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With Georgetown Boathouse Zone Study Underway, Community Readies Input

The National Park Service non-motorized boathouse zone feasibility study for the Georgetown waterfront.

Nearly 100 people attended an informational meeting Tuesday on the National Park Service for the Georgetown waterfront. NPS has explored various plans in the past 25 years for the stretch of waterfront land from 34th Street to about 1,200 feet upstream of the Key Bridge.

Kevin Brandt, the NPS superintendent for the C&O Canal historic park, told the crowd that he had been involved with various plans for the past 15 years.

The goal of the newest iteration is to look at ways of "enhancing access to the river," he said. "Hopefully we can find a way forward" he added, unlike the previous efforts.

Peter May, the NPS's associate regional director for lands, resources, and planning for the Capital region, said the study area is largely defined by the previous years of exploration and community input about the waterfront.

When asked why the plan only extended to 1,200 feet from the bridge, May granted that limiting the upstream area "does seem fairly arbitrary," but added that NPS is "not really interested in doing that much development up-river."

Georgetown has previously designed a boathouse for the area and even went through the Environmental Assessment process for a proposed land exchange
between NPS and Georgetown University. That EA was never completed and the proposal was never executed.

May was firm that the purpose of the current study was not to determine who goes where or to suggest the exact space for proposed uses. Rather, he said, the goal it is to explore all of the current and possible future uses along that stretch of the Potomac.

"When we engaged in prior processes, we got a lot of feedback at that time that there were a lot of things were not taking into consideration," explained May.

To that point, the next step for NPS is to engage in meetings with key stakeholders such as the universities, Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, current waterfront users and environmental groups, among others.

The NPS also plans to hold at least one weekend workshop for community members to offer feedback and talk about their preferred uses for the waterfront area.

Crew Coach Kirk Shipley from Bethesda's attended the meeting Tuesday, hoping to learn more about plans that could create greater opportunity for both collegiate and high school crew teams. Right now his team of 100 boys and girls shares the space at __ with 14 other area high schools. Shipley called it "managed chaos."

Another attendee wanted to know why the NPS had padlocked the Washington Canoe Club and prohibited the club from fully-using the historic property. Brandt said the property belonged to NPS and had been declared structurally unsafe. Though there were grumbles that the building was still operable, Brandt said safety was the primary concern for the NPS.

About the club, which was founded in 1904, Brandt said, "I certainly hope they can be an active partner in maintaining their activity" along the waterfront.

Also included in the study area are three townhouse properties: two owned by Georgetown and one owned privately. So far the NPS has not been able to acquire the privately held property, according to May.'

Harold Seigel asked why the area isn't being considered for a powerboat marina. The plan specifies a non-motorized boat zone.

He added, "You are ignoring your largest constituency," referring to the boaters who use the Potomac and often dock along the Georgetown waterfront.

May said NPS would be happy to hear input from boaters beyond the non-motorized variety, but that the specification was based on input from previous plans.

The theme of the evening was that NPS wants to hear it all before they issue the results of the feasibility study in the fall of 2012.

When asked what kind of timeline the NPS has in mind for moving forward beyond the feasibility study, May joked, "we don't know where we'll be after Friday," referring to federal budget issues.

But once the study is released, May said, NPS "wants to keep some momentum."

The NPS study is open for comment now. Patch will provide updates on future opportunties for public involvement as they are scheduled.

Edmund Preston January 01, 2012 at 03:25 PM
It’s important to recognize that much of the zone being considered by the feasibility study is part of the C&O Canal National Historical Park. Private development should not be allowed to intrude there -- it’s a scenic and historic area that should be preserved for everyone to enjoy. There are better ways to enhance boating access along the Potomac. For background on the issue, see the link below. -- Ned Preston http://www.candocanal.org/news/boathouse-zone-meeting.html

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