The Washington Business Journal has revealed the Old Dominion Boat Club’s design for its new facility, which will replace the old Beachcombers restaurant on Prince Street. The club is moving one block downstream after winning a 38-year property rights battle against the Federal government – but losing its war with the City of Alexandria.
The Federal government claimed the boat club’s building, at the foot of King Street on the Potomac River, was located on Federal land. That claim was based on the location of the shoreline of the Potomac River in 1788, when the United States was formed after ratification of the Constitution.
Since then, the land on the Alexandria waterfront was extended into the river as the gaps between shipping wharves were filled with dirt. That fill was placed on the bottom of the Potomac River, which was a navigable waterway so the bottom was owned by the Federal government in 1788.
The US Department of the Interior claimed that the fill placed on the Federally-owned river bottom became Federally-owned surface land. A Federal court ruled otherwise in 2011, concluding a lawsuit first filed in 1973. Two Federal courts ruled that the gradual process of extending the waterfront also extended private ownership of the new land in Alexandria.
The city of Alexandria then pushed for the boat club to vacate its location, or allow for a public walkway along the riverfront between the clubhouse and the marina. Unlike the Department of the Interior, the city made no effort to claim it owned the land. Instead, Alexandria made clear that the local government had the right to acquire the boat club’s land through eminent domain, in order to create a public park to be known as Fitzgerald Square.
The boat club lost its exclusive access to the waterfront, but the consolation prize was a $5 million payment for a half-acre and the new building site a block away.