The high-density option shows how the shoreline could look “if you wanted to pack everything into it you could,” said Tammy Stidham, who coordinated the study for the National Park Service’s regional office. The low-density scenario, meanwhile, “shows a bare minimum,” she said.

The stretch of waterfront in question now includes the newly minted Key Bridge Boathouse (the former Jack’s Boathouse), Washington Canoe Club, Potomac Boat Club, three town houses and several weedy lots. The “nonmotorized boathouse zone” encompasses private and public lands, including parts of the C&O Canal National Historical Park.

Development ideas have come and gone in the past — most recently, a proposal for a private boathouse for Georgetown University that lost steam in 2008.

The latest round of plans kicked off in December 2011, culminating in the new “feasibility study” released April 19. Stidham emphasized that “this isn’t a decision document” — any plans would require more federal review.

The new study uncovered “no true consensus on the number or type of facilities” that would be appropriate for the area. But there was agreement on some basic principles: Access to the Potomac should be enhanced through some form of boathouse development; the Washington Canoe Club building should stay in place; and more space is needed for storage, docks and visitor parking.

The study confirmed “an unabated demand for boathouses to serve rowers and paddlers,” which puts a strain on the Thompson Boat Center.

Within the study, both the high-density and medium-density development options suggest two new “large boathouses” both east and west of the Key Bridge — the larger measuring 13,800 square feet near the Georgetown Waterfront Park. Both proposals also suggest a new facility for small boats just west of the Washington Canoe Club, in line with the scale of that building.

The high-density proposal differs in suggesting two linked storage bay buildings for the site just east of the canoe club. This proposal also describes the two new boathouses by Key Bridge, as “multi-story buildings that could “accommodate two collegiate programs and most high school programs” among other activities. The project west of the Key Bridge would incorporate development of private lots.

The third, low-density option would leave most of the boathouse zone untouched, except for creating the new facility east of Key Bridge. In both the low- and medium-density options, this site would include a public boat launch plaza.

In the former proposal from Georgetown University, the school aspired to build a private boathouse for its rowing teams on land west of the canoe club. The plan was ultimately put on hold pending more detailed evaluations.

Stidham of the Park Service confirmed that both Georgetown and George Washington universities “have expressed interest for space within the zone in the past and during this process.” George Washington University owns two town houses within the boathouse zone and holds a land-exchange agreement with the Park Service, she said.

Stidham also said there has been interest in the idea of “another public boathouse such as Thompson’s,” or one that could serve exclusively high-school rowers.

Stidham said more detail would develop during the next step of the process — an environmental impact statement. But there’s no timeline for that stage, she said, because funds aren’t available.

The full feasibility study, and documents related to it, are available at parkplanning.nps/nmbz. A public meeting on the study will take place May 22 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the West End Library, 1101 24th St. NW.


This article appears in the April 24 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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GU Adds Solar Panels to Historic Row Houses

April 17, 2013

By Deirdre Bannon
Current Staff Writer

In a lead-up to Earth Day on April 22, Georgetown University last week celebrated its latest renewable energy project: Solar Street, a student-led initiative that helped install 75 solar panels on the rooftops of six university-owned historic town houses.

When combined with other efforts, the project makes Georgetown the largest user of green power among colleges and universities in the country, according to school officials.

Located on 37th Street just north of the university’s main entrance, the row houses serve as student residences. The new solar panels will provide about 27 percent of the electricity needs for the buildings, said Erik Smulson, Georgetown’s vice president of public affairs. Over time the carbon reductions achieved by this project will be equivalent to planting 330 trees, he said at last week’s ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“Students made all of this possible,” Smulson added.

The idea for the project began in 2011 when a student group called Georgetown Energy heard that funding for projects was available through the school’s student government association. The group mobilized to see how the funds could be used to save energy on campus, according to Dan Mathis, a Georgetown University senior who served as a leader on Solar Street.

After organizing several working groups with fellow students, faculty and administration to test the feasibility of a rooftop solar panel project and to survey potential houses, in spring 2011 Georgetown Energy won $250,000 to make Solar Street and other renewable energy projects a reality.

“This project really shows the impact students can make if they think big and aren’t afraid to take risks for something they’re passionate about,” Mathis said during the ceremony.

Additionally, according to Mathis and university sustainability coordinator Audrey Stewart, students wanted to show other Georgetowners a way to go solar. “One of the things we’re hoping for with Solar Street is that it might help inspire or enable more property owners to pursue renewable energy projects on their properties,” said Stewart.

To carry out the initiative, students partnered with SolarCity, a company based in Silicon Valley but with an office in the District. SolarCity won the contract through a competitive bidding process.

The panels were installed on the rooftops during the school’s break in December and January. The project is expected to save the university $3,000 annually in electricity costs.

The panels are not visible from the street, which was key in getting approval from the Old Georgetown Board, which must first approve changes to structures within the federally protected historic district.

