ANC Commissioner Sought $8 Million More for McMillan Project without Consent of Full ANC

Records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request reveal that Commissioner Dianne Barnes, then Chair of DC Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 5E, asked the District Government to give $8 million more to Vision McMillan Partners (VMP), a consortium seeking to commercially develop historic landmark McMillan Park, for construction of an apartment building intended for senior citizens. Commissioner Barnes made the request on behalf of ANC 5E although there is no record that the full ANC voted to make or approve such a request. ANC Chairs have no power to pretend to speak on behalf of a full ANC without specific authority to do so approved by a majority vote of a given Commission.

The District Government, at least as far as is known to the public, has yet to provide the additional funds requested.  VMP has set aside some of the housing included in its development proposal specifically for senior citizens.

On September 26, 2013, Commissioner Barnes sent an email to Marchim Williams, Ward 5 Liaison in the DC Mayor’s Office of Community Affairs, requesting that the District Government give an additional $8 million to VMP to cover overlooked costs of including a seniors-only apartment building in VMP’s plan for mixed-use development at McMillan Park. Barnes told Williams, “Regarding the request for the Senior Building, Ms. Corbett, the Project Director, informed me that they made the Senior Building fit physically, but it does not yet fit financially. VMP will need additional subsidy of about $8M to make the 80-90 unit senior building affordable to households at 50-60% of Area Median Income.”

Commissioner Barnes did not indicate why VMP did not request the additional money directly.

Commissioner Barnes also sent the email to the offices of DC Councilmembers Kenyan McDuffie, Anita Bonds, Muriel Bowser, David Grosso, and Vincent Orange.

The only apparent response that Commissioner Barnes received to her request for additional funds was from Councilmember Anita Bonds who expressed her support for VMP’s project centered around a one-million square-foot medical office tower.  Councilmember Bonds asked Commissioner Barnes what she could do to help make the project a reality. On the same day, Councilmember Bonds emailed Commissioner Barnes and said, “Can we talk about how I can help make this development a reality. Many months ago I understood that the community had settle on many of the items you mentioned herein as components of the McMillan project. Has there been a change? Let me know when you are available to talk about the project.”  Although Councilmember Bonds and Commissioner Barnes agreed to meet to discuss senior housing, the content of their subsequent discussion was not revealed in this correspondence.

It remains unclear who authored the email request for an additional $8 million sent by Commissioner Barnes.  The font, grammar, tone, and vocabulary included in the email differ substantially from that of other Barnes letters reviewed as part of this FOIA request.  Records obtained through the FOIA process reveal that Commissioner Barnes maintains extraordinarily close relationships with VMP employees and with key District Government officials pushing to develop McMillan Park.  For example, the records reveal that the ANC 5E resolution of support for the McMillan project was written for Commissioner Barnes by VMP’s public relations contractor, Tania Jackson.  It is possible that the Barnes request for the additional $8 million was also ghost-written by VMP or by an associated organization.

The District Government fought the disclosure of Commissioner Barnes’ emails and other public records related to the McMillan Park project for over one-and-a-half years.  Judge Nash of DC Superior Court ordered the District Government to turn over the last records in July 2015.  Kirby Vining was represented by Don Padou in the FOIA suit to obtain the hidden records.

The article above is based on documents 005761, 009506, and 009510 available in the “Barnes FOIA Documents” folder at the following location:

McMillan Park Identity 2 - Cropped


ANC Role in “Create McMillan Park” Sign Campaign Revealed in Court-released Documents

Create McMillan Park supports Corruption

Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners (ANCs) are the lowest level elected officials in Washington, DC, the closest to the community, and are supposed to serve as the voice of local residents in zoning and other matters that affect their neighborhoods. But the ANC responsible for the district that includes historic landmark McMillan Park has presented only one side of the community position on the proposal to commercially develop the park. The story below, based on documents obtained through the courts and a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, demonstrates how the ANC in question has been in cahoots with a commercial developer’s paid outreach efforts to push the proposed project. This is the story of the ANC’s role in the mysterious “Create McMillan Park” yard sign campaign.

