DC Councilmembers Criticize Efforts to Neutralize McMillan Development Opponents

Mendelson Questions

Contact: Erin Fairbanks, erinwhite@yahoo.com, 240-506-6777, @CzarinaMaude

District of Columbia Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, joined by Councilmember Elissa Silverman, reacted strongly to community testimony at an oversight hearing on Friday, March 6th. Citizens raised numerous concerns during the session about the use of DC taxpayer funds to pay Baltimore-based public relations firm, Fontaine & Company, to discredit District residents who oppose the Administration’s plan to commercially develop the District-owned 25-acre portion of historic landmark McMillan Park. The DC Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) and its development consultant, Vision McMillan Partners (VMP), retained the PR firm with the express goals of “discredit[ing] and neutralize[ing] the impact of opposition,” as laid out in scope-of-work documents uncovered via citizen FOIA requests.

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson called the scandal “a bit of PR disaster” during the seven-hour DMPED performance oversight hearing and acknowledged the existence of DC Government documents “that talk about embarrassing the community.” At-large Councilmember Elissa Silverman added, “There are some very questionable things in these materials.”

Questions about who paid Fontaine & Co. recurred throughout the hearing. An invoice dated December 23, 2013 for expenditures for Fontaine’s services was signed by Aakash Thakkar of EYA on behalf of VMP, and approved for payment by DMPED on January 22, 2014. However, Mr. Thakkar stated during the Friday oversight hearing, “No public funds were used to suppress community opposition. [The Fontaine contract] was, however, to give folks a safe and comfortable place on our dime, not on the government’s dime, to support the project.”

Referring to other documents suggesting that DMPED was credited back for the Fontaine payment, Chairman Mendelson said, “It would be best to have all the information out, and if DMPED is in any way implicated, say so now [so that] we don’t have to deal with why it was covered up.”

“VMP exists solely to manage the McMillan project, and is paid by DMPED,” commented Andrea Rosen, a resident of Ward 4 and member of Friends of McMillan Park. “However the money was shuffled around, the fact remains that taxpayer funding was used to discredit the legitimacy of District residents who want to comment on the disposition and development of their own public property.”

McMillan Park activist, Debby Hanrahan, alluded in her testimony to the potential criminality of the proposed development deal. Chairman Mendelson responded that he was open to holding a special hearing on McMillan if necessary.

Robin Diener, Director of the Library Renaissance Project, observed that “one grace-note could be Brian Kenner’s assurance to Chairman Mendelson, during an earlier hearing on his nomination to be the new head of DMPED, that things will be done differently on Kenner’s watch, per instructions from Mayor Muriel Bowser. The community surrounding McMillan Park has repeatedly called for an international design competition to adaptively reuse the landmark site. This would be a hugely exciting project to essentially create a central park for DC.”

Fontaine Evidence 1

Fontaine Evidence 2

McMillan Park Identity 2 - Cropped

MidCity DC: McMillan Development Arrives at a Crossroads

Eyes on McMillan: Making Decisions on the Best Use of the District’s Historic Green Space

By Jeffrey Anderson

With DC still in building mode, and a pile of development projects on her plate, Mayor Muriel Bowser faces unique challenges in ordering her priorities. One project particularly fraught with complexity and controversy has landed on the desk of her agent for historic preservation, who is expected to make major decisions in the coming weeks: The McMillan Sand Filtration Site.

Slated for residential, retail and medical office space, and a park, the 25-acre historic water filtration facility is located in Ward 5, bordered by North Capitol Street, First Street, Michigan Avenue and Channing Street, NW, adjacent to Children’s National Medical Center, MedStar Washington Hospital Center and Veterans Affairs Medical Center. It consists of 20 underground sand filtration cells, 20 cylindrical, ivy-covered brick storage bins and regulator houses, and an expanse of open space adjacent to McMillan Reservoir, which is still in use.

