By Brady Holt
Current Staff Writer
After spending well over a year occupying prime real estate at a riverside entrance to Georgetown Waterfront Park, an enclosure of construction materials was removed last week, as the D.C. Department of Transportation declined to renew a public space permit for it to remain.
The fenced site was originally on National Park Service land across from the Washington Harbour but was subsequently moved closer to the street into the city-owned right-of-way, according to Bob vom Eigen, president of the Friends of the Georgetown Waterfront Park.
Contractor Consolidated Waterproofing held a permit through Feb. 6 to use the spot, according to Transportation Department spokesperson Monica Hernandez, but overstayed it. The area, just feet from the Potomac River, was enclosed by a chain-link fence and green tarp, and marked “construction zone — do not enter.”
The enclosure held a trash bin, a pile of materials, a portable toilet and, according to vom Eigen, sometimes parked cars.
The result: “an obvious eyesore,” especially after the park finished its own construction in September 2011, vom Eigen said.
“There’s no reason why [Washington Harbour] can’t keep its materials on its own land,” Stephen Crimmins, another park activist, wrote in an email to The Current last month. “You can’t leave your car across the park entrance for your convenience, so why can they leave their junk there?”
Washington Harbour spokesperson Julie Chase said a condo owner at the complex was responsible for the site. “We have requested the materials be removed and have sought the support of other city government agencies to expedite its removal,” she wrote in an email to The Current last week.
According to Hernandez, the Transportation Department had considered requesting that the construction staging area be “consolidated into a smaller and less obtrusive amount of public space.” But public space manager Matthew Marcou said in an interview yesterday that the materials had already been there long enough.
“There was a permit, the permit expired, we issued them a notice to remove their material, and they did so,” Marcou said.
The contractor applied for a renewal, but Marcou said that continued use of public space was “no longer warranted” and his agency denied the new permit. “We explained that their [earlier] occupancy was sufficient for their needs,” he said.
Unlike some public space permits, temporary construction staging areas are determined by Transportation Department staff without public comment, according to Marcou.
Park activists said they were pleased with the result. Vom Eigen noted that he had been in contact with Ward 2 D.C. Council member Jack Evans’ office. “I am not sure who did what, but the bottom line is great,” he wrote in an email yesterday.
“This eyesore should have been removed long ago,” added Crimmins. “We finally have a first-class waterfront entrance to this first class waterfront park.”
This article appears in the Feb. 27 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.
By Alix Pianin
Current Staff Writer
A young professionals committee is working to breathe new life into the nearly 50-year-old George Town Club, where facility use has been on the decline in recent years, members say.
The board of the club, located at 1530 Wisconsin Ave., has spent the last year strategizing ways to boost attendance and attract new members — particularly people under 35, said board member Sharon Casey. The club formed the new committee to develop fresh events, overhaul the club’s interior design and revamp its restaurant menus.
“A lot of our members … were older, and they didn’t use the club as much,” Casey said. “People would go [into the club], and there wasn’t a lot of lively activity.”
In more recent years, Casey said the George Town Club board saw that members were visiting the venue mostly for formal special occasions, but did not come more casually on a daily or weekly basis. Not only was daily activity slow, but turnout for scheduled club events was “anemic,” Casey said.
The key to reinvigorating the club, Casey said, seemed to be in shifting its demographics. The board reached out to about a dozen young professionals in the area to discuss ways to attract a younger crowd, including Elizabeth Miller, a recently joined member who has been working on new events and strategies.
An interior house design committee has been tasked with updating the club’s decor — “The Williamsburg blue upholstery is a little out of fashion,” Miller noted. Local restaurateur Bo Blair is creating a new menu for the club’s Grill Room, which will feature less expensive gourmet food and beer options “so that people can eat there more frequently without taking as big a hit to their pocketbook, while preserving very fine dining in our dining room,” said Casey.
And a programming team has spent the last few months working to develop events and activities to attract different types of members and visitors to the George Town — including a series of February “learning lunches” with guest speakers. The idea, Casey said, is to arrange a variety of events that will accommodate people with different types of schedules.
Earlier this month, architect Simon Jacobsen discussed his award-winning architecture; a workshop last week with florist Sidra Forman on flower philosophy and arrangement was sold out. Today, the George Town Club will host an appetizer-and-cocktail evening event with authors Franklin Foer and Marc Tracy.
The George Town Club, which started in 1966, is made up of three town houses that have been combined into one establishment. Members have access to private living rooms, dining rooms, wine cellars and entertainment venues — where they can host parties and attend events like concerts and wine tastings.
