Agency Adopts Concept for Boathouses

Photo by Brian Kapur/Current file photo
Plans call for expanded Potomac River access.
Plans call for expanded Potomac River access.

By Mark Lieberman
Current Staff Writer

A long-gestating plan to build new non-motorized boathouses along the Potomac riverfront in Georgetown was finalized Monday by the National Park Service, though detailed design and implementation remain a long way off.

The Park Service has essentially formalized an iteration of the plan presented to the community last summer, which establishes a maximum development envelope for possible facilities. With this overview in place, the next step is to create detailed designs for each piece and seek community feedback, agency spokesperson Jeremy Barnum told The Current. He couldn’t provide a detailed timeline or estimated cost for the project, but finalizing the initial plans represents “significant progress,” he wrote in an email.

“What we have to do now is reach out to the various partners who are interested in this and go from there,” he said in an interview.

The agency’s proposal, generated after several rounds of back-and-forth with community stakeholders, would allow a three-story, 13,800-square-foot boathouse between the waterfront park and the Key Bridge; a three-story boathouse of between 3,600 and 7,200 square feet just west of the bridge; a two-story, 6,000-square-foot boathouse between the Potomac Boat Club and Washington Canoe Club; and a canoe/kayak launch area beyond the canoe club that could include a 2,700-square-foot storage building. The proposal doesn’t include any architectural plans for the buildings, which will require extensive review at the local and federal level when they become available.

The plan also proposes altering the streetscape near the entrance to the Capital Crescent Trail on Water Street, with two travel lanes and a shared bike lane, as well as a 30-foot-radius cul-de-sac and between 26 and 36 parking spaces. The D.C. Department of Transportation would be responsible for implementing this portion.

As a further aspect of the work, the Capital Crescent Trail would be widened to 10 feet and continued on the south side of Water Street, connecting it to Georgetown Waterfront Park. Other planned upgrades include an expanded kayak rental facility and a rehabilitation of the condemned Washington Canoe Club building, 3700 Water St. NW.

Community leaders have been supportive of the prospect of new boathouses overall but circumspect about various particulars. Bob vom Eigen, president of Citizens Association of Georgetown, told The Current he remains skeptical that the Park Service will find the funding for these projects and uncertain that the planned boathouses will revitalize the riverfront area to the degree the agency is promising.

“It’s not clear that the growing community is going to embrace the highly rigid design that they’ve concocted,” vom Eigen said. He’s frustrated that the Park Service doesn’t appear open to substantially revising its plans, though the agency has said particulars could change as the design progress.

For its part, Georgetown University is “grateful to the Park Service for its leadership on this important effort to expand public access to the river” and plans to stay active in future discussions of the boathouse project, according to spokesperson Rachel Pugh. George Washington University didn’t respond to a request for comment in time for publication.

In August, Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E (Georgetown, Burleith) urged the Park Service not to let a large boathouse interfere with views of the river and the Key Bridge.

Commissioners haven’t had a chance to review the latest update, chair Joe Gibbons told The Current on Tuesday, but ANC 2E will be closely monitoring the impact on traffic from this project and others happening simultaneously in that area, he said.

Meanwhile, C&O Canal Association first vice president Rod Mackler remains pleased with the progress on the project after years of delays.

He’s particularly enthusiastic about the prospect of revitalizing the vacant lot west of the waterfront park and improving safety for pedestrians at the Water Street entrance to the trail. He shares ANC 2E’s preliminary concerns about oversized boathouses, though.

“There is a lot yet to be designed and done as the design phase comes about. We’re keeping an eye on those things, whether the boathouses grow and become disproportionate to the Washington waterfront,” Mackler said. “Generally speaking we’re positive about this document.”

The Georgetown Business Improvement District is also optimistic about the plans and looks forward to contributing further to them, according to president and CEO Joe Sternlieb.

This article appears in the Feb. 15 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.