Arlington, VA

The Rosslyn boathouse project is one step closer to setting sail, thrilling some local officials but also facing opposition from some local residents.

The National Park Service ushered the project along to a new phase this week, announcing that the proposed site for the boathouse in Rosslyn will have no significant environmental impact. This closes NPS’ environmental assessment of where the boathouse could be located that has dragged on for seven years, and means the design phase can begin.

“I personally am thrilled about this possibility,” Mary-Claire Burick, president of the Rosslyn Business Improvement District, told ARLnow yesterday (Wednesday). “Access to the river is so important not only for the county but also for our residents and visitors throughout Rosslyn. I would say that the Potomac River is probably the greatest un-utilized recreational resource that we have.”

“I think we still have quite a bit to go in the process,” she added. “But I think this is a very important milestone.”

But not all share Burick’s optimism about the project’s progress. The Arlington County Civic Federation voted 33-1 earlier this month to request the Arlington County Board hold more discussions with the public about the site for the boathouse and the project in general, as the Sun Gazette reported.

The resolution approved by the federation accused the Board of “not acting in accordance” with its standards for public planning processes. Members were upset about the Board initially slating the vote for the boathouse on their meeting’s consent agenda instead of planning a public hearing, the Sun Gazette reported. They also asserted that the county’s Park and Recreation Commission and the Environment and Energy Conservation Commission were not consulted about the plan.

Previously, the Arlington County Board voted unanimously to allow NPS to finish the environmental assessment of 2105 N. Lynn Street (formerly known as 1101 Lee Highway), the planned location for the boathouse. The County Board’s vote sided with NPS in eschewing an alternative site at Gravelly Point.

“Since the 1980s, Arlington residents have sought a community boathouse to provide access to the Potomac for recreation, education and fitness activities,” said Erik Meyers, Arlington Boathouse Foundation president. He added in a statement that he was “grateful” NPS brought the project closer to that goal.

“We are pleased to see this long-planned project pass such an important milestone,” said Jane Rudolph, director of Arlington’s Department of Parks and Recreation, in a statement.

Rudolph said the county looks “forward to continuing to work with our community partners to establish this resource to benefit all Arlingtonians.”

The current plans propose a 14,000-square-foot boathouse, a 300-foot-long dock, a facilities building with lockers and bathrooms, an access road, and a small parking lot.

Burick said the BID is committed to acting as “a community convener” to bring civic associations and other groups to table during the upcoming design phase of the project. She believed Rosslyn residents will be excited about the project, considering residents’ love for outdoor recreation and the site’s Metro accessibility.

Burick added that she is a Potomac paddle boarder and hopes that a boathouse on the Potomac’s Virginia shores will teach people to love the river as much as she does.

“I think it will bode really well for the health of the river because the more people who start using it fall in love with it,” she said.

When asked if she thought the boathouse project moving forward put wind in the sails of Arlington’s long-debated gondola project, Burick said it could be a useful transit option for the region to explore.

“A lot of people say gondolas sound fanciful,” she said. “But you know what? I think we should be looking at water taxis, we should be looking at gondolas.”

Image via Arlington County

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Morning Notes

Last Week of School — The 2018-2019 school year is concluding this week for Arlington Public Schools. Today is the last day of school for high schools, while Friday is the last day of school for middle and elementary schools. [Arlington Public Schools]

Park Service Advances Boathouse Plan — “Plans to establish a community boathouse on the Potomac River in Arlington just passed a major milestone. The National Park Service completed its Environmental Assessment (EA) with a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), which sets up the project to move forward.” [Arlington County, Twitter]

State of the County Address — “Christian Dorsey began his State of the County address by thanking the Arlington Chamber of Commerce and the Arlington business community for their partnership ‘on specific issues from the transient occupancy tax, to dedicated funding for the Metro, to helping us put our best foot forward in the competition for  Amazon’s HQ2.'” [Press Release]

Arlington Public Safety Awards — “Following the State of the County address, awards were presented to honor Arlington County’s public safety personnel…  Stories of their heroic actions include two firefighters rescuing a person trapped inside a vehicle that was fully submerged in water, a detective dismantling a large, local cocaine trafficking organization with limited investigative leads, and a police officer saving two unresponsive passengers in an overturned, burning vehicle on the roadway.” [Press Release]

Fraud Alert from Arlington Police — “The Arlington County Police Department and Sheriff’s Office are warning the public about a telephone scam that uses the threat of arrest to extort money from potential victims.” [Arlington County]

Metro Studying Second Rosslyn Metro Station — “After decades of discussion, Metro kicked off a study this week of a new, second station at Rosslyn and other changes that could overhaul the way trains on the Blue, Orange and Silver lines run throughout the system.” [WTOP]

ACPD: No Plans for ‘Mass Deportation’ — “The Arlington County Police Department called the plan ‘political’ and said they have no intention on working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to fulfill [President] Trump’s mass deportation plan. The Fairfax County Police Department said it doesn’t participate with ICE on civil enforcement either.” [Fox 5]

Photo courtesy Dennis Dimick

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Arlington County may be moving forward with plans to build the long-awaited boathouse in Rosslyn, but some are wondering why a site at Gravelly Point wasn’t chosen instead.

