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Park Service Study Lays Out Boathouse Options

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All three proposed development scenarios would revamp the outdated Washington Canoe Club building and create a new boathouse just east of Key Bridge that could host rowing programs for local schools.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