Friends of McMillan Park Holds First Town Hall Meeting

Friends of McMillan Park (FOM) held a Town Hall meeting on Saturday, September 14th in the sanctuary of St. Martin’s Church in Bloomingdale.  On a beautiful early fall afternoon, the meeting drew over 100 attendees.  A wide variety of speakers described the Gray Administration’s plan to destroy historic McMillan Park, discussed potential alternative solutions, and recommended ways for the community to join the fight.  After formal presentations, everyone moved downstairs to the Pioneer Room for refreshments donated by local businesses—and for more conversation.

Over the course of the afternoon, FOM collected dozens of signatures on its petition to the city government to reject Mayor Gray’s plan, bringing the total number of signatories opposing the plan to almost 4,800.  The organization also did a brisk trade in sales of t-shirts, buttons, and stickers, netting hundreds of dollars to devote to the battle for the Park’s preservation.

Hugh Youngblood, Acting Executive Director of Friends of McMillan Park, laid out FOM’s mission: to preserve, restore, and adaptively reuse historic McMillan Park for the benefit of the public.  John Salatti, a former Bloomingdale Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner, introduced an oral history project in which the team has been documenting the stories of long-time residents who remember McMillan open as a public park. He played a clip from Ben Franklin, a 79 year-old Bloomingdale resident who reminisced about playing at the McMillan as a child and sleeping there when the weather was warm. “All this was in the ‘40s and ‘50s. You could walk or play in there. When my children came along this was all fenced in,” said Mr. Franklin.  His description highlights the importance of the Park as an early integrated public space in the District.

Ben Franklin at McMillan Park by Robert Sullivan

Photo by Robert Sullivan

Tony Norman, Founder and Chairman of McMillan Park Committee (the precursor to FOM), reviewed the history of the site, beginning with its origin as a slow sand filtration plant designed to purify Washington’s drinking water, and as a public park included in the “Emerald Necklace” of Olmsted parks designed to ring the city.  Because of the Park’s origins and its landmark status on the National Register of Historic Places, said Norman, the park is more than just part of the history of Ward 5; it’s part of the history of all of Washington, and therefore of the nation.  Norman also spoke in detail about one alternative plan to transform the site designed by a team led by Miriam Gusevich of GM2 Studio. Norman emphasized ways that the alternative plan works with McMillan Park’s existing architecture and ecology, featuring an “urban beach” alongside the banks of a daylighted underground creek.

Gwen Southerland, a former Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for the McMillan site, detailed ideas that members of the community have suggested that the park serve during the 30-plus years that the land has remained unused.  Citing examples of possible uses—from a Washington, DC history museum to formal gardens and a state-of-the-art recreation center—Southerland asked the audience, “What will most improve the quality of your life: items from this list or the offices and townhomes that form the bulk of the Mayor’s plan?”

Anna Simon, a Research and Instruction Librarian at Georgetown University, discussed how historical research on McMillan Park has provided insight into the site’s cultural and civic importance to Washington, DC. For instance, Simon’s research revealed that Eleanor Roosevelt planted a tree in the park in 1933. Simon also emphasized the continuity of the park over time, noting that Bloomingdale used to be filled with young families with children, and now that families are increasingly moving back, the area needs amenities to support them. “For those of us just joining the fight, it’s harder to understand the long struggle that’s been waged by the neighborhood against the city to keep the park open to people. The same issues we’re dealing with today we were dealing with 30 years ago.”

Kirby Vining, Treasurer of FOM, presented an overview of the Gray Administration’s current plan for McMillan Park, which was developed by Vision McMillan Partners.  He noted that the DC Historic Preservation Review Board described one of the plan’s structures, a large black box, as “a mausoleum.”  Vining noted that the overall reaction to the lackluster official plan was very negative.

Philip Blair of Brookland, a longtime advocate for preserving McMillan Park, spoke about seven core issues concerning any development proposals for the landmark, including the problems that the Mayor’s plan raises for storm water management, air quality, and traffic in the neighborhood.  He also highlighted potential legal concerns with the current plan, as well as questions related to the lack of transparency in the process of public decision-making.  He urged fellow activists to be conversant in all seven issues and to make themselves experts on at least one.

