Georgetown Current

Group Seeks Visions for Revitalized C&O Canal

June 22, 2017


By Grace Bird
Current Correspondent

The future of Georgetown’s mile-long section of the C&O Canal sparked a lively discussion last week, where interested residents offered a variety of ideas for revitalizing the historic National Park Service-owned waterway.

Georgetown Heritage, a nonprofit group overseeing plans to upgrade the canal corridor, hosted a meeting last Wednesday as part of an ongoing effort to collect public feedback. Attendees’ visions for the space ran the gamut from a vibrant restaurant strip to a quiet retreat from the bustle of M Street, and further comments will be accepted through July 14.

Alison Greenberg, executive director of Georgetown Heritage, said the project’s priorities include restoring the narrow, crumbling towpath; implementing educational devices like signs or mobile applications; and ensuring the canal complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Based on those criteria and the public feedback, James Corner Field Operations — which handled the landscape architecture for New York’s famed Chelsea High Line — will produce preliminary sketches by October, and a final outline by mid-2018.

Georgetown Heritage also intends to bring back Georgetown’s renowned mule-drawn canal boat, with Greenberg hoping to share her fond memories of boat rides led by men dressed in old-time garb with today’s children. “It’s a place that people can learn about and really step into a different period of time,” she said.

Georgetown Heritage has already secured funding for the design and construction of a new canal boat and will begin fundraising and grant-hunting for the larger project after next year’s designs are unveiled and priced. The boat faced previous funding issues, and Greenberg intends to ensure that this time all projects are sustainable.

“What’s the point of building a whole new boat if the same thing is going to happen again?” Greenberg asked, referring to the previous boat’s dilapidated condition, which led to its decommission in 2011 and eventual removal in 2016.

Pamla Moore of the Citizens Association of Georgetown told The Current she is pleased that the design firm’s staff took time to the walk the canal, and gain appreciation for its potential. To Moore, a serene area to “enjoy the vegetation and the water and just feel comfortable” would best serve the community.

Lisa Palmer, the Georgetown advisory neighborhood commissioner whose single-member district includes the canal, supports the notion of restoration and will reserve any critiques for next year, when designs are released. “It won’t be another High Line; it’s just not appropriate,” Palmer said. “I’m looking forward to it being a nice place to walk with friends.”

Fellow commissioner Jim Wilcox is pleased with the restoration project: “How could you not be?” However, he added that “there is some tension regarding how intensively [the canal] should be used.”

Residents do generally want at least some increase in activity on the canal, which they hope would deter crime — notably at an area near the aqueduct, widely known as the “graffiti wall.”

“Young kids drink there, and they get robbed, assaulted,” U.S. Park Police Lt. Christopher Cunningham, commander of Rock Creek Station, told The Current. The area requires almost full-time patrol, Cunningham added: “We have someone out there every day. It takes up a lot of time.” Improvements to the Georgetown waterfront about 10 years ago rendered the park area relatively crime-free, and Cunningham speculated that canal restorations might have a similar impact.

To some, the canal’s “rich history” is another key reason to restore it. For others though, rather than evoking fond images of President John Quincy Adams clumsily shoveling the site’s first spadeful of dirt in Georgetown, circa 1828, the canal represents the bloody handwork of slavery — certainly not a history that warrants celebration.

The National Park Service takes its responsibility to present a factual account of the canal’s history “very seriously,” agency spokesperson Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles said.

And according to Greenberg, the canal’s prospective educational programming will present events as they occurred. “The canal has a fascinating history, but it’s also a very sad history,” she said. “We’re absolutely going to tell the public the whole story.”

Residents are encouraged to offer comments on the canal through July 14 at parkplanning.nps.gov/Georgetowncanalplan.

Meanwhile, the Park Service is currently rebuilding the canal’s locks three and four. This project is “going very well” and is scheduled for completion in summer 2018, Anzelmo-Sarles told The Current.

 

 


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Bridge Hazard Still Forcing Trail Closure

June 15, 2017

By Mark Lieberman
Current Staff Writer

The trail beneath the Foundry Branch Bridge in Glover Archbold Park near Foxhall has been closed for the past 10 months, as plans have stalled to resolve safety concerns by repairing the deteriorating structure. Meanwhile, the agencies involved in the site appear to differ on its future.

The National Park Service — which controls Glover Archbold as part of its Rock Creek Park portfolio — closed a quarter-mile portion of the north-south trail last August, from the intersection of Foxhall and Canal roads NW north to where a side trail connects to P Street. Since then, signs posted at the trail entrance near Foxhall Road continue to warn that the increasing instability of a long-abandoned trolley bridge that crosses above part of the trail “poses a safety hazard to park visitors.”

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which owns the bridge, announced plans last fall to reopen the trail by spring 2017, after conducting emergency bridge repairs and building a covered walkway to protect the Park Service trail underneath.

But none of that work has taken place. Rather, Metro has now indicated to the D.C. Historic Preservation Office and other involved agencies that it hopes to demolish the bridge, according to D.C. Office of Planning spokesperson Edward Giefer.

However, other agencies hope that plans for the bridge — a contributing landmark within the Glover Archbold Park Historic District — will go in a different direction, Giefer said.

“The DC State Historic Preservation Office has been working along with the NPS and DDOT to encourage WMATA to stabilize the trestle and transfer it to DDOT so that it can be used as a bicycle/pedestrian trail,” Giefer wrote in an email. “We are not aware that WMATA has made a final decision.”

The National Park Service is still working with Metro on constructing the covered walkway under the bridge, according to Park Service spokesperson Dana Dierkes. That project is expected to be completed this summer, she said.