The reservoir, named for Michigan Senator James McMillan,was designed and built in the mid-to-late 19th century by Army General Montgomery Meigs as part of the Washington Aqueduct, which carried water from the Potomac River to the site, where it was filtered and purified for drinking in a sand bed filtration system designed by hydraulics expert Allen Hazen. Upon its completion in 1905, landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. was commissioned to design the entire area consisting of the reservoir and the filtration site. The public enjoyed the grounds until the early 1950s when the government fenced off the facility to ward off attack by foreign enemies. The Army Corps of Engineers decommissioned the site in 1985 after installing a chemical filtration plant at the reservoir.

The McMillan site is a DC Historic Landmark, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the DC Inventory of Historic Sites. The National Capital Planning Commission designated it as a site for a national monument or museum. The DC Preservation League lists it among the city’s most endangered historic sites.

In 2007, Vision McMillan Partners, a team consisting of EYA LLC, Trammell Crow Company and local “urban regeneration company” Jair Lynch Development Partners, secured development rights and now has exclusive right to purchase the parcel, which the District bought in 1987 from the Army Corps for $9.3 million. Residents have been at odds with the city over what to do with the site ever since.

If completed, the VMP development would consist of a medical facility with ground-floor retail, a residential block of 281 multifamily units and 146 row houses with a grocery store, and a 6.2 acre park with a community center. It would feature a natural amphitheater, water playgrounds, and a “walking museum” to evoke McMillan’s history. The development would “amplify a unique place in Washington, DC,” according to VMP’s website.

Last Thursday, the developer asked the Historic Preservation Review Board for approval to subdivide the site. Finding the proposal “incompatible” with its historic nature, the board referred the matter to the Mayor’s Agent for Historic Preservation, Peter Byrne, for a decision in keeping with “the character of the historic landmark.” Byrne already is considering whether an exception to the Landmark Preservation Act should be granted for demolition of the site. That would require a finding of “special merit,” defined as “significant benefits to the District of Columbia or to the community by virtue of exemplary architecture, specific features of land planning, or social or other benefits having a high priority for community services.”

VMP is confident that its plan meets the criteria: At the HPRB hearing, Lynch likened the preservation of many of the site’s historic elements to a “fine Swiss watch,” with no one factor dominating “the enhancement of its design.”

Why McMillan? Why Now?

Facing an $83 million budget deficit for the coming fiscal year, Bowser already is looking to build a soccer stadium at Buzzards Point, redevelop Walter Reed Army Medical Center and convert St. Elizabeth’s Hospital into a secure facility to house the US Department of Homeland Security.

Even though a master plan for McMillan has been approved and a deal is in place for VMP to purchase the land, which the DC Council has approved as surplus, no sale has occurred and the onus is on the mayor to bring some form of development to fruition. But there are competing visions: To some, the site is an untended eyesore overdue for development. (VMP estimates a 30-year return of approximately $513 million from the project, and the creation of 1,584 permanent jobs, at least a third of which are to be set aside for DC residents.) Others see it as a sacred space, the lungs of the city for much of the 20th century, an architectural and engineering marvel to be preserved for adaptive re-use.

In 1989, two years after the District purchased the site, residents staved off a proposal to build a K-Mart and a church. Though the District has solicited proposals several times over the years, the site has proven too complex to tackle. In 2012, VMP presented its development plan to the HPRB, prompting Advisory Neighborhood Commission 1B, Stronghold Civic Association and Bloomingdale Civic Association, to oppose the project. A group calling itself “Friends of McMillan Park” has gathered some 7,000 signatures asking the mayor to consider more creative land use designs, preserve at least 50 percent open space and re-purpose the underground caverns. A counter-resistance, under the banner “Create McMillan Park,” supports the VMP plan, as does ANC 5C.

The site is complicated by the Clean Rivers Project, which has DC Water using two underground cells and the southern portion of the site for storm-water retention. In 2013, HPRB approved a master plan that would demolish most of the remainder of the underground cells. Last October, the DC Zoning Commission said it was approving a Planned Use Development permit, but has yet to issue a written order. In December, the Council unanimously approved a resolution to declare the land surplus and a resolution to allow the sale to go forward.