Jean-Christophe Deverines, a Bloomingdale resident and anti-trust economic analyst, walked attendees through a slide presentation that demonstrated how many other cities around the globe have handled adaptive reuse of existing parks and public works facilities.  Ranging from the Parc de Bercy in Paris to the Basilica Cistern in Istanbul to the Seattle Gas Works Park, Deverines’ presentation pointed out the potential for McMillan Park to become a truly world-class destination.

Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Mark Mueller of Bloomingdale reviewed the results of a door-to-door community survey that he and others undertook in 2012 to formally assess public opinion regarding the park’s future for the first time ever.  Showing a host of slides with breakdown of the survey results, Mueller remarked on how consistent responses were: 85% of survey respondents want McMillan’s surface to remain at least 50% park.  Mueller’s view is that such consistent results should carry a clear message to District politicians regarding what their constituents actually prefer.

The town hall meeting concluded by adjourning to the church’s basement for pizza, pasta, cookies, and beer, all generously supplied by local businesses and artisans, and for discussion of what to do next.  A few neighbors suggested holding quarterly town hall meetings to keep everyone abreast of political developments; several neighbors with legal experience signed up for the FOM legal team.  During the discussion, residents raised serious concerns about the way that the proposed development would affect the neighborhood and objected to the plan’s failure to preserve the unique qualities of the historic site.  Specifically, they objected to the following:

  • the lack of any coherent and comprehensive plan from the District or its development partners regarding transportation issues
  • the absence of consideration of other pressures on the neighborhood, including development of the Veterans Administration Hospital and the Armed Forces Retirement Home
  • the lack of ideas for creative reuse of the underground sand filtration cells and above-ground structures in the city’s plan
  • the problem of storm water management in an already flood-prone area
  • the loss of unique historic vistas of Washington’s iconic buildings that the plan would entail
  • the inconsistencies in and incoherence of the various parts of the Mayor’s plan, which throws elements together without seeming to consider their relationship
  • the lack of affordable and senior housing in the plan
  • the loss of a unique park designed by the Olmsted firm.

In addition to Father Michael Kelley of St. Martin’s church, who has so generously opened the church’s doors to both this and to many other community meetings, Friends of McMillan Park extends many thanks the following generous local businesses for providing food and drink:

Additional information:

Articles Show Music Once Played at McMillan Park

Washington Post, September 8, 1924: "Park Band Concerts For Week Announced"

Washington Post, September 8, 1924: “Park Band Concerts For Week Announced”

Although it functioned below-ground as a water filtration plant, above-ground McMillan Park was just that–an open green space with a playground, tennis courts, picnic areas, and a dance pavilion. Landscape architect Fredrick Law Olmsted, Jr. designed the site to be part of the “Emerald Necklace,” a chain of parks encircling Washington, DC along the high points of the city, primarily hilltops with extensive views that were suited as peaceful reprieves from bustling city life. Influenced by the City Beautiful Movement, Olmsted Jr. and the Senate Park Commission set out to create a comprehensive plan to preserve park space and provide for the recreation and health of the growing city.

Friends of McMillan Park recently unearthed some articles from the Washington Post documenting McMillan’s use as a concert venue in the 1920s. Of particular interest is the address mentioned in the articles–First and Channing Streets Northwest. While much of McMillan’s recreation activities happened on the west side of First Street, (where the reservoir is located) Channing Street is on the east side of First Street. Why does that matter? The 25-acre eastern portion of McMillan Park is the site that the Gray Administration wants to demolish and rebuild. Proponents of the Mayor Gray’s plan often claim that the site was never used as a park. Here is more clear evidence to the contrary.

Washington Post, July 20, 1924: "Sherrill Announces Concerts For Week"

Washington Post, July 20, 1924: “Sherrill Announces Concerts For Week”

Councilmember Bowser Urged to Push for Competition on McMillan Development

Friends of McMillan Park is urging Councilmember Muriel Bowser, chair of the Council’s economic development committee, to formally ask Mayor Gray to hold an international design competition to select the best proposal for adaptive reuse of the historic landmark McMillan Park Sand Filtration Site. Members of FOM are testifying at the hearing the Councilmember is holding on Tuesday, September 24th and will make this request in person.

“Our hope is that open competition will produce a plan that both preserves this national landmark Olmsted park and encourages a sophisticated development taking advantage of the site’s many unique qualities, such as the breathtaking vaulted arcades in the underground filtration chambers,” said Anna Simon, a Bloomingdale resident and member of the Friends. “We are asking for Councilmember Bowser to help stop the suburban-like, cookie-cutter development plans proposed by the Gray Administration and open up McMillan’s future to the best, most creative thinking possible.”

