Thompson's Boat Center along the Potomac River is so crowded that Wilson High School's 90-member rowing team has to "get creative" by staggering training sessions, according to coach Bryan Tylander.
His team does not have storage space for all the racing shells, so only about 73 students can be on the water at the same time. Practices are scheduled for the early morning and late evening to work around the schedules of 10 other high schools, Georgetown University and other rowing programs.
(Rendering Courtesy Of Muse Architects)
"There's a multi-year waiting list for the racks," Tylander said.
So when Georgetown University and the National Park Service several years ago began to discuss plans to build a separate 33,000-square-foot boathouse for the university, the idea thrilled Tylander, his athletes and the rest of the District's expanding rowing community. If Georgetown's 150-member team moved out, that would create more room at Thompson's for everyone.
But so far, ground has yet to be broken. A group of environmentalists and canoeists, calling themselves the Defenders of the Potomac River Parkland, have banded together to fight the proposed boathouse, which they say could cause ecological damage to parkland and block scenic views of the river.
The group's members say they are not fundamentally opposed to a new boathouse; they would prefer a smaller structure in a different location.
Some activists have filed lawsuits against the D.C. Zoning Commission, which approved the new boathouse plan, and the National Park Service. An anti-boathouse Web site, www.savethecanal.org, refers to the project as the "McBloathouse."
"Had they come in with a boathouse that truly satisfies their programmatic needs, there might have been some complaining . . . but it would never have gotten any traction," said Ernie Brooks, chairman of the Coalition for the Capital Crescent Trail, which opposes the project. "The only reason the opposition got strength was because of how greedy the people at Georgetown were."
Since December 2003, when the zoning commission approved the boathouse plans, opposition has mounted. The Park Service, with Georgetown University's blessing, has agreed to conduct an environmental assessment, paid for by the university, to determine the boathouse's possible adverse effects.
The study, which could take several months to complete, will probably help determine the project's future. Dozens of activists on both sides of the debate turned out for a meeting held Jan. 11 to establish the scope of that study.
"This is a delay," Georgetown crew coach Tony Johnson said. "It's a clear delay because it stops everything. We have architects not doing anything."
Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia said in a written statement to The Washington Post that the boathouse "would help to beautify the waterfront consistent with the Park Service's goal of providing non-motorized recreational opportunities and be an attractive asset for the university and city communities."
The idea of building another boathouse on the Potomac is not new.
The Park Service has favored it since 1987, as part of a plan to create a waterfront park. The federal agency has an agreement with Georgetown University to trade parcels of land so the school can build the boathouse just upstream from the Washington Canoe Club, which is at 3700 Water Street NW.