Hope for the Waterfront at Last?
Thursday, May 11, 2006
The view can be spectacular: sun peeking through the elegant arches of Key Bridge, shorelines ruffled with leafy trees, a single scull cutting through the glassy river.
This is the breathtaking vista reserved for dozens of cars parked in a cracked, weed-choked lot along the Potomac River in Georgetown, surrounded by a chain-link fence and fiercely fought over for almost 30 years.
Although senators, doctors, lawyers and activists have placed their weight and money behind the effort to create a spectacular waterfront park on this land, the project has been caught in decades of delays, fundraising standstills and bureaucratic snafus.
Washington craves this space. On any lovely evening, the waterfront is filled with people who pick their way through the broken glass and trash of the parking lot and bicyclists who dodge traffic -- just to be near the river.
But the Georgetown Waterfront Park is still the dream of many Washingtonians who envision meandering pathways, a fountain and stadium-style steps leading down to the river to accommodate cheering regatta fans where the cars now park.
"We're just on the brink of it happening; we really are this time," said Ann Satterthwaite, a doggedly hopeful Georgetown resident who has been fighting for the park since the 1970s.
There is some movement to justify Satterthwaite's unflagging enthusiasm. Last week, concept plans for the third phase of the park -- the stretch from Thompson Boat Center to the Kennedy Center -- received unanimous approval from the National Capital Planning Commission.
And the week before that, the National Park Service issued an environmental assessment for the Georgetown University boathouse that is planned as part of the park but is opposed by some activists who don't want the structure so close to the C&O Canal.
In its recent presentations, the Park Service has promised that construction of the park and the boathouse will begin this year. The slightly faded and overly optimistic sign on the parking lot along Water Street declares construction will begin in 2005.
The park is planned to span the area from Key Bridge to the end of 31st Street. Phase 1 is the stretch upstream from Wisconsin Avenue to the boathouses at Key Bridge, and construction is expected to begin this summer. Phase 2 is the terminus of Wisconsin Avenue, where a plaza and fountain would connect the riverfront to the street, and construction on that won't begin until more funds are raised.
The third phase of construction would create two separate paths for bicycles and pedestrians, and would install trees and benches, from the Kennedy Center to about a half-mile upstream near Thompson boathouse, where visitors can rent kayaks, canoes and bikes and where many rowers keep their shells.
Where Wisconsin Avenue meets the riverfront, there would be a strolling fountain: a display of low, squirting jets designed to be walked through. Wheelchairs would be able to roll through it, because the water would not pool but drain and recirculate. There would be a curved path covered by a pergola, canopy trees, flowering trees, benches and lights.