Neither VMP nor District officials appear eager to talk about McMillan. Baltimore’s Fontaine and Company, “a grassroots advocacy and public affairs firm” that represents VMP, referred questions to Bowser. Her office did not respond to requests for comment, nor did Ward 5 Council member Kenyan McDuffie, who has thrown his weight behind the project.

DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson made his feelings about McMillan clear in 2012, before he became Council chair: “I am aware of the desire of the government to see this site developed,” he wrote to the HPRB. “Presumably the District would recoup its [financial] investment, this fallow land would be put to use, new housing units would be built and commercial opportunities created, and the tax base would grow. But enthusiasm for development must be tempered against the qualities of this unique site — exactly the purpose for the Landmark Preservation Act — which is why the proposed plan should be rejected.”

However, since becoming chairman, Mendelson has sided with his colleagues. He did not respond to a request for comment.

Three new members of the Council are playing catch-up on the McMillan saga, and two more will be elected this year. Recently elected At-Large Council member Elissa Silverman, an Independent, said she appreciates the proximity to nearby hospitals, which are major employers, but noted that transportation options are limited and expressed an interest in preserving “green space.” Should a bond issue or other matter come before the Finance and Revenue Committee, she said, “I will be looking more closely.”

Proponents regard the project as a virtual fait accompli. “We need approval for the affordable housing component, and then the only thing left is a lawsuit,” said Cheryl Cort, policy director of the Coalition For Smarter Growth, with a chuckle. Cort points to the medical offices as a revenue generating enterprise in an area that suffers for jobs. “We need to increase the role of the medical center and redevelop what is underutilized space, and integrate it with public space and incorporate retail and affordable housing.”

Cort notes that, “We added 30,000 new residents between 2000 and 2010, and since then even more. We want to stop sprawl and bring people into the city. The challenges now are how to make the city affordable and adaptive.”

Peter Harnik, director of The Trust for Public Land’s Center for City Park Excellence, which has no official position, said undeveloped, public-owned urban land with historical protection is somewhat of a rarity, and that it takes a long time for the public to take the issues seriously. “It’s hard to fall in love with [McMillan],” Harnik said, noting that it’s been fenced off for so long that “the city has marginalized it.” Harnik acknowledged the importance of creating jobs, housing space and transit options while preserving “a significant chunk” of green space, and pointed to “tremendous success” in Seattle, New York and Detroit to “use indigenous historical artifacts” in the adaptive re-use of existing infrastructure.

At What Cost McMillan?

Although tight-lipped on McMillan, District officials seem resolute in preparing to meet the challenges articulated by Cort and other “smart growth” advocates. But for the moment, it is unclear how Bowser will proceed with such a full plate before her. In that regard, McMillan is a slow-rolling train, destined to test Bowser’s vision and ability to balance growth through density with preservation and re-use of historic sites.

The project could clear another hurdle any week now. The Mayor’s Agent is expected to rule by the end of March on whether the plan is compatible with McMillan’s historic nature, and delivers “significant benefit” from a planning, architectural and community needs perspective, which could set the stage for a sale of the land and, eventually, shovels in the dirt.

But other issues exist beyond community opposition and the potential for a lawsuit, not the least of which is how to pay for the project at a time in which the city is weighing numerous other high-profile developments.

A Nov. 25, 2014, memo from DC Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey DeWitt to DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson warns that “Funds are not sufficient in FY 2015 through FY 2018 budget and financial plan” to transfer the property to VMP under a “Land Disposition Agreement” signed by the parties last October. For the District, the estimated costs of meeting its obligations to provide “infrastructure improvements and amenities” is $78 million, according to DeWitt. Currently, approximately $45 million is budgeted through FY 2016, resulting in a $33 million shortfall.

Once approved for sale, DeWitt continues, the disposition of the site will reduce the city’s real property assets by more than $31 million.
In order to facilitate the sale, the District must amend its laws to ensure proceeds go to upholding its obligations under the LDA, the memo states. Even then, the District will be $6 million short of fully funding the project.

Meanwhile, the city is paying VMP’s bills and those costs are adding up. Last October, the DC Council approved a $1,340,000 budget for VMP for development services in FY2015 alone. According to contractor and subcontractor invoices submitted to the mayor’s office, the District already has paid out more than $6 million, for landscape design, consulting fees, public relations services, and lobbyist and lawyer fees.