The Mayor, via his Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, is pushing the destruction of McMillan Park via a multi-million-dollar, sole-source, no-bid development consulting contract awarded to Vision McMillan Partners (VMP) (a consortium consisting of Trammell Crow, EYA, and Jair Lynch). This contract violates best practices regarding open bidding on public development projects. The Mayor’s plan also includes hundreds of millions of dollars of cash subsidies to the private developers in addition to the proposed sweetheart giveaway of invaluable public parkland. To make matters worse, in an effort to maximize profits, VMP has gutted the Mayor’s plan of senior and affordable housing.

FOM has collected over 4,500 handwritten signatures (about half from Ward 5) on a petition to save McMillan, one of DC’s first de facto integrated parks. The Mayor’s plan for McMillan Park includes 12-story buildings and minimal park space, which would lead to traffic gridlock and increased neighborhood flooding.

Bloomingdale Flooding

 

McMillan Emergency! Please Contact Your ANC about a Vote Tonight to Approve the Mayor’s Plan!

Dear Residents of Single Member District 5E07,
We learned yesterday that a last-minute change to the ANC’s agenda for this evening has Comm’r Dianne Barnes of SMD 5E09 moving to get the ANC to vote in support of the current Vision McMillan Partners plan for the development of the McMillan Sand Filtration Site.  Because you are among over 275 residents of your single member district who have expressed opposition to that plan and a desire for a much more exciting, community-oriented plan, I am writing to ask you to contact your Commissioner, Wanda Foster, and ask her to vote AGAINST any motion in support of the VMP plan.
The vote is tonight so please contact Comm’r Foster today by either e-mail (wandabyrd50@gmail.com and anc5e07@anc.dc.gov) or phone (202-440-9253).  However you reach out to her, please let me know so that we can keep track of contacts with Comm’r Foster.  Also if you are a member of the Bloomingdale Civic Association, you may also contact Comm’r Teri Janine Quinn of SMD 5E06 who is also President of the BCA and who will be voting tonight, that you oppose this effort to gain support for the VMP plan and would appreciate her voting against any motion to support it.  Comm’r Quinn’s e-mail address is terijanine@gmail.com.  Just let her know that you are writing as a concerned citizen of Bloomingdale.  And if you are not a member of the BCA, please considering joining today so that you can vote in next month’s BCA elections of officers.  You must be a member by this week to be eligible to vote (Bylaws states that to vote in an election, a person must have been a member for at least 30 days before the date of elections, which this year is Oct. 21).
You can make a difference in the future of McMillan today with a single call or e-mail.  If you have any questions or concerns, please let me know.
Many thanks for your help and continued interest in this critically important neighborhood project.
John
John T. Salatti
(202) 986-2592“Together, Building a Better Bloomingdale”

Saturday’s Town Hall Meeting Brings Together Neighborhood

Held in St. Martin's Church on North Capitol Street, the town hall attracted some 100 attendees.

Held in St. Martin’s Church on North Capitol Street, the town hall attracted some 100 attendees.

Saturday was a great rally, updating people on what’s happening in the quest to preserve McMillan Park. “I hope that everyone was inspired to keep up the hard work and find new areas of interest to advance the cause of saving McMillan,” wrote a supporter afterward.

Take a look at the slide presentations from the meeting to find out what happened.

Slide01

 

McMillan Park Town Hall:

Community, Elected Officials to Hear Objections, Alternatives to

Gray Administration Plan

McMillan Park Town Hall Mtg Flyer - Color - Smaller

On Saturday, September 14th, from 3 to 5pm, Friends of McMillan Park will host a town hall meeting at Saint Martin’s Catholic Church at 1908 North Capitol St. NW, (Pioneer Room). The meeting will provide an opportunity for the community and invited elected officials (Gray, all DC Council Members including mayoral candidates; Evans, Bower, and Wells) to educate themselves about the site’s history, Mayor Gray’s development plan, and the objections and alternatives to those plans for the McMillan Sand Filtration Site.

Speakers at the meeting will address McMillan Park’s rich history dating back to the turn of the 20th century, explain in detail the administration’s development proposal and its negative impacts, and highlight creative alternatives that the Mayor has yet to consider. The event will also include a focused discussion of the issues, followed by an opportunity for questions from the community during the second half of the meeting.

