A $2.3 million request for a city park on the long-disputed, decaying Georgetown waterfront has been included in the District's 1984 construction budget at the personal direction of Mayor Marion Barry, as his first concrete--and unexpected--attempt to fulfill a longstanding pledge.
The park would be adjacent to a six-acre, $154 million private development previously approved by the city over the strong opposition of Georgetown citizens' groups.
Leaders of the neighborhood groups and federal planners said last week that Barry's new proposal came as a surprise because they had expected the city to turn the land over to the National Park Service. Spokesmen for the citizens' organizations also questioned the mayor's motives in pushing for the park.
The proposal, which must be approved by the City Council and Congress, is only the first step in a usually lengthy process that would include several stages and reviews by federal and city planners as well as neighborhood groups.
Barry said he put the request in his 1984 budget proposal because he wants to speed up efforts to clean up the waterfront. "The main thing is to get started," Barry said. "It's an eyesore down there."
Citizens groups had lobbied for the entire prized 15-acre waterfront to be converted into a park, a position also endorsed by Barry. However, the effort failed, partly because no funds could be found to purchase the six acres of privately owned land between 30th and 31st streets NW, the site of a development planned by Western Development Corp. of Georgetown and CSX Resources, Inc. of Richmond.
The final blow to foes of the development came in 1981 when a Barry administration official, designated by the mayor as the city's historical preservation agent, approved the Western Development-CSX plan for the six acres. The decision was later upheld by the D.C. Court of Appeals. The development will include offices, shops, custom-built homes costing up to $500,000 and a boat basin.
The adjacent nearly nine acres of city property where the mayor would like to build the park begins at 31st Street NW and extends west to Key Bridge.
There is also a controversy involving that land, stemming from the District's decision to lease portions of the site to three businessmen developing plans for converting a former presidential yacht, the USS Williamsburg, into a floating restaurant complex with a 450-person capacity. The city leases grant the restaurant developers an access road to the yacht through the proposed park, between 34th and 35th streets NW, and a parking lot.
Leaders of the Citizens Association of Georgetown and the area's Advisory Neighborhood Commission have argued that the city should not permit a parking lot for a private venture on land scheduled to be a public park and that the complex of three restaurants is an additional unnecessary commercial venture.
Federal planners and leaders of the two citizen organizations said last week that the National Park Service, which controls and maintains the rest of the land along the Potomac, was the logical agency to develop the park.
Barry, in a interview last week, said he made the decision to have the city develop the park because the National Park Service does not have funds to build it.
Barry's proposal, which was the only item included in the capital budget for the city recreation department, also came as a surprise to recreation and other city officials. In their recommendations to the mayor, city staffers had rejected recreation department requests to renovate three other facilities. The staff recommended that the recreation department receive no capital projects for the second straight year.
"I put the park proposal in the budget," Barry said. "That's what the mayor is supposed to do--put things in that I want in."
Preliminary city plans call for the area to be cleared and turned into a grassy open space with trees and a promenade along the water.
The $2.3 million request is part of Barry's overall $111 million city construction budget for 1984. The construction budget, which is funded entirely with federal loans, is separate from the mayor's proposed $1.9 billion operating budget for city agencies and services.
Ann Satterthwaite, a longtime opponent of commercial development on the waterfront and a vice president of the Citizens Association of Georgetown, said the city should turn the land over to the National Park Service. "I don't understand why the city is interested in building the park when they're in a more difficult financial situation than the federal government," Satterthwaite said.
Satterthwaite and Raymond Kukulski, chairman of the Ward Three Advisory Neighborhood commission, both said the Western Development-CSX project and the floating restaurant proposal would be enhanced by the city replacing what is now a blighted area--a parking lot for city garbage trucks, a salt pile and weeds--with the park.
They added that one of the three businessmen involved in the floating restaurants is Stuart J. Long, a close Barry political ally.
"They're out to lunch with that one," the mayor said, in stating that the park was not designed to help Long or the other developers' projects. "A great majority of the people in Georgetown and in the city want to have a beautiful park on the waterfront."
Long, in a separate interview, said the original city lease for the floating restaurants' docking site, which called for it to be where Wisconsin Avenue NW intersects the waterfront, was granted before Barry became mayor.
Long said the site was later moved away from Wisconsin Avenue NW to a less prime location between 34th and 35th streets NW when Barry "heavily suggested" it after he became mayor. Long said Barry felt that shifting the restaurant site would improve the proposed park's design.