All of which suggests that Bowser’s agent for historical preservation is about to make a decision that could be an early but key piece of her evolving legacy — one that she’ll have to figure out how to pay for.

This is the first of the Eyes on McMillan series that will examine how the District is making decisions on the best use of its land and resources.


 

McMillan Park Identity 2 - Cropped

McMillan Park Surplus Resolution Markup — Tues, 25 Nov 2014, 12:30pm

The DC Council Committee on Government Operations will hold a markup of the McMillan Park surplus land resolution on Tuesday, November 25th at 12:30 PM in Room 120 of the Wilson Building, which is located at 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue NW.

Members of the public will be unable to speak during the markup session although we need as many bodies in the room as possible to demonstrate our concern to the members of the Committee.

Please contact us with any questions at restormcmillan@gmail.com or 202.213.2690.

Donate button 1

McMillan Park Identity 2 - Cropped

CM McDuffie Challenged for Irresponsible Support of McMillan Development

Against the expressed will of thousands of DC residents, Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie testified before the DC Zoning Commission on May 13th that he firmly supports the Gray Administration’s application to re-zone historic McMillan Park for massive development. McDuffie noted that “for the 38-39 years I’ve been on this Earth” the fence has cut off residents’ access to the park, so he supports the Mayor’s plan that would bring high-rise buildings, destroy the majority of the landmark’s historic resources, and cripple the surrounding communities with gridlock traffic.

Former Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner (ANC) for Bloomingdale, Hugh Youngblood, strongly contested McDuffie’s position. “Being fed-up with a chain-link fence is insufficient excuse to bulldoze an Olmsted park listed on the National Register of Historic Places to make room for more cookie-cutter condos and office buildings that they could build on any parking lot in the District. This ill-conceived proposal would overwhelm our neighborhoods with tens of thousands of new car trips per day and toxic air pollution. Councilmember McDuffie should relocate the project somewhere near the metro and save our park.”

Mr. Youngblood added, “The Councilmember misleadingly claims that the plan has been ‘worked on for the last seven years by the development team, the city, and the community.’  In fact, the multitudes who oppose the plan have been marginalized, ignored, characterized as NIMBYs, and otherwise excluded from the process by the powers that be. The Mayor even hired a PR firm from Baltimore to discredit the community.”

McDuffie recently appeared on Kojo Nnamdi’s The Politics Hour where he claimed that the development proposal would provide residents desired amenities like a grocery store, park, and recreation center.  He again argued that the plan reflects community input.  But when asked to comment on the majority opinion revealed by the door-to-door community survey performed by neighbors in 2012, he said, “I don’t know if there’s a way of identifying what a clear majority is” and called the survey “unscientific.”

Mark Mueller, a career scientist, former ANC for Bloomingdale, and chief architect of the 2012 survey emphatically defended the study’s rigor.  “I’ve worked in science for almost 2 decades.  I, along with 15 community members, made a conservative unbiased survey.  Nobody working on the survey stands to gain financially or politically.  Surveyors were strictly scripted as to avoid leading respondents while administering the survey.  The data was analyzed by a statistician from George Washington University who confirmed a 95% confidence level and identified no concerning bias.”

Mueller added, “Councilmember McDuffie reviewed the draft survey form at a 2012 McMillan Advisory Group meeting where the questionnaire was approved.  The Councilmember’s claim of the project’s alignment with community wishes is based solely on the developer’s version of input received during outreach meetings.  For all those meetings, no data was produced. Why does McDuffie dismiss the community’s survey as ‘unscientific’ but rely on the developer’s claims of what came out of community meetings?  Does he consider developer meetings to be ‘scientific’?  Does he believe that the developer’s record of what the community wants is ‘unbiased’? Perhaps McDuffie sees the survey as being unfair because it reflects a community whose ideas are better (or different) than his and the developer’s.”