In December 2013, the Stronghold and Bloomingdale communities began to see “Create McMillan Park” signs appearing in yards of the neighborhoods where only the Friends of McMillan Park’s “Save McMillan Park” signs had been displayed previously. The new signs, and an organization calling itself “Neighbors for McMillan”, were later discovered to be part of a “Vision McMillan Partners (VMP) Grassroots Plan” designed by Fontaine & Company, a Baltimore-based public relations firm dispatched to “shift community dialogue and general perception to that of majority local support for the VMP plans” and to “neutralize and discredit the opposition (to the VMP plans)” according to the published goals of Fontaine’s program. Fontaine & Co. was paid about $28,000 by the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) to conduct this outreach campaign on behalf of the DMPED-VMP plan to massively develop McMillan Park into medical office towers and residences. Tania Jackson’s Create Communitas was another local outreach firm employed by DMPED for this purpose and was paid about $90,000. A third firm, Chesapeake Public Strategies of Rockville, Maryland, was paid over $100,000 by DMPED for its role in the VMP outreach plan. Fees paid by DMPED to these three firms were revealed in an earlier FOIA request.

The role that Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Dianne Barnes (Single Member District 5E09) played with the development team’s PR firms and the “Create McMillan Park/Neighbors for McMillan” campaign was revealed in documents requested by Kirby Vining with the Friends of McMillan Park under another FOIA request filed in November 2013. The resultant documents were finally divulged after a year and a half of court battles. According to the official description of the role of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, “the intent of the ANC legislation is to ensure input from an advisory board that is made up of residents of neighborhoods directly affected by government actions”. But in this case, as shown below, input from only one side of this issue was considered.

Commissioner Barnes Meets Fontaine & Company

On October 27, 2013, Commissioner Barnes advised a constituent interested in the VMP McMillan development proposal to contact Jamie Fontaine, principal officer of Fontaine & Co., to learn about an open house presentation of the VMP plans scheduled to be held in the Bloomingdale neighborhood. Ironically, the constituent had actually inquired with Barnes about how to register strong criticism of rather than support for the plan, arguing that housing and commercial development are inappropriate for the McMillan Park site. Clearly, Commissioner Barnes had already been in contact with Fontaine & Co. on that date. On October 29th, Mary Urban of Fontaine & Co. contacted Commissioner Barnes to inform her that Urban worked with Tania Jackson and Envision McMillan (VMP’s name for its project team) and reminded Commissioner Barnes that they had spoken together the previous day. Later, on November 1st, Ms. Urban thanked Commissioner Barnes for her pro-VMP testimony at the October 31st Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) hearing on the VMP proposed master plan and informed Commissioner Barnes that Fontaine & Co. was planning an open house to present the VMP plans to the Bloomingdale community on November 16th.

“Neighbors for McMillan” Kicks Off

On December 10th, Byron Johnson of Fontaine & Co. informed Commissioner Barnes of the first meeting of the “Neighbors for McMillan” (NFM) group scheduled for a home in Bloomingdale on the evening of December 18th. Shortly after the December 18th meeting, Johnson thanked Commissioner Barnes for attending.

“Create McMillan Park” Sign Launch

On December 26th, Jamie Fontaine provided Commissioner Barnes with information concerning several press items containing favorable mention of the VMP development proposal and provided the Fontaine-produced ‘infographic, fact sheet, and toolkit link’ located on the “Envision McMillan” web page. Fontaine suggested that “Neighbors for McMillan” members post comments on the Bloomingdale Blog article concerning the Create McMillan Park signs, and post on Facebook the Washington City Paper article mocking the “Save McMillan Park” signs. Based on this communication, apparently from Fontaine to Commissioner Barnes alone, Barnes was both a member of Neighbors for McMillan and also played a leadership role in the group, serving as local point of contact for Baltimore-based Fontaine & Co. in these outreach efforts.

