A decades-long effort to build a boathouse along the banks of the Potomac River is lurching forward once more.
Officials with the National Park Service have wrapped up an environmental analysis of the project and settled on a preferred alternative near Rosslyn for its construction, in the latest bit of forward momentum for an initiative that has long bedeviled county leaders.
Local high schoolers have been particularly keen on seeing a new boathouse come to the fruition, as the closest access points for rowing teams have long been in Georgetown or Alexandria, but the project’s complexity has repeatedly stalled it.
NPS took control of Arlington’s portion of the Potomac shoreline after the construction of the GW Parkway, and the federal agency has spent years working off-and-on with the county to find a way to give local rowers easier access to the river. Arlington officials helped jump-start the process in 2014 by buying a parcel of land along Lee Highway just south of the Key Bridge, giving the NPS some added flexibility as it evaluated several options where the boathouse could be built.
Now, the agency is recommending a design that would involve building a 300-foot-long floating dock and 14,000 square feet of boat storage along the Potomac’s shoreline near Rosslyn, just across from Theodore Roosevelt Island. The plan also calls for building a support facility on the county-owned Lee Highway site with office space, locker rooms and handicapped parking.
NPS also evaluated plans to build the boathouse on the same site near the island without the support building, as well as an option that would involve building the boathouse on Gravelly Point near Reagan National Airport instead.
Yet the agency settled on its preferred alternative because the additional space off Lee Highway “allows for development of a smaller boat storage structure while providing additional support facilities outside the floodplain, off NPS property, and close to transit,” officials wrote in the environmental analysis.
They also noted that the Potomac is a bit calmer near the Rosslyn location, earning it higher marks than Gravelly Point. The close proximity of the Rosslyn Metro station and several local bus stops, in addition to the Custis bike trail, also won the option some praise.
While the agency found that any construction would have some limited impacts on the area’s wetlands and soil, it broadly didn’t foresee many stumbling blocks for the project to move forward. Nevertheless, any construction will require both federal and state permits to advance, and the county will need to work with federal officials to find funding for the effort.
In the meantime, however, NPS is accepting comments on the environmental analysis through July 30 on its website. The agency also plans to hold a July 12 open house at Washington-Lee High School on the project, starting at 6 p.m.
Hat tip to Chris Slatt
There’s a renewed push for action on the decades-old plan to build a boathouse in the Rosslyn area.
County and federal officials want the public to know that although the project has stopped and restarted several times, it definitely hasn’t been scrapped.
Arlington County has been working on various forms of the boathouse project since the 1990s. It has collaborated with the National Park Service because the county’s shoreline along the Potomac River technically is NPS property.
In October, the county requested that the Commonwealth of Virginia quitclaim any interest it has in the street that fronts the property at 1101 Lee Highway. The county had purchased the Lee Highway land parcel in 2014 for $2.4 million with the listed intent of using the land for possible boathouse-related purposes.
The county requested the quitclaim because it’s unclear exactly who owns and maintains this small portion of the land along the former Lee Highway right of way. VDOT now has to approve the quitclaim — which has no fiscal impact to either party — and the county believes that should happen by or shortly after the new year.
The county points out that this section of land also is the only service vehicle access point if a boathouse is built. Public parking and drop-offs would be located in a safer area further away from the busy intersection with N. Lynn Street and the I-66 off-ramp.
Any progress on the boathouse plan is theoretical until NPS completes an environmental study — as required by law — showing how such a project would impact the area’s natural and cultural resources.
NPS launched an environmental impact statement (EIS) in 2012, with funding secured by former Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.). The study involved getting community feedback on locations for a potential boathouse.
But the EIS was put on hold and NPS is investigating whether it can instead do an environmental assessment, which is a similar but less intensive study that takes less time to produce. The EA would incorporate the information already gathered during the now-stalled EIS.
NPS launched a transportation study last year to determine what impact a boathouse would have on the area’s existing transportation network. The agency has been collaborating with Arlington County and VDOT for that study and in compiling a final report on the transportation impacts.
Although 1101 Lee Highway was intended to be a location for a boathouse facility, that’s actually not set in stone. That parcel of land is called an “upper site” and cannot effectively host a boathouse on its own without a nearby “lower site” near Theodore Roosevelt Island where boats could be stored and launched. If NPS deems another site better suited for a boathouse, Arlington County could use the Lee Highway land for something else.
“In addition, or as an alternative use, the county may put other passive or recreational uses on the parcel,” said Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services spokeswoman Jessica Baxter. “We need to wait until a final determination is made by the National Park Service on the parcel, so other uses aren’t actively being pursued.”
A study for another hot project — the Rosslyn-Georgetown gondola — in relatively the same area was released last month, but Baxter says it’s far too early to consider that an option for the land parcel. In fact, she said it’s premature to even comment on the feasibility of a possible gondola project because the study hasn’t even been reviewed or vetted by county staff.
As far as the next steps for moving forward with the boathouse, NPS hopes to announce a decision about the environmental study and its possible transition to an environmental assessment by early 2017.
If the agency announces it is able to go forward with an EA instead of an EIS, it could potentially reveal a preferred boathouse site at that time as well, although the location decision is not required until the final environmental study results are released.
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Photo courtesy Peter Golkin
Arlington County has worked to bring a boathouse to the area since the 1990s. It has collaborated with the National Park Service on the project because Arlington’s shoreline technically is NPS property.
NPS launched an environmental impact statement (EIS) more than two years ago per direction from Congress, but had to put it on hold. Neither the county nor NPS would comment on why the EIS stalled. NPS and county staff revived the process when they met twice this spring to discuss moving forward. NPS now is in the process of finding a contractor to complete the EIS. According to NPS Superintendent Alex Romero, the goal is to partner with the contractor who previously began the EIS.
“There’s work that’s already been done,” said Romero. “We’re purposely identifying the same contractor that worked on it in the past to pick up where they left off. There may be some tweaks to the existing document, but we don’t want to revisit the whole thing.”
The county acquired some land in May on which the boathouse could be built if the Key Bridge area is chosen as the boathouse location. The County Board approved the purchase of 1101 Lee Hwy in Rosslyn for $2.4 million. However, the exact site for a boathouse hasn’t been chosen and won’t be until the completion of the EIS. So if an area other than Rosslyn is picked, the land purchased in May could be used for other recreational uses, according to Arlington County Park Development Division Chief Lisa Grandle.
Rep. Jim Moran, who is touted as being instrumental in securing funding for the EIS, believes the land purchase is a step in the right direction.
“Arlington’s decision to acquire land at Rosslyn Circle for a potential joint initiative with the National Park Service is encouraging and moves us closer to bringing the dream of an Arlington boathouse to reality.” Moran said.
The hope is that a contractor will be chosen soon and can begin to work on the EIS this year. Once a contract is awarded, NPS will have a better idea of long-term timelines for steps like public involvement, final plan approval and finding a company to build a boathouse.
“Until then, everything is preliminary, but the ball is rolling,” said Romero. “We are looking forward to moving ahead with the study and developing alternatives, and seeing what the alternative is so it blends into the landscape along the George Washington Memorial Parkway.”