Beyond dismissing the community survey while on the Kojo Show, McDuffie appeared misinformed about the details of the development proposal, underscoring the irresponsibility of his blanket endorsement of the plan. He was unaware that the proposal includes constructing new private streets in the park and that the plan lacks any assurance of including a grocery store. He gave only passing mention to the overwhelmingly unacceptable traffic impacts that the project would create.

The Zoning Commission is scheduled to conclude its deliberations on the McMillan Park case in late July.

McMillan Park Identity 2 - Cropped

Urban Turf: Zoning Commission Not Ready to Approve McMillan, Asks For More Details

Urban Turf posted the following article on its website on May 29, 2014.

McMillan Park Photo

by Lark Turner

At a final Zoning Commission (ZC) hearing on Tuesday night, Vision McMillan Partners (VMP) didn’t exactly get a warm embrace of their plan to redevelop the McMillan Sand Filtration plant.

The commission expressed strong concerns about the height of medical office buildings planned for the site, especially as they relate to nearby rowhomes adjacent to the development (map). They also cast doubt on VMP’s plans to bring in more transit for people living, working and accessing the site.

“McMillan has been like that for so long that I want to make sure that whatever is done there is done right, not just because we want it done,” said the ZC’s head, Anthony Hood. “I don’t have a problem with turning it down, I really don’t, and I’ll go home and sleep real good at night.”

Tuesday’s meeting was the fifth public ZC hearing on the site. The hearings have been filled with neighbors expressing concerns about the development’s effect on the historic site, the height and scale of the development, the traffic impact and the environmental impact. An attorney for Friends of McMillan Park, an advocacy group opposing the development, was present Tuesday to question the project proposed by VMP. The plan for the site has been in the works since 2007.

The developers are seeking approval in part under the C-3-C Planned Unit Development designation, which allows for moderate density. But commissioners aren’t so sure the plans presented fall under that designation.

“The really heavy lift here, the thing that’s most difficult, is this notion that the C3C zone (is) actually compatible with the … plan,” said ZC member Peter May. “That’s really the most troubling thing.”

Member Michael Turnbull expressed the most vociferous opposition to the plan.

“I don’t see a plan. I don’t see a positive plan,” Turnbull said, referring to the the issue of public transit that would serve the site. “You’re asking for a PUD which is stretching the whole idea of what medium density is. Explain to me how you’re going to fix this.”

He also asked VMP to reconsider the height of the medical office building and the grocery store, to which one member of the team responded that both had been carefully thought-out. That wasn’t enough for Turnbull.

“Think about it some more,” he said.

The commission asked for some post-hearing submissions, but other than those the case is closed. Hood said he’d like both parties to be present when the commission starts to deliberate on the case so that they’re available to answer questions, a diversion from usual policy.

At one point during the meeting, Turnbull even called out a member of VMP for apparently smiling while he made his comments. Hood mentioned that, too.

“I see people smiling,” Hood said. “I hope you’re smiling after we vote.”

McMillan Park Negotiations Exclude Community Leaders

Exclusion 2

Community leaders from around McMillan Park, including two former Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners (ANC) and the head of the Bloomingdale Civic Association, are protesting exclusion from crucial talks over the future of the 25-acre historic park located at North Capitol Street and Michigan Avenue. Representatives expressed frustration and anger in recent testimony before the DC Zoning Commission, where the Gray Administration is pressing a case to re-zone McMillan Park for massive development that would overwhelm the landmark with high-rise medical office buildings, thousands of cars, private roads, and a small recreation center.

Gwen Southerland, a former ANC who represented McMillan Park and a long-term member of the McMillan Advisory Group (MAG), detailed in her recent testimony how the Mayor’s political cronies and his development consultant, Vision McMillan Partners (VMP), have deliberately shut-out Bloomingdale and Stronghold community groups from critical negotiations. “ANC 5E is not representing us”, Ms. Southerland said. “The ANC has demonstrated outright disregard for the Community Benefits Agreement that MAG worked tirelessly to prepare. The ANC has partnered with VMP to deceive and divide our community.”