Transit authority spokesperson Richard Jordan declined to provide details on plans or a timeline for work on the bridge, stressing that there have been no final decisions.

“We are working on a design solution as a temporary measure,” Jordan wrote in an email. “We will also continue to work with all interested parties to develop an appropriate long term solution.”

Jordan also declined to account for construction delays, but added that “various stakeholders are involved in discussions on how to proceed.”

A representative from the D.C. Department of Transportation, which owns the trolley trail portion west of the bridge, did not provide comment in time for publication.

The trolley line dates back to the 1900s, when city dwellers could ride alongside the Potomac River to and from the Glen Echo Amusement Park in Maryland. Much of the former route — which stopped carrying trolleys in 1960 — has become a narrow pedestrian trail, but the Foundry Branch Bridge serves as an eastern stopping point. The Metro-owned stretch east of the bridge, leading to Georgetown University, is overgrown with tree branches and weeds several feet high.

Palisades resident Brett Young has watched with dismay in recent years as Foundry Branch Bridge has fallen further into disrepair. Back in 2014, Young pushed Metro to commission an architectural study of the structure. The transit authority obliged that June, with architecture firm Structura concluding that a host of necessary replacement and repair efforts would cost approximately $2 million, while a temporary stabilization would cost around $800,000.

“It is recommended that a restoration program be implemented within the next three years to address noted structural concerns and to maintain the stability of the framing system and limit further deterioration,” the report reads, adding that until that happens “the structure should be regularly monitored for any changes from its present condition.”

On Sunday, Young showed a reporter several sizable wooden planks that had fallen recently from the bridge — and could have injured someone walking underneath at the wrong moment. The most rapid deterioration happens during snowstorms, Young said. Other curiosities at the site include a bicycle lodged in a tree atop the bridge.

Young has long floated the possibility of converting the three-mile trolley right-of-way from Georgetown to Galena Place in the Palisades into a 30-foot-wide trail with separate lanes for pedestrians and bicyclists, rather than a narrow path that’s periodically interrupted by impassable abandoned rail bridges. But given that agencies don’t yet agree on short-term plans, his proposal will likely have to wait a while.

Meanwhile, the Glover Archbold trail closure below the old bridge has not been rigorously enforced. During a visit Sunday afternoon, several joggers breezed right past the broken fence, not looking up at the bridge as they went. The signs aren’t completely ineffective, though — one pedestrian walked up to the fence, snapped a few pictures of the bridge with her smartphone and then turned on her heel.

Upon learning of the fence breach when The Current inquired about it on Monday, the Park Service sent a maintenance crew to repair the fence, Dierkes said. The fence was also repaired “a few weeks ago,” Dierkes said — meaning it has been broken several times since the trail closed.

This article appears in the June 14 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.


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Prospect Residents Wary of Condo Plan’s Construction Impact

June 8, 2017

By Cuneyt Dil
Current Correspondent

While a five-story condo project next to the “Exorcist Steps” in Georgetown trudged through the design review process last week, neighbors described a potential horror scenario that construction could bring: a landslide for homes directly uphill.

Half a dozen residents who own homes on Prospect Street, directly above the planned condo development at 3601-3607 M St. NW, say excavation work could disrupt the foundation of the steep hill that offers homes expansive views of the Potomac River and the Key Bridge. They raised the same concern about a previous, similar project at the site, which was approved but ultimately shelved. 

Robert Neubauer of Neubauer Consulting Engineers wrote in a 2014 letter to Prospect Street neighbors that much of the surrounding area was built on top of fill soil, and as a result is “extremely susceptible to vibrations.” He believes excavation at the site, currently an Exxon station, is a “precarious situation.”

“Removing the soil at the base of the steep slope, say, to install an underground parking garage, runs a significant risk of the slope soil failing,” Neubauer wrote.

Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E (Georgetown, Burleith) voted 6-0 last Tuesday to criticize the project’s design as well as its potential impact on Prospect Street homes.

Developers of the site, led by Altus Realty Partners — which acquired the site in fall 2016 from EastBanc and retained the original project team’s architect — pushed back against concerns of the project’s impact to homes on Prospect Street and its design.

The proposed building features a glassy exterior with light gray brick, designed by Amar Sen of the New York-based Handel Architects. The project team hopes to break ground in 2018 and plans to work with Prospect residents to address their concerns, according to Al Troup of Altus. The project requires no zoning relief, but like all projects in the neighborhood, it does need Old Georgetown Board approval.

Troup said the project team has received geotechnical consulting from Schnabel Engineering and that there are a number of concepts to protect the hill, primarily with the construction of a retaining wall. (He declined to release the engineering firm’s findings.) “We’d like to be good neighbors, and we’ve offered several remedies to stabilize their hillside,” Troup said.

Luke Russert, a former NBC News correspondent who lives on Prospect Street, said neighbors around him have been concerned about development downhill for years. “We were always worried about what could destabilize this hillside,” he said.

Russert and several other neighbors voiced concerns at last Monday’s ANC 2E meeting. Among the opponents was University of Maryland professor and Washington Post writer Roger Lewis, who dinged the entire building design as out of scale for the site. “To me, this is a site that demands a more iconic building,” he said.

The ANC 2E resolution prescribed that developers and neighbors “negotiate in good faith” to address any structural issues.

Altus plans to return to the Old Georgetown Board in July or September after further alterations to add more symmetry to the roof deck, which will include a pool and mechanical equipment.

This article appears in the June 7 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.


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