What makes this project distinct is the business model SolarCity uses to bring solar energy to its clients. Instead of installing rooftop panels that clients would purchase, SolarCity provides panels that it owns, and clients pay for the electricity generated. According to Sam Boykin, a spokesperson for SolarCity, this can be an attractive option for homeowners, businesses and institutions because there is no upfront cost to purchase panels, and SolarCity maintains them.

At Georgetown, the university entered into a 20-year agreement to purchase power from SolarCity.

SolarCity began operating in D.C. in 2011, and so far the company has more than 220 clients in the area.

Leon Keshishian, the company’s vice president, is a Georgetown alumnus who has worked closely with students on Solar Street. “This project has had a big impact on me,” he said in an interview. “I put myself in the students’ shoes, remembering when I started in the industry. It’s been really fun working with them.”

Gary Guzy, deputy director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, spoke at last week’s event and shared the Obama administration’s support for the student project.

Georgetown University has a history of supporting renewable energy. In the 1970s, the Intercultural Center (a modernist structure that stands out from the university’s more typical Gothic or Georgian architecture) was designed to support 4,000 solar panels, the largest installation on a university campus at the time in the U.S.

Additionally, New South Hall, which is now in the design stages, will likely incorporate passive light and stormwater management systems. And just last week, the campus received word that its newest building, Regents Hall, was awarded a Gold rating under Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards.


This article appears in the April 17 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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Georgetown May Soon Get Electronic Bus Arrival Signs

April 10, 2013

By Brady Holt
Current Staff Writer

The Georgetown Business Improvement District hopes to install small electronic screens in store windows near bus stops that will display projected bus arrival times and other transit-related information.

There is no specific proposal yet, but the business group’s newly hired transportation director, Jonathon Kass, has been working with a contractor and local businesses toward installing the screens — possibly iPads or computer monitors. The organization is prepared to spend several thousand dollars on the program, Kass said in an interview.

“We want to do everything we can to make it as accessible as possible for people trying to get to here, from here, around here,” said Kass. “It’s very valuable for the customer experience with a relatively cheap investment.”

Studies have shown that knowing how soon a bus will arrive makes riders feel they’ve waited for 30 percent less time, according to Kass, and it also allows customers to maximize the time they spend shopping or dining instead of standing on the side of the street.

Furthermore, he said, bus riders will all be looking into the front window of a business with a transit display screen — a handy subtle advertisement for the store’s wares.

As with anything in Georgetown that’s visible from the street, the display screens would require rigorous design review to ensure compatibility with the federally protected historic district. And electronic signage typically faces vehement opposition.

For these display screens, though, the Georgetown advisory neighborhood commission voted last week to say that it won’t rule out making an exception for small electronic boards displaying projected bus times. The commission’s resolution will go to the D.C. Department of Transportation as part of the agency’s review of citywide signage policy.

Without the resolution, the Transportation Department could have instituted a broad signage policy that poses problems for Georgetown’s specific preservation needs, commission chair Ron Lewis said. Though commissioners expressed measured optimism that some sign schemes could meet the community’s standards, they voted to request that the bus signs be prohibited pending review of specific designs and locations.

“Certainly we want to promote bus usage and generally overall improve the transportation services that we have in Georgetown,” commissioner Tom Birch said. “And because this is electronic signage that has no relationship to a commercial establishment, I think it falls very much as an asterisk to the comments we submitted about signage overall in historic Georgetown.”

While most commissioners supported the concept, Bill Starrels said he was “skeptical at best,” especially considering that bus-arrival information can sometimes be sketchy. “I don’t see how they could do it appearance-wise, I don’t think it’s accurate, I don’t think it’s necessary,” he said.

Starrels ultimately joined his colleagues in supporting the resolution, while emphasizing that it should not be read as blanket support for electronic signs. “I just want to make sure if we did this, we’d have some control about where it would go,” he said.

Because Georgetown is a rare federally protected historic district, the Old Georgetown Board — part of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts — reviews any proposal in the neighborhood that’s visible from public space, regardless of the District’s policies.

Thomas Luebke, secretary to the Fine Arts Commission, said in an interview that he’d need to see an actual proposal to comment in detail, but that he’s not opposed to the idea on principle. “It’s something that could reasonably be accommodated in a way that is not harmful in the historic district,” Luebke said.

Kass, of the business group, said he’s confident the technology could be implemented “very tastefully.” Small screens will be appropriate because Georgetown has narrow sidewalks, keeping pedestrians close to business’s windows, he added.

Neighborhood commissioner Birch said residents of present-day Georgetown are accustomed to seeing modern technology blended in with the historic features of the neighborhood. Electronic bus signs, he said, will likely be no different. “After a while it’s like a pay phone — it’s there,” he said.


This article appears in the April 10 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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