National Park Service spokesman Aaron LaRocca tells ARLnow that Rosslyn was chosen because “it best meets the purpose and need statement in the [environmental assessment] to enhance waterfront access and provide a boathouse facility along the Virginia shore of the Potomac for non-motorized, water based recreation” better than Gravelly Point.

The County Board voted Tuesday to allow County Manager Mark Schwartz to sign a programmatic agreement that ends NPS’ environmental assessment of the decades-long project. This means NPS can now start start designing the boathouse in consultation with the county government and other local stakeholders, LaRocca said.

The environmental assessment examined several alternative sites for the boat house, including Gravelly Point, just north of Reagan National Airport.

Local activist Suzanne Smith Sundburg argued Gravelly Point should have been chosen instead in a letter to the Board before the vote, citing the trees on the Rosslyn site at 2105 N. Lynn Street (formerly known as 1101 Lee Highway) that would need to be cut down. Sundburg also cited the “highly destructive dredging of 52,000 square feet of precious Potomac River wetlands” also needed.

LaRocca said that the Gravelly Point site was unsuitable from an environmental perspective because it lies within a floodplain, whereas the Rosslyn site does not.

In addition to better access to public transit, he added that the Rosslyn site is also “the preferred alternative” because the water is calmer, which would improve boater safety and allow for more days on the river as compared to the Gravelly Point location.

Independent County Board candidate Audrey Clement echoed Sundburg’s concerns Tuesday night, and added that the Rosslyn site would also require a parking lot and an access road to be built, whereas Gravelly Point already has parking and ready access to the GW Parkway.

“Gravelly Point was proposed to avoid potentially sensitive resources and reduce the amount of road infrastructure needed to access the site, compared to other locations along this part of the Potomac River,” says the NPS environmental assessment.

The 106-page study notes that Gravelly Point has turf grass, not trees, and existing parking facilities, but it also notes that wildlife like small rodents, fish, and birds were recorded in “statistically lower” amounts at the Rosslyn site than at Gravelly Point.

LaRocca said NPS recommended the Rosslyn site after weighing the environmental impact and service needs, along with other factors.

Board member Erik Gutshall said he expects improvements to the boathouse plan to be made in the next design phase, and that the current plan’s shortcomings were not a reason for the Board to reject “broad brush” of the project Tuesday night.

Image 1 via County Board, Image 2 via National Park Service

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The Arlington County Board voted last night to advance long-awaited plans for a new public boathouse in Rosslyn.

Members unanimously voted to allow County Manager Mark Schwartz to sign an agreement with the National Park Service, which will allow the federal agency to end its environmental assessment of the project and kick off the design phase.

Board Chair Christian Dorsey said the vote “sets the stage” for the next steps in the process, which will be “subject to further testing and analysis.”

The current design plans call for a 14,000-square-foot boathouse and a 300-foot-long dock along with lockers and bathrooms in another building with parking and road access.

Prior to the vote, several residents expressed concerns that building on the proposed site at 1101 Lee Highway would lead to trees being cut down, among other environmental impacts that NPS also initially feared. Three residents asked why Gravelly Point could not be considered as an alternative location, but officials did not directly respond to the question.

Board member Erik Gutshall said the future design process will wrestle with many of those details, so there was no reason not to move forward with the “broad brush” of the project Tuesday night.

Some residents also expressed concern that the boathouse could “turn Key Bridge into a traffic nightmare during rush hour,” as independent County Board candidate Audrey Clement put it.

Environmental & Energy Conservation Commission member Claire O’Dea said the commission did not have an official recommendation to offer, but that “because of the likelihood of significant environmental impact” the group urged the County Board to involve all stakeholders throughout the development process.

Erik Meyers, Arlington resident and president of the Arlington Boathouse Foundation, said the foundation has brainstormed ways to build the boathouse “to sit as lightly as possible on the land and with respect to the river.” He added that signing the agreement would help “a community that has been long separated from its historic shoreline.”

Another resident said she’s travelled to the Georgetown boathouse for the last 12 years to row and would welcome a facility on the Virginia side of the Potomac.

“It would be fantastic to have facilities in Rosslyn,” she said. “It gives Arlington County residents and high school rowing programs closer and safer access to the river.”

The county has been in talks to build the boathouse for over 20 years. NPS’ environmental assessment began in 2012 but stalled soon after before being revived in 2016.

Images via Arlington County

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Arlington County Board is scheduled to vote on the latest step in the decades-long plan to build a Rosslyn boathouse.

On Saturday, members are set to consider a “programmatic agreement” to build a boathouse at 1101 Lee Highway in Rosslyn, which would allow non-motorized boats like kayaks to launch into the Potomac from Arlington’s shore.

The county purchased land south of the Key Bridge in 2014 to help hasten the permitting process with the National Park Service, which is overseeing the project.