Commissioner Barnes Helps Get the Signs Out

On December 19th, Jamie Fontaine and Byron Johnson coordinated with Commissioner Barnes to dole out “Create McMillan Park” signs to residents in Barnes’ area. Commissioner Barnes offered to distribute signs and asked for more flyers to circulate in the neighborhood. Barnes also indicated that she would try to get neighbors to host house parties for the Neighbors for McMillan group meetings. On December 29th, Commissioner Barnes informed Tania Jackson that she had run out of “Create McMillan Park” yard signs and needed about 20 more, and passed along a list of names and addresses mostly in the Bloomingdale area of where she planned to try to place those additional signs. Ms. Jackson promised to drop off the additional signs on December 31st, apparently in coordination with Byron Johnson who thanked Commissioner Barnes for the list of proposed sign locations. Mr. Johnson noted that Commissioner Barnes had expressed interest in hosting a Neighbors for McMillan meeting at her home during the second week in January 2014 and offered to organize the meeting and send out invitations for it. Mr. Johnson also asked Commissioner Barnes to arrange a meeting at All Nations Baptist Church in the neighborhood to try to interest local businesses in the VMP McMillan proposal.

Chesapeake Public Strategies Helps Out

Chesapeake Public Strategies coordinated some of the outreach campaign for VMP, as revealed in several testimony letters sent to the HPRB in October 2013 in support of the VMP proposed master plan. On October 30th, Barnes submitted her own testimony letter to the HPRB supporting VMP for the October 31st hearing and provided copies of that testimony to two officers of Chesapeake Public Strategies, Ellen Bogage (CEO) and Dana Davidson (another officer).

Ronnie Edwards, Chair of ANC 5A in the district immediately north of McMillan Park (and former Chair of the ANC in which McMillan was located before redistricting), submitted his own testimony supporting the VMP plan to the HPRB on October 31st. Commissioner Edwards also provided copies of his testimony to Chesapeake’s Bogage and Davidson. Two other constituents associated with the Neighbors for McMillan also provided copies of their testimony supporting the VMP plan to Bogage and Davidson. No information was revealed about why these Chesapeake officers were provided copies of testimony written for the HPRB hearing. Commissioner Edwards of ANC 5A frequently coordinated actions in his ANC with both Commissioner Barnes (ANC 5E) and Tania Jackson as well as with VMP Project Director Anne Corbett, other VMP senior officials, and DMPED Project Manager, Shiv Newaldass.

Kirby Vining was represented in the suit that produced these documents by Don Padou, a lawyer who specializes in FOIA cases.

The article above is based on documents 000352, 001085, 001087, 001101, 001165, 001197, 001202, 001212, 001588, 001590, 002012, 002257, 002259, 002856, 003629, 004210, 005716, 010041, 010456, 010458, and 022775 available in the “Barnes FOIA Documents” folder at the following location:

McMillan Park Identity 2 - Cropped

ANC 5E Exaggerates Level of Support for McMillan Development Project


According to documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 5E told the DC Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) that an “overwhelming majority” of residents living in the area surrounding historic landmark McMillan Park supported a commercial developer’s plans to turn the 25 acres of contiguous open green space into a mixed-use development featuring one million square feet of medical office space and about 150 townhouses.

The claim of community support was made by Commissioner Dianne Barnes, then Chair of ANC 5E, in official testimony submitted to the HPRB and presented in person at a hearing in November 2013.  FOIA documents reveal that shortly after the hearing, Tania Jackson, then principal of Create Communitas, an outreach consultancy firm working for the development project team, asked Commissioner Barnes how many letters she had received in support of the proposed project. Commissioner Barnes, according to the documents, said that she had received eight such letters of support. Create Communitas was paid almost $90,000 by the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development to coordinate public outreach for the project.

A review of HPRB files indicates that the Board received written testimony from 25 individuals and organizations in support of the plan to develop the McMillan Park site. In contrast, at least 80 people and organizations registered their disapproval of the project plans with HPRB. The Board also received petitions signed by 610 people opposed to the project. ANC 5E did not explain the basis for its claim of “overwhelming” community support for the project.

The ANC’s overblown claims are another example of how the coordinated attempt to destroy McMillan Park has abused procedures intended to protect DC historic properties.

The documents on which this article is based were obtained by Kirby Vining after he brought suit under the District of Columbia Freedom of Information Act. The District Government delayed complying with the Act by over a year and earned a reprimand from Judge Stuart Nash, as reported here in a previous article. Mr. Vining was represented by Don Padou, a lawyer specializing in FOIA suits.

