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

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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.”

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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.

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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:


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

Rally & Dance Party to
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)


      • 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!

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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.

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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.

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Call to Action – Please Send McMillan Park Testimony to Zoning Commission by May 27th

Dear Supporters:

We need your help.

We’ve reached another critical moment in the Gray Administration’s plan to destroy historic landmark McMillan Park and replace it with a plan designed by Vision McMillan Partners (VMP). The DC Zoning Commission will consider the Mayor’s latest development plans and request to re-zone the the Park for high rise buildings and massive development in a set of public hearings beginning on Thursday, May 1st at 6:30 PM.

To see VMP’s latest concrete box nightmare, click here.

VMP Big Box Nightmare

Like we did back in October with the Historic Preservation Review Board, we now need to flood the Zoning Commission with public comments in opposition to the lame duck Mayor’s plan. Let the Commission know that converting this historic Olmsted park into the proposed concrete monstrosity would cripple the surrounding communities with completely unacceptable impacts on traffic, parking, flooding, open space, and the environment. Please send your written testimony to the Zoning Commission by May 27th and attend the hearings to testify in person if possible.

Below we’ve included two sample letters as guidance for your letter to the Zoning Commission plus a list of points that you can use to tailor your draft.

Help us send the message to the Zoning Commission that this development plan is unacceptable for a Park that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places—our great city, the surrounding communities, and our historic landmark deserve better!

Are you available to testify in person at the Zoning Commission hearings on May 1st, 5th, 8th, 13th or 27th? Here’s what you need to know:  The hearings will take place at 441 4th Street NW, Room 220 South (Metro: Red line, Judiciary Square station). The zoning Case # is 13-14. Please bring printed copies of your testimony for the Commission if possible. If you have any questions, please contact restoremcmillan@gmail.com or 202.234.0427.

Here are two sample letters to the Zoning Commission plus additional points:

Please see instructions below on how to present your views to the Zoning Commission for these important hearings.

To see all documents submitted for the hearings online:

Go to this web page:

Enter 13-14 in the ‘Search Term’ box, and click ‘Go.’ (13-14 is the “zoning case number” for the proposed VMP development). At the bottom of the page, beside information about case 13-14, click ‘View Details.’ On this page, under the ‘Case Documents,’ click ‘View Full Log’ and all the documents filed concerning this case will be visible, currently about 5 pages of them. To view any of these documents, click on ‘View’ on the far right side of any document.

To present oral testimony at the hearings:

Submit a copy of your written testimony before the hearing (see below) OR bring 12 copies with you to the hearing. Only 3 minutes are allowed for each speaker, 5 minutes for organizations, so submitting longer written testimony that you can refer to in your 3 minutes may help. The hearings will all take place at 441 4th St NW, Suite 220 South, all at 6:30PM. (Metro rail to the Judiciary Square station)

To submit written testimony:

Go to this web page to create an “IZIS Account” (necessary to submit any documents):

Then go to this page and log in with the login/password you created above: http://app.dcoz.dc.gov/Login.aspx . Click on “file documents in an existing case,” and then specify case number 13-14, and ‘select’ that case in the next window. Click ‘choose file’ to select the document on your computer that you wish to submit as your written testimony, then select ‘document type.’ If you oppose the current development plan, you would select ‘Letter in Opposition.’ Your letter should explain your position and why you think McMillan Park should not be zoned to permit high-rise buildings. Then hit ‘Submit’ and your document should soon be visible in the list of documents for case 13-14 (see instructions above for how to see all documents for these hearings).

Please call or email us if you need help:  202.234.0427 or restoremcmillan@gmail.com.

Thank you for your support!

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Save the Date: McMillan Park Fundraiser Party at 410 GoodBuddy Gallery – Thurs, 27 Mar 2014

410 GoodBuddy Event

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Friends of McMillan Park is thrilled to invite you to the Save McMillan Park fundraiser cocktail party!

The event will take place on the evening of Thursday, March 27, 2014. Please join us for this fun-filled affair hosted by our friends at 410 GoodBuddy Gallery located on the border of the Bloomingdale and Shaw neighborhoods at 410 Florida Avenue NW, Washington, DC. The proceeds from this major event will benefit the Save McMillan Park Legal Fund to preserve our community’s endangered historic green space.

The evening will include food and drinks from local businesses, talented local artists, presentations from preservation and legal experts, and raffle prizes! Additional details coming soon.

McMillan Park Reservoir Historic District is currently endangered by commercial development that would destroy the park’s majestic underground caverns. Until WWII, the space was used by the DC community at large as a central park for recreation, cultural events, and gathering.

Friends of McMillan Park was founded by community supporters and neighbors who have fought tirelessly to protect McMillan Park since 1989. Our mission is to preserve, restore, and transform historic McMillan Park for the benefit of the public.

Please let us know if you, your business, or your associates would like to join our event Host Committee at the $250 level. Contributions are tax-deductible thanks to our 501(c)3 fiscal sponsor, National Association for Olmsted Parks.

General admission tickets are $100. All proceeds benefit the Save McMillan Park Legal Fund.  Please click here to purchase tickets or to donate otherwise.

For additional information, please contact Kirby Vining at (202) 213-2690 or restoremcmillan@gmail.com.