FOM, in close collaboration with the Army Corps of Engineers, had planned to host a tour of the Reservoir side of McMillan Park the morning before the Town Hall meeting to familiarize the community with the beauty and historical significance of the site’s structures. Unfortunately, scheduling conflicts postponed those plans until later this fall.

“Our goal for the town hall meeting is to help educate every concerned citizen who will be affected by whatever happens at McMillan Park about the potential impacts. We want every resident of the surrounding neighborhoods to be fully informed about the Mayor’s plan, and we want them to know that there are many other options for developing the site beyond what the Mayor proposes. A broad array of adaptive reuse projects from around the globe serve as examples of creative alternatives for transforming McMillan Park into a world-class destination,” said Hugh Youngblood, a member of the Friends and a former ANC commissioner for southern Bloomingdale.

Friends of McMillan Park opposes the Mayor’s plan for the site because it calls for over-development, high-rise buildings, and would create grid-lock traffic for the area.

Wells Stresses McMillan Alternatives in Meeting with Advocates

Walkable City

Councilmember Tommy Wells met last Tuesday morning with Friends of McMillan Park and stressed historic preservation, sustainability, education, and green space as important goals for McMillan Park’s future. Wells’ position contrasts with the Gray Administration’s plans for intensive development, plans that would bring high-rise buildings, gridlock traffic, and destruction of most of the historic park. Wells said that he wants to help FOM achieve its goals of preserving, restoring, and transforming McMillan Park, adding that good planning starts with good architecture, rather than with developers.

“It is important that we develop the McMillan site with the input and support of the community and in a manner that increases the ability of residents to live, work, and raise their families here,” said Councilmember Wells.

In the meeting with members of FOM, Wells remarked that since DMPED now prohibits the popular community-sponsored tours of McMillan Park, it is very difficult to educate residents and others about why the site should be saved. He offered to visit the site with relevant Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners to gain first-hand experience of the Park’s historic vistas and majestic underground caverns.

“We welcome Councilmember Wells’ commitment to a new path for McMillan Park—one that preserves our national treasure as a community park for the immediate neighbors, Wards 1 and 5, and the District as a whole,” said Tony Norman, Chairman of ANC 1B and the McMillan Park Committee, a close ally of the Friends. “We look forward to the tour that Wells has proposed as a first step to re-opening McMillan Park and the associated planning processes.”

Wells noted his opposition to constructing high-rise buildings at McMillan Park, in part because of the intense traffic that they would generate and the resultant negative impact on the walkability of the surrounding neighborhoods. Wells also remarked that he opposes raising the federal height limit for development in the District as there are still areas of the city open for growth and construction not yet being utilized.

Friends of McMillan Park plans to meet with the other mayoral candidates, as well as contenders for the DC Council.

All Hands on Deck: September 14 McMillan Park Town Hall Meeting

Image

Photo courtesy Bita Ghavami

Photo courtesy Bita Ghavami

Mark your calendars for September 14, 2013 when Friends of McMillan Park will hold a town hall meeting from 3-5 pm in Saint Martin’s Pioneer Room, 1908 North Capitol St. NW (North Capitol and T; entrance on T Street).  Speakers will address McMillan Park’s history and explain both the Gray Administration’s proposal for the site and creative alternatives.  We will also have a focused discussion of community concerns and identify ways that you can get involved to help save McMillan Park.  Refreshments will be served.

McMillan Park Identity 2 - Cropped

McMillan Park Advocates Win Court Ordered Release of DC Government Documents

Judge Orders FOIA Compliance

The McMillan Park Committee, a close ally of Friends of McMillan Park, prevailed in its Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the District of Columbia, McMillan Park Committee v District of Columbia (DC Superior Court 2010). On August 5, 2013, the DC Superior Court issued an order requiring the District Government to release by September 6, 2013 a large volume of public documents held in secrecy, including communications and arrangements with the Government’s development consultants, Vision McMillan Partners (VMP).

In general, the Court found that the District Government could not withhold all relevant documents simply by claiming without any merit that the documents were “Confidential and Exempted”. “This is a major step forward towards transparency. The District Government has unusual arrangements with VMP on the McMillan development project, and these documents will shed more light on those arrangements, which are essentially sole-source contracts”, said Tony Norman, Chairman of McMillan Park Committee.