The article above is based on documents 002775 and 010558 available in the “Barnes FOIA Documents” folder at the following location:

McMillan Park Identity 2 - Cropped

Judge Reprimands District for “Troubling” Delay Tactics in McMillan Documents Request

District Superior Court Judge Stuart Nash harshly criticized the District of Columbia’s litigation tactics effectively resisting his previous order to release documents in a recent Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request concerning the city’s planned development of historic landmark McMillan Park. During a June 19, 2015 hearing, Judge Nash severely reprimanded lawyers representing the District Government, stating that the District unnecessarily delayed the production of documents that Judge Nash had already ordered released.

At the June 19, 2015 hearing, Judge Nash said he found it very troubling to see how the District had chosen to litigate this case, prolonging it in spite of the statutory requirement to produce documents quickly. He had already reamed the District’s attorneys at an earlier hearing, in October 2014, shortly after they filed an appeal that Judge Nash indicated must be respected. But Judge Nash suggested that his patience was tried by this tactic that he saw as “dilatory device,” part of what Judge Nash saw as a litigating strategy of delaying the case from moving forward. He noted that the District had not yet produced any documents ordered by the court and suggested that it was unlikely that the District had any justification for continuing to withhold the requested documents against his order.

Judge Nash also said that he shared Vining’s frustration, stating that “here we have his democratically elected government which is operating against him and not vindicating rights that have been provided to him by the D.C. counsel and it is not the District’s finest hour.”

On June 25, 2015, following an in-camera review of some additional materials, Judge Nash ordered the release of the last remaining requested documents in this case that began in November, 2013. Judge Nash had ordered the documents released a year before, but the District delayed the release through what Judge Nash called “a frivolous appeal” that he said amounted to an “abuse of the appellate process” to evade his order, according to the transcript of this case. Well over 10,000 pages of documents were finally produced in this case, about a year and a half after its inception. Kirby Vining was represented in this suit by Don Padou, a lawyer who specializes in FOIA cases.

The article above is based on the document “Transcript Vining v DC June 19 2015” available in the “Court Documents” folder at the following location:

McMillan Park Identity 2 - Cropped

ANC 5E Took Marching Orders from Developer on McMillan Project

Marching Orders

Documents obtained by Friends of McMillan Park demonstrate that Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 5E, a local division of the District of Columbia Government in Ward 5, took orders from real estate developers that aspire to turn historic landmark McMillan Park in the quaint Bloomingdale community into a vast high-rise suburban office park development project.

Vision McMillan Partners (VMP), a consortium of developers seeking to build a 115-foot office tower and a cluster of several other buildings at McMillan Park, provided Dianne Barnes, then Chair of ANC 5E, with the text of a Resolution of Support that the developers wanted the ANC to officially adopt during the monthly ANC 5E meeting in November, 2013, for presentation to the DC Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) during a subsequent HPRB hearing on the controversial development proposal.

Ms. Tania Jackson of Create Communitas, a VMP outreach contractor, drafted the text of the proposed ANC 5E resolution. Commissioner Barnes accepted the proposed resolution text and placed it on official ANC letterhead for presentation to ANC 5E, according to email records between Commissioner Barnes and VMP’s outreach contractor. In the email dialogue, Ms. Jackson further urged the entire ANC to pass the resolution endorsing the commercial development proposal.  Barnes replied to the developers that she feared problems from the Bloomingdale Civic Association that could conflict with the ANC vote, apparently referring to resistance from the other two Commissioners representing the Bloomingdale community on ANC 5E and the Bloomingdale Civic Association’s official position of opposition to the developer’s plan for McMillan Park.

Other documents obtained by the Friends indicate that Commissioner Barnes and several VMP employees had joined each other on social media networks such as LinkedIn to further coordinate their activities.

The article above is based on source documents numbered 010527, 010531, 010540, and 010543 available on the following website in the directory “Barnes FOIA Documents”:

This article is the first in a series based on documents received from DC Superior Court in response to a 2013 FOIA request concerning the development of McMillan Park.

McMillan Park Identity 2 - Cropped

DC Councilmembers Criticize Efforts to Neutralize McMillan Development Opponents

Mendelson Questions

Contact: Erin Fairbanks,, 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 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