Facebook event page: http://on.fb.me/1hXBUBK 

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Panel Discussion: Communities Battling Harmful Development — Sat, 15 Feb 2014, 2pm, Anacostia Library

Flier - DC Communities Fighting Back Against Harmful Development - 15 Feb 2014

Please mark your calendars for this important community event to build your coalition and gain lessons learned from the following controversial DC development projects:

A primary purpose of the forum is to discuss the tools and strategies that communities have used to influence, oppose, or shape development proposals that were thrust upon them as compared to proposals resulting from community needs or desires.

Logistics details:

  • What:  Panel Discussion on Communities Fighting Back Against Harmful Development
  • When:  Saturday, 15 February 2014, 2-4pm
  • Where:  Anacostia Library, 1800 Good Hope Road SE, Washington, DC
  • Hosted by:  Empower DC
  • Facebook:  http://on.fb.me/1o9fQBv

Supermarket in the Hood

Poor VMP Crocodile

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The Original Vision for McMillan Park: “No Medical Facilities, High Rises, or Big Box Retail”

The District of Columbia Office of Planning conducted an intensive community planning process for McMillan Park a decade ago that concluded in 2002. The following document, recently uncovered by the McMillan Park Intelligence Consortium, outlines a vision for McMillan Park revitalization that looks very different from the plan that the Gray Administration’s development consultant, Vision McMillan Partners (VMP), is presenting to our communities today:

Unfortunately, the competitive process for selecting a master developer for McMillan Park was never completed.  The DC Council dissolved the National Capital Revitalization Corporation (NCRC) in 2006 just months after NCRC released its RFP for McMillan Park Phase I Land Development Partner.  How exactly VMP was selected from the at least 19 proposals submitted to NCRC remains a mystery. To learn more, research the dealings of the defunct Anacostia Waterfront Corporation and Nationals Park baseball stadium project.

McMillan Plan - 1901 - Emerald Neclace of Parks

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McMillan Park – Washington’s First Racially Integrated Park

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By: Kirby Vining

Washington D.C.’s McMillan Park commemorates the contributions of Michigan’s Senator James McMillan both to beautify our nation’s capital and improve the water supply and stop the epidemics of typhoid fever. The commemoration of Senator McMillan at this location is significant: It combines the water purification function of the Washington Aqueduct’s McMillan Reservoir and slow sand filtration facility with the graceful, calming landscaping of Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., both projects for which Senator McMillan fought hard to realize. A fountain named in his honor, paid for by the school children from every county in Michigan, originally stood in the place of honor and prominence, overlooking the entire park, and again combining beauty with water.

But it is also the scene of a lesser-known chapter in the history of our once very segregated city. McMillan Park was Washington’s first de facto racially integrated public park, enjoyed for decades by black families who were not permitted to use other, segregated public parks, until it closed for security reasons at the beginning of World War II. And at the southern edge of the Park is the former home of James Hurd, whose attempts to purchase that house resulted in the landmark Hurd v. Hodge Supreme Court case that overturned the racial covenants then common in D.C. real estate deeds.

The racial integration of McMillan Park was likely unintentional. While police throughout the rest of Washington shooed blacks away from most other public institutions, McMillan Park was administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers whose mandate was to maintain the water facility. Apparently the Corps never chased anyone off the Park for racial reasons. Howard University Sociology Professor William Henry Jones in his 1927 book, Recreation and Amusement Among Negroes in Washington, D.C., a detailed study of exactly where blacks could and could not go in segregated Washington, noted that there were only two public parks open to blacks. Rock Creek Park and the National Zoo were open to blacks one day each year only: the day after Easter, according to an old Washington tradition. But he also wrote that “McMillan Park, located east of Howard University and surrounding the New Reservoir, has been taken over almost exclusively by Negroes.” Professor Jones could not cite any other public park in Washington that routinely admitted black families.

A fence with “No Trespassing” signs was erected around McMillan Park in May, 1941 to protect the water supply from enemy sabotage not many months before the U.S. entered World War II. The McMillan Fountain was removed with all its benches and other amenities to stop the public from sneaking in to continue to enjoy their park. McMillan Park has been closed to the public since then, though many men in the surrounding neighborhoods fondly recall sneaking under the fence to run around in the underground caverns or play ball on the surface even years after the park was closed.

Many now-elderly residents of the nearby neighborhoods recall their enjoyment of the park before it was closed, for all the usual activities we associate with city parks. The park atop the sand filtration site was used for ballgames, parades, picnics, military training, and many other common activities, as is documented in the DC Historic Landmark designation for the site (see section 310.23), as well as in some more recent oral history interviews. And there are many more of our senior citizens who for reasons that must be respected choose not to have their stories documented.

Though the park, reservoir, sand filtration plant, and the fountain are tangible testimony to the McMillan Plan’s intentions of beautifying our city and saving us from the ravages of typhoid, the story of the use of McMillan Park is intangible, but no less a chapter of our history. This story is not well known because segregation was always a dirty secret not well covered in the press except when it exploded in arrests, riots, or worse. We hope that those days are gone and that this story will not be forgotten.

The District of Columbia is our home. But it is also the world’s stage, a beautiful theater that hosts grand events such as the 1963 March on Washington and funerals of presidents. It is also home to a subtler grandeur as well for those of us who spend our lives here, such as the drum circle at Meridian Hill Park, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, and for the black families who spent hot summer afternoons and evenings with a picnic on the breezy plain at McMillan Park. Senator McMillan, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., and others on the McMillan Plan design team could not have foreseen these intangible details of how their redesigned city would be used, both grand and small. But they certainly foresaw the creation of this stage for the grand and the subtle on which history, national and personal, would play out.

A Formal Banquet

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