In bringing younger members on board, the club has also benefited from their social network. Each committee member personally reached out to five friends or acquaintances who might be interested in joining; soon, the club gained more than 50 additional members.
“No one wants to join unless they know other people are joining,” Casey said. “It was like everybody joined hands and jumped in the pool together.”
The George Town Club currently has about 500 members, she said.
While the club may have originated as a stomping ground for nearby Georgetown residents, a number of its members now live in the Maryland or Virginia suburbs. One goal is to make the club an appealing place for people who live outside Georgetown but work in the area.
“I use the club a lot to hang out — sometimes I’ll have couple hours of dead time between a meeting and an evening event,” said Casey, who lives in Maryland. “It’s a great place for people to hang their hat while in the city.”
“I think people would love to venture [to the club] in the morning, sit next to the fireplace, read a newspaper they don’t subscribe to at home,” Miller said. “Most major cities — London, New York — have clubs like these, and they’re successful.”
The club board also hopes to attract membership from families who may be moving into the area for the long term, and could appreciate a neighborhood home-away-from-home.
The George Town Club could provide a place where “the staff knows them, knows what they drink,” Casey said. “It’s a world that doesn’t exist anymore. We live in such a world of anonymity that you have to go to a restaurant pretty frequently for them to know you.”
Change to the George Town Club will most likely come over the next year and a half, said Miller.
“Rome wasn’t built in a day,” she said. “What [the club] was in the ’80s is what it still is today, and that model is a little outdated. We need to take everything that’s great about it and just make it a little bit more current.”
This article appears in the Feb. 20 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.
By Alix Pianin
Current Staff Writer
Some Georgetown residents near Volta Park are expressing surprise at the recent loss of a maple tree that had stood at the park for more than half a century, but several community leaders say the tree was unhealthy and hazardous.
Members of the Georgetown Garden Club and Friends of Volta Park said the tree’s removal had been in the works for a long time. The tree had already lost significant limbs, said Barbara Downs, a member of the Georgetown Garden Club’s civic committee. The groups also questioned the stability of the tree, which was located near a playground, basketball court and recreation center.
While the city had pruned the Norway maple, falling hardwood limbs could prove dangerous, Downs said. Once it was removed last Thursday, city arborists confirmed the tree had been rotting from its core.
The grounds of Volta Park, located between Q Street and Volta Place, and 33rd and 34th streets, are maintained by the Georgetown Garden Club through a partnership with the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation and a grant from the Garden Club of America. The Georgetown Garden Club has used the grant to grow a garden of native plants, and to create both shady and sunny areas in the park.
Concerned about the health of the maple, the Garden Club went to the Urban Forestry Administration, which operates under the D.C. Department of Transportation. An arborist declared the tree sick, and the agency contacted the Care of Trees company, which removed the tree last week.
The Norway maple is considered an invasive tree species, and many were planted in the District in the mid-20th century as street trees, according to Downs.
The U.S. Forest Service no longer recommends planting Norway maples; the agency says they crowd out and displace native species and create shade so dense it threatens other plants and flowers.
The Garden Club plans to replace the maple with a black gum tree, which Downs said has “beautiful foliage” and is native to the eastern United States.
The Georgetown Garden Club, in consultation with Friends of Volta Park and D.C. urban forestry group Casey Trees, has also planted swamp, pin and willow oaks in the park over the past several years, and the club plans to plant two additional yellow wood trees.
But Doug McFadden, who lives near the park on the 1500 block of 33rd Street, said he was perturbed by the lack of notice to nearby residents about the work done at Volta.
“I was rather shocked by it,” said McFadden, who was unaware the tree was unhealthy or that there were any plans to bring it down.
“One of the problems we have as neighbors is we’re never informed of what’s taking place in the park,” he said. “There has to be more communication with the residents around the park about what’s going on.”
McFadden was also concerned about the possible impact of removing the tree on the park’s ecosystem. “You can’t just take for granted changes in chopping down nature. We have an obligation to be conservators,” he said. “There was a family of squirrels living in it — they’re homeless now.”
Downs said the Georgetown Garden Club went through all the proper channels during the process, and had been primarily concerned with the safety of the community.
“No one likes to cut a tree down for no reason, but that’s not what happened here,” said Mimsy Lindner, who until recently was president of the Friends group. “It wasn’t just a haphazard decision.”
This article appears in the Feb. 13 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.