HPRB Strongly Criticizes VMP Plan for McMillan Park; National Trust Warns of Legal Violations

At a June 27 hearing on the latest design for the redevelopment of the McMillan Park Reservoir Historic District put forward by the Gray Administration and Vision McMillan Partners (VMP), DC’s Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) detailed the plan’s serious design and aesthetic flaws.  “The buildings are completely disjointed” and “don’t hold together at all despite the rhetoric,” said the Board, sending VMP back for major revisions.

Opening with statements from the community and mirroring the June 6th surplus meeting hosted by the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, the vast majority of speakers urged the Board to reject the VMP plan.

In a significant new development, the Deputy General Counsel for the National Trust for Historic Preservation alerted the Board that the VMP plan would violate the law.  She cautioned that “perpetual covenants were attached to the McMillan Park Reservoir property as a condition of sale when the McMillan site was transferred to the District of Columbia government in 1987 from the federal General Services Administration” and that destruction of the vast majority of the underground cells would violate these covenants — particularly the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation and Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings, which the District Government is required to follow.

Calling on VMP to heed the comments of the community, the Board likened the photo of the proposed park that VMP highlights in its presentations to a “bait and switch,” saying it “looks good if you don’t see the rest of the plan;” described the housing and retail buildings shaped like X’s as “the worst of the four” building designs; called for the central section of the site to be redesigned altogether in a unified fashion; urged VMP to reduce the overall density; pressed for “activation” of the underground cells; reiterated the need for exemplary architecture in light of the extreme level of demolition proposed for the historic structures; and characterized the plan as a place where they, themselves, would not want to live.

The Board took the VMP plan to task at almost every turn, and VMP representatives struggled several times to respond to issues that the Board raised.  For example, when asked about the disappearance of a section of the historic Olmsted Walk from around the site perimeter, the VMP team lacked a coherent answer.  Another explanation drew laughter when, in response to the Board’s disappointment that a historic service court was no longer pedestrian only, a VMP representative reclassified it at the spur of the moment as a “special drive” for vehicles.

HPRB will resume comment on the future of McMillan Park on July 11, 2013 at 12:00 PM.

The full statement by the National Trust can be read here:

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