McMillan Park Committee was represented by the Georgetown University Law Center Institute for Public Representation in the FOIA case. The court order will result in the release of several key public documents including the Government’s term sheet and public-private partnership agreement with VMP.

Full text of the Court order:

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Press Release – McMillan Park Advocates Win Court Ordered Release of DC Government Documents – 12 August 2013

The InTowner: Why Should We Care About a Disused Drinking Water Filtration Plant?

Three Towers at McMillan Park

The InTowner published the following article from their Publisher’s Desk on August 10, 2013.

We care because the McMillan Park Reservoir Sand Filtration site is truly historic and important to the city’s history. It includes the mid-1880s-built reservoir, the 1905-built sand filtration plant –- DC’s first water treatment facility which was considered state-of-the art at the time — and the extensive park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted that was completed in 1913, which includes the reservoir proper as well as the McMillan memorial fountain that had been designed by architect Charles Platt and sculptor Henry Adams. Olmsted had conceived the park as a memorial to Senator James McMillan who steered the creation of the so-called “City Beautiful” plan that is credited with having effectively fulfilled Pierre L’Enfant’s vision for our city.

The reservoir is listed in the National Register of Historic Places as well as the DC Registry. In addition, the sand filtration site has been listed four times on the DC Preservation League’s list of most endangered historic places.

There is a very large and diverse group of neighborhood residents, community activists, and preservationists who, through the Friends of McMillan Park organization, are working tirelessly to ensure the preservation not only of the park site itself but of the historically significant filtration and treatment plant buildings also. As noted in the application filed by the DC Historic Preservation Office for inclusion in the National Register (http://tinyurl.com/m4lybev), the “sand filtration plant with [its] associated buildings and structures, present an architecturally cohesive engineering complex in which the majority of the historic buildings constructed as part of the development of the reservoir/filtration plant survive intact.”

So why all this community commotion? We’ll let the Friends group answer the question:

“DC Mayor Vincent C. Gray seems unaware of the widespread opposition to his plan to overdevelop the McMillan Park Sand Filtration Site and turn it into a suburban-like shopping center reminiscent of Tyson’s Corner. Specifically, last Friday [August 2nd], in response to a listener question on The Kojo Nnamdi Show (The Politics Hour), the Mayor said: ‘I’ve followed McMillan and I haven’t seen thousands of people who have indicated a resistance to [the plan], or overwhelmingly come forward saying we want to see parks at McMillan.’

“This statement ignores the widely publicized petition signed by over 5,200 people against the Gray Administration’s plan to destroy McMillan Park, a local and national historic landmark. Friends of McMillan Park has presented the petitions to the DC Council and to the Historic Preservation Review Board, and informed the Mayor’s office of these actions. The Mayor is also apparently unaware of the overwhelming opposition to declaring the site ‘surplus’ public real estate expressed at a recent meeting called by his Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development. Either his staff is keeping him in the dark or he is deliberately ignoring the thousands of signatories.”

We agree with those 5,200 persons who have signed that petition and join with the Friends group in reject the plan to give away the site to developers who will fill it up with commercial and residential high-rise buildings. We agree with the Friends group that this plan “must be replaced by a new vision for McMillan Park . . . a plan that re-opens our grand city park, stabilizes our neighborhoods, and stimulates businesses that are integrated into the historic structures at McMillan and invested in and co-exist within our community.”

What the Friends group and those who signed the petition are calling for is the preservation and adaptive reuse of park’s “historic resources, especially its majestic underground sand filtration caverns. The Mayor’s plan would sacrifice all but one of the existing 20 unique vaulted one-acre caverns, offers little affordable housing, lacks any plan for reusing the above or below ground structures, and excludes any effective strategies for managing the significant increase in traffic that would cripple the surrounding neighborhoods.”

This vision, as summarized above, makes complete sense to us and we strongly urge the Office of Planning and the Mayor to reverse the course they seem so earnest in pursuing. The well-being of the developer community should not trump the well-being of the residents.

There is, apparently, still time to fight for a better plan. The Friends group will be holding a Town Hall meeting on Saturday afternoon, September 14th, from 3:00 to 5:00 pm at St. Martin’s Pioneer Room (1908 N. Capitol St., NW). The Gray Administration’s plan to privatize and demolish the historic structures and re-purpose the park as well as creative alternatives will be discussed. For background and to become fully apprised of the issues or to sign the petition to save the park, visit www.friendsofmcmillan.org.