In the Cityscape column on the Georgetown Waterfront Park (June 27), a statement made by someone else was mistakenly attributed to Carol Currie Gidley. CAPTION: (NEW-LINE)Picture, Fine Arts Commission plan for Georgetown water front; photo by Joel Richardson - the Washington Post
Georgetown's promised waterfront park is in danger of turning into a stagnating political morass.
On the initiative of Sen. Charles McC. Mathias Jr. (R-Md.), all concerned - the Transportation, and Interior departments, the city government, representatives of the Georgetown citizen - agreed on the riverside park a year ago.
Under the agreement, the Georgetown gap in the green edge of the Potomac, which runs from Cumberland to Hains Point, is to be lawn and trees, walkways and bicycle paths, marinas and restaurants.
The 160-foot-wide green swath would replace the present industrial slum between Key Bridge and Rock Creek, south of the Whitehurst Freeway. Under the prevailing law this area could also sprout industrial and commercial high-rise buildings.
The Mathias agreement limits private development to roughly four acres out of a total of about 20 acres. The development is planned along the freeway and would be predominantly residential and only about half as high as the law permits. It took the Georgetown Waterfront Task Force, patiently chaired by David Child of the National Capital Planning Commission, a year to work out careful controls and guidelines to assure that the development be a lively asset to the proposed park and the Georgetown.
Sen. Mathias is happy with it. Ten days ago he praised Child's leadership and the Task Force proposal as a consensus of views "shared in a rational manner away from the courtroom" and as a "friendlier, less time-consuming way to get something done on the Georgetown waterfront."
But when the Task Force met last Wednesday, Georgetown citizen representatives, who have lost their courtroom challenge to the city's right to control waterfront development, seemed anything but rational, let alone friendly. They were bickering heckling, shouting, pouting and stomping out of the meeting.
And the Secretary of the Fine Arts Commission, Charles Atherton, encouraged by Georgetowners, is urging the city "not to plunge into development" and has drawn up a waterfront plan of his own.
Atherton's trial balloon omits the four-acre development. It represents the "total park" that Katherine R. Sullivan, a militant Georgetowner, says "99 percent of all Washington citizens want."
This "total park" would be even lovelier if the highway department would bury the rickety old Whitehurst Freeway that was declared obsolete some 15 years ago. But no one even mentions that any more. Instead, the city transportation department announced it would soon spend $25 million to improve its ugliness.
To buy the four acres that keep the waterfront park from being "total" would cost at least $25 million. The property orginally belonged in part to the Chessie Railroad and in part to the Inland Steel Corp. It has recently been joined and acquired by the Western Development Corp., which is also building the "Georgetown Park" shopping center at Wisconsin Avenue and M Street.
Sullivan believes she can get the $25 million by declaring the waterfront a Franklin D. Rossevelt Memorial Park.
Anyone who has heard of Proposition 13and the present adminstration's feelings about Washington will agree that the chances of additional federal funds for FDR's memory, or the Sullivan-Atherton daydream are about as great as moving Mount Rushmore to Roosevelt Island to hide the Rosslyn skyscrapers.
This is not to say that a slightly larger park at this beautiful site would not be desirable. But it could be justified only as a recreation park for all of Washington's citizens. Since the Glen Echo amusement park was closed and the proposed Bicentennial "children's park" on Kingman Island somehow vanished in the Anacostia River, the inner-city youngsters desperately need a place to swim, play ball, picnic, fool around and enjoy themselves. We need something like Tivoli in Copenhagen or Ontario Park in Toronto.
Such a park might also siphon off some of the suburban kids who roam Georgetown's commerical strips, the ones Georgetowns keep complaining about.
But would they not complain even more about non-Georgetown kids playing along the river? The only access to the waterfront park, as Atherton has designed it, would be through Georgetown streets. A "total" city park, furthermore would attract as much traffic or more than a residential development for 400 families.
The city's chief planner, Jim Gibson, had it just about right when he said of the need for a park: "Desperation in this city takes many forms, some of which can be addressed by revenues coming from this development."
The city's estimated tax income from the proposed development is $3 to $4 million to year.
But that is not its only benefit. as Sen. Mathias has pointed out, "properly designed and located, such residences could give life to the otherwise dead space which stretches from the shadows of the Whitehurst Freeway to the water . . . Residences would put people on the streets and provide some 'eyes on the park' for security."
The developer can command high prices for houses along the river park. In exchange, the government can demand buildings that are considerably lower and smaller than the zoning envelope permits.
The draft directives hammered out by David Child and his Task Force assure a design everyone concerned could live with. It demands varied heights that are terraced down on all sides from a maximum 60 feet to 20 feet.
The document's intention to screen the Whitehurst Freeway from sight reduced Sulllivan to sardonic peels of laughter. She said sarcastically that reviving the dead eight-lane inner loop freeway plan "would be preferable to the proposed development."
The Task Force draft, however, prescribes ingenious ways of using the freeway "stumps," or dead end exits. As sketched by the Planning Commission's Stephen Kloss, there would be trees and overlooks on top of them and galleries, walkways, kiosks and vending stands below. The developer, Herbert Miller, promised to adopt these non-profit ideas.
There are other demands and restrictions put on the developer - more than planners in other cities could get away with. Yet quarrelsome Georgetown is not satisfied.
Donald H. Shannon, a Georgetown Advisory Neighborhood Commission representative, professed himself so insulted by by the refinements of this document, which Georgetown citizen representatives had agreed to in principle last year that he stormed out of the room.
Another Georgetown ANC chairperson, Carol Currie Gidley, proclaimed that no other city in the world had buildings close to its river, having apparently never looked as far as Alexandria, let alone London or Paris. She wanted "a total park" or nothing; i.e., the present impoundment lot, garbage trucks and mess.
Only Grosvenor Chapman, the architect and Georgetown leader, and Charles Poore, the present chairman of the Georgetown Citizens Association, saved the noble notion of citizen participation from turning into a donnybrook.
Chapman, having first called the Task Force effort "appalling," called developer Miller "a nice person to work with." But then he demanded that the developers be locked into "iron" restrictions to protect the world from their perfidities.
Poore demanded to know the precise FAR, or floor area ratio, that Miller was to be permitted.
The planning professionals tried to convince him that they are not out ot dictate numbers but to encourage good design. Good urban design can and must be given parameters rather than tight limitations.
If the design turns out to be deficient, the Fine Arts Commission, with citizen participations, can recommend specific improvements or even veto it.
But in Georgetown, it seems, neither planners nor developers are to be trusted.Hard bargaining, to be sure, is part of the game, and Georgetown's militancy has undoubtedly helped to protect much that gives the neighborhood its expensive charm.
But obstinate paranoid polarization defeats its own commendable purposes.