Ms. Southerland’s concerns were shared by Teri Janine Quinn, who spoke on behalf of the Bloomingdale Civic Association (BCA). Ms. Quinn stated that “no amount of community outreach [by VMP] would give them permission to NOT get direct input from the Civic Association,” noting BCA exclusion from negotiations. “The people most impacted need a seat at the table.”

Former Bloomingdale ANC Mark Mueller told the Zoning Commission that he recently resigned from 5E because the “representatives of the community [are] not representing the community” and that ANC 5E violated its own bylaws when it approved a letter of support for VMP. He added that the District Government offers no oversight of ANCs and that ANC 5E is plagued by “unchecked corruption.”

Corruption 3

Candidate for At-Large DC Council, Eugene Puryear, said in his testimony opposing the plan to re-zone McMillan Park, “VMP’s failure to engage key community leaders fits a demonstrated pattern whereby developers superficially project the appearance of community engagement while ignoring the concerns of literally thousands of residents.”

Opposition to the Mayor’s plan to destroy McMillan Park is widespread and deep. Friends of McMillan Park has gathered more than 6,500 signatures on a petition to stop the destructive plan and open the process to more creative solutions. The crowd of opposition witnesses at the May 13th hearing led the Zoning Commission to schedule a fifth hearing for Tuesday, May 27th at 6:30pm. The record remains open until then. Click here to submit your testimony online.

McMillan Park Identity 2 - Cropped

Rally to Save McMillan Park! — Tues, 13 May 2014, 515pm

Park Rally

The DC Zoning Commission has completed the first three hearings on the Mayor’s plan to re-zone historic McMillan Park for high-rise development, and the fourth and final hearing is quickly approaching this Tuesday night (May 13th). Please join us for a fun RALLY AND DANCE PARTY occurring before the final hearing in front of the DC Zoning Commission office at Judiciary Square. Then join us for more fun in the hearing room. Details below:

PROTECT McMILLAN PARK

Reject the Mayor’s Demolition Plan!
Tuesday, May 13th

Rally & Dance Party to
SAVE McMILLAN PARK
Facebook Event Page

Hosted by: DC for Reasonable Development

When:  Tuesday, May 13, 2014

  • Music starts at 5:15pm
  • The People’s Mic begins at 5:30pm
  • Defend the District Dance Party starts at 6:00pm
  • Zoning Commission hearing starts at 6:30pm (opportunity to provide public testimony)

Where:  DC Zoning Commission Office, 441 4th Street NW, Washington, DC (Metro: Red line, Judiciary Square station)

SPECIAL GUESTS

      • Luci Murphy — Activist, Poet, Singer, and Defender of DC Public Property
      • Jerry Peloquin — Founding Member of Jefferson Airplane and Municipal Food/Water Security Advocate

The proposed privatization of historic McMillan Park is one of the biggest attempted heists in DC history. We need you to get involved and help us stop the giveaway of this 25-acre Olmsted park — it is our public property!

More information:

====================
PROTECT McMILLAN PARK & Reject the Mayor’s Plan!
Tuesday, May 13th — Rally 5:15pm to 6:30pm
441 4th Street NW, Judiciary Square
====================

Unable to attend? Please Send Written Testimony to the Zoning Commission!

Donate button 1

McMillan Park Identity 2 - Cropped

Zoning Commission to VMP: Significant Room for Improvement on Housing and Grocery

Shoddy Construction

The DC Zoning Commission held the second of four formal hearings on Monday night focused on the housing and retail components of the Vision McMillan Partners (VMP) application to re-zone historic McMillan Park. During the over four-hour session, the Commission and Friends of McMillan Park’s counsel hammered VMP on (1) architecture and construction plans, (2) senior housing, (3) affordable housing, and (4) retail aspirations.

“A rooftop terrace is a poor substitute for a backyard.” EYA, the VMP partner known for its cookie-cutter townhomes built across the region, received the heaviest interrogation. The Commission expressed disappointment in the team’s request for “relief” on rear yard requirements and noted the need for more time to get comfortable with the proposed design. Questions also focused on the quality of materials planned for the townhome façades. “A building that doesn’t look good on the outside tends to reflect poorly on the whole plan,” the Commission noted, citing several local projects for which EYA has earned a reputation for low-quality design and finishes.

