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

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

McMillan Park Photo

by Lark Turner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Think about it some more,” he said.

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

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

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

McMillan Park Negotiations Exclude Community Leaders

Exclusion 2

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

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

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

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

Corruption 3

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

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

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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!

Donate button 1

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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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