The National Capital Planning Commission said last week that Georgetown University’s plan to build a boathouse on the Potomac River is too large.

The commission agreed, however, to designate part of the Georgetown waterfront under a new zoning category created specifically to allow for the university to build its boathouse if the size is scaled down.

The National Park Service endorsed a land swap with the university in 1998 contingent on the approval from the Zoning Commission on the new zoning category’s creation. While the Zoning Commission is not legally obligated to follow the Nov. 6 ruling of the NCPC, the ruling could add weight to a pending Zoning Commission decision to approve the project.

The NCPC said that the university must abide by a 1995 memorandum of agreement stipulating that new buildings be no taller than 40 feet and no larger than 15,000 square feet. The university’s proposed building would be 54 feet in height and 19,500 square feet in area.

The NCPC, which oversees planning on projects related to federal property, agreed that the university’s project fell within the jurisdiction of the commission because it would affect the “federal interest,” The Georgetown Current reported last week.

Georgetown has been sharing Thompson’s Boat Center, located two miles southeast of the proposed site, with the George Washington University crew team and various high school teams, rowing clubs and individual rowers.

Local citizens and environmentalists expressed concerns at two June commission meetings that the boathouse would also obstruct views of the river from the C&O Canal bike paths and foot trails that run behind the proposed facility in addition to increasing traffic on the Potomac River.

The W-0 variance creates a low-density, restricted-use zoning district that encourages open space and recreational uses along Washington’s waterfront. The NCPC ruled that the zoning variance, which rezones 1.09 acres of land would not negatively affect the federal interests as long as the boathouse meets the requirements of the 1995 agreement.

The new W-0 zoning variance, approved by the NCPC, was devised specifically to provide for the construction of Georgetown University’s boathouse, commissioner John Parsons, a member of the NPS, said, adding that opposition to the project would not desist even if the university were to scale back the project to the size outlined in the 1995 agreement.

Washington Canoe Club President Larry Schuette has said that there is no reason for a boathouse that could store 80 shells when the program only has 15 shells in Thompson’s Boathouse. “Maybe if it was sized for the program people wouldn’t be that unhappy,” he said in a September interview with THE HOYA.

Head crew coach Tony Johnson said that he accepted that the boathouse would provide a larger storage area than what is needed by the program. He said, however, that he wanted the boathouse to be adequate for the future needs of the university’s crew teams.

Supporters of the plan have argued that a new boathouse would ease overcrowding at Thompson’s Boathouse, which will face further space constraints once construction begins on an addition to the adjacent Swedish Embassy.

Seven residents testified against the university’s plan, contending that public lands should not be given to private interests. Fred Mopsik, co-chair of the C&O Canal’s environmental committee, was among the residents who spoke out at the meeting.

“The proposed boathouse is as much as 21 feet above the towpath for a length of over 200 feet. This is in an area that holds a historic and beautiful view of the Potomac River,” opsik told THE HOYA in September.

The local Advisory Neighborhood Commission unanimously passed a resolution on June 3 declaring its “enthusiastic support” for the zoning request and related variances, asking the Zoning Commission to give its advice “great weight” and D.C. council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) has expressed support for the project.

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