ANC and Developer Conspire to Exclude Community from McMillan Community Benefits Agreement

The District of Columbia Government hired a development consultant to promote a proposal to develop historic landmark McMillan Park into high-rise medical office buildings and a private housing complex. In December 2013, that company, Vision McMillan Partners (VMP), encouraged the responsible Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner (ANC) to exclude the McMillan Advisory Group (MAG) from participating in preparing and negotiating a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) that would accompany the development proposal’s zoning application. Documents obtained as the result of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request concerning the project revealed this disturbing information.

Tania Jackson, head of VMP subcontractor community outreach firm Create Communitas, advised ANC Dