Photo courtesy of Sarah Gulick.
The District of Columbia does not have a governing body to coordinate and regulate waterside development along the District’s waterfront properties on the Anacostia and Potomac rivers. While the Office of Zoning regulates land development, that body has deferred to the MPDC Harbor Patrol and the Baltimore District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on waterside (over-water) development. The MPDC Harbor Master fulfills a law enforcement and public safety function, but does not weigh in on waterside development matters, deferring to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ensures that waterside developments comply with current laws and regulations, but does not have a process to ensure that community priorities for water use and water access are factored into the permit process.
The lack of a body to coordinate and regulate waterside development in the District of Columbia puts all District residents at risk of loss of access to our treasured waterways and/or loss of ability to undertake activities on the water due to development. Currently, residents in the District take part in a variety of water activities on the Potomac and Anacostia rivers, including rowing, kayaking, canoeing, stand-up paddle boarding, sailing, power boating, water skiing, wakeboarding, tubing, swimming, and fishing. Public access to the water is limited or nonexistent in many areas of the District’s waterfront due to past development decisions. Many residents wish to access the water with a personal watercraft, but are currently unable to do so.
SWNA’s Waterfront Development Task Force, led by former District 1 representative Jason Kopp, will work to provide a forum for residents who are currently users of the Anacostia and Potomac rivers for recreational purposes, as well as those who wish to gain access to the water in the future.
“Many individuals and organizations have worked hard over the years to improve the water quality of the Potomac and Anacostia rivers, but there is still more work to be done. When we can interact with our waterways with better recreational access, we fall in love with our rivers and work to protect them and keep them healthy,” Jason says.
Since moving to Gangplank Marina in 2007, Jason notes that “it is interesting to watch how organizations using the Southwest waterfront for water-related recreational activities approached phase one of The Wharf development. The reality is that most of these organizations are focused on their core mission and don’t have the bandwidth to coordinate a community response to waterfront development.”
The Task Force will aim to identify the shared interests of the various individuals and groups and communicate their priorities to elected officials and developers in the District. The Task Force’s ultimate goal is to preserve access to the District’s waterways to ensure that residents and those who visit the District will be able to safely enjoy water-related recreation. Maybe it starts with small steps, but the key is re-engaging the waterfront.
“Many neighbors have asked me if they can bring a kayak or a canoe down from their apartment to paddle in the Channel. There is no public launch site currently in Southwest DC,” says Jason. “That is something that will be addressed early.”
“The idea for the Task Force was Jason’s,” indicated SWNA President Bruce Levine. “ When someone in the community, like him, has a passion for addressing a quality of life issue for Southwest, it is going to be our policy to support them as best we can by creating a task force and helping to recruit volunteers, linking them to resources, and providing a platform for educating the community. This is a great model for how we want to proceed going forward.”