County spokeswoman Jennifer Smith said this agreement, if approved, would bring the country one paddle closer to a boathouse:

The Programmatic Agreement is a routine element of the environmental review process and reflects the intent of National Park Service and the various regional parties involved in development of the project to cooperate in implementing it. The Board vote is required to authorize the County Manager to sign the agreement. This administrative step, if approved by the Board and by other regional entities, would allow for the National Park Service’s Environmental Assessment to be completed. Completing the EA is an important next step in the project’s timeline. A public process for development of the boathouse would be established separately.

A copy of the design plans shared in a staff report to the Board call for:

  • a 14,000-square-foot boat storage house that’s designed to be flood-resistant
  • a 300-foot-long dock for non motorized boats (like kayaks)
  • a building for bathrooms, locker rooms, educational rooms, and offices
  • an ADA-compliant parking area
  • a 300-foot-long emergency vehicle access lane

“The Arlington County and Vicinity Boathouse project is included in the Adopted Fiscal Years (FY) 2019-2028 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), which envisions $500,000 in FY 2022 for development of the management model and formulation of the long-term use arrangement and $2.245 million in FY 2026 for the final design of the Boathouse project,” the staff report says.

It’s been almost 25 years since the “boathouse task force” formed to propose the idea, but the project didn’t gain momentum until 2012 when the National Park Service began studying potential environmental impacts. The study was put on hold several times, before resuming in 2016.

At the time, the Park Service worried about how construction could affect flood plains along the river, as well as species that called the waterway home.

In this week’s staff report, a resolution says that the Park Service determined that the boathouse could “have a direct adverse effect on the George Washington Memorial Parkway Historic District and an indirect adverse effect on Theodore Roosevelt Island.” However, it approved going forward provided the following steps were taken to reduce impact:

  1. Restricting and minimizing ground and vegetation disturbance during construction, including limiting tree removal.
  2. Minimizing the size of construction equipment and using minimally invasive construction methods.
  3. Developing a “light on the land” facility with a minimal footprint and massing that is in scale with the surrounding landscape.
  4. Limiting the depth of excavation to avoid disturbing any unknown archeological resources below the depth of previous testing.
  5. Keeping a 50-100 foot area of protection around known archeological sites where heavy equipment is not allowed to help avoid compression/compaction.
  6. Applying avoidance and minimization strategies to staging and storage areas as well.

The project has many fans in the county’s rowing community, which recently banded together to reinforce their support for the water sport after APS threatened to cut the high school teams from the county’s budget.

The Arlington Boathouse Foundation writes on its website that although the county was among the first to introduce rowing teams to its high schools, teams for many years have had to launch crew boats out of D.C. “The George Washington Memorial Parkway severed Arlington’s access to its own shoreline,” the foundation notes.

Since the D.C. boathouse serves multiple jurisdictions, accessing those facilities can be tricky.

“Some area boathouses have a two- to three-year waiting list for membership and an additional waiting list for storage space for a single scull,” the National Park Service wrote on its website about the Rosslyn plan.

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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

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View of Key Bridge, the Potomac River and D.C. from the Waterview building in Rosslyn

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.

The idea of a boathouse has been supported by the county, by residents (particularly families of high school crew team members) and by developers.

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.

Map of land acquired for proposed boathouseIn 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.

Proposed locations for Arlington boathouse 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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Morning Notes

Christmas trees on the Food Star lot on Columbia Pike (photo courtesy Peter Golkin)

Lyon Park Mansion Auction Is Tonight — The huge “Pershing Manor” mansion at 3120 N. Pershing Drive is scheduled to hit the auction block at 5 p.m. tonight. The opening bid is $750,000, though the property is assessed at $4 million. [ARLnow, ARLnow]

McHenry Talks About Towing Spat — ESPN sportscaster Britt McHenry is opening up about the time she berated an Advanced Towing employee in Arlington — and was caught on camera doing so, in a video that would go viral around the world. McHenry says she regrets what she said during the 2015 incident. The fallout has hurt her both professionally and personally, she says. [Marie Claire]

Garvey’s Swearing In Ceremony — Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey will be sworn in for her second full term today. The ceremony will take place in the County Board room (2100 Clarendon Blvd) at 5 p.m. It will feature remarks from Garvey and a poem from Arlington County Poet Laureate Katherine E. Young. [Arlington County]

Developers Want Gondola, Boathouse — At a Bisnow event in Pentagon City last week, local developers said they’re generally supportive of the proposed Rosslyn-Georgetown gondola, though they’d also be interested in a Rosslyn boathouse to connect with a local water taxi system. Rosslyn, they noted, has fewer opportunities to develop its waterfront than jurisdictions like Alexandria, Prince George’s County and D.C. [Bisnow]

Volunteers Needed for Wreath Laying — The group Wreaths Across America is seeking volunteers to help lay wreaths on gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery. The holiday tradition will take place this coming Saturday morning. [Wreaths Across America]

Photo courtesy Peter Golkin

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Proposed locations for Arlington boathouse Efforts to bring a boathouse for non-motorized vehicles to Arlington have been on hold, but they’re ramping up again.

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.”

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