“Have you considered your seniors?” The Commission expressed great concern about the level of planning underlying the proposed senior housing component. With elderly residents isolated in a building farthest away from the hospital and grocery store, worries mounted about the accessibility, safety, and social offerings of the facility. Noting that the new Evarts Street would essentially be a commercial loading dock adjacent to a driveway for the disabled, the Commission called the plan “unacceptable” and “a real disappointment.” The Chair asked, “Are there any other opportunities for community other than sitting in the lobby and watching Dr. Oz?”

“We’d like to see closer to 30% of AMI.” The scant affordable housing included in the VMP proposal would provide subsidies to residents earning roughly $80,000 per year (80% of Area Median Income [AMI]), which fails to address the actual need of struggling families. The Commission stated that to be truly affordable, subsidies should target those earning 30% of AMI. During testimony, the Coalition for Smarter Growth criticized the affordable housing plan and suggested removing one of the two garage parking spaces planned per townhome unit to increase affordability for residents in need.

“Community support is contingent on the grocery store.” The prospect of a grocery store at McMillan Park has been a consistent selling point for neighbors. Based on VMP testimony, the future of the grocery store is hopeful at best. “We would like the flexibility to include a non-grocery alternative retail option if needed,” the team requested. The Commission sternly reminded VMP that community support depends upon a grocery store. Online comments echoed this sentiment: “I don’t like hearing ‘alternative retail’ in lieu of a grocery store – if this gets built, then I want a grocery store there,” said Scott Roberts of Bloomingdale. Stronghold resident, Sam Shipley, said, “Wait, what?! This is even an option? You’ve got to be kidding me! Why so many ‘unknowns’ with these guys?”

McMillan Park zoning hearings resume tonight at 6:30pm focused on the medical office building component of the proposal. Follow the discussion on twitter using hashtag #mcmillanzoning.

McMillan Park Identity 2 - Cropped

VMP Zoning Hearing Message to the Community: This Land is Not Your Land

McMillan Park Zoning Hearing 1 Protest

The DC Zoning Commission held the first of four formal hearings last Thursday on the Vision McMillan Partners (VMP) application to re-zone historic McMillan Park for high-rise office building and condo development. The take-away message for many residents in attendance and in the Twitter-sphere was that the proposed development would be more private country club than public space and that VMP was clueless about how to mitigate the sharp increase in vehicular traffic that would cripple the surrounding communities as a result of the project.

The hearing began in front of a packed room with the Commission denying the Friends’ motion to dismiss and then continued until 11:30pm. The most audible reactions to the proceedings in the room and on Twitter focused on four different points:

  1. According to VMP, the acres of impervious surfaces that they hope to build would absorb more storm water than McMillan Park’s existing 20-acre green roof.
  2. The new streets that they hope to create in the park to “alleviate traffic” would be privately owned and thus parking privileges would be at the whim of private managers. VMP’s traffic engineer, after admitting that no bussing improvements are planned before breaking ground, suggested as a solution to the major increase in traffic, “private transport options for residents” in what could turn into a Country Club-ification of McMillan Park.
  3. The proposed medical office buildings generated largely negative backlash. Reactions to the building images on Twitter were beyond harsh: “Looks like a first year architectural student has been playing with a computer drawing program,” said one, “makes me want to cry” said another, and more comically, “VMP’s renderings for McMillan redevelopment kinda look like Naboo storyboards from [Star Wars] Ep 1. And we all know how that turned out.” VMP spent $34,000 of taxpayer funds to produce the 5-minute 3D video according to information obtained via FOIA requests.
  4. The scant so-called “affordable housing” offering would provide subsidies to people making up to $80,000 per year, which fails to address the actual need.

Because of the intense opposition to VMP’s plan, an additional zoning hearing is scheduled for May 13th at 6:30pm. Friends of McMillan Park, in addition to gathering nearly 7,000 signatures on the petition to stop the VMP plan, has rallied supporters and submitted over 200 letters of opposition to the application to re-zone McMillan Park.

McMillan Park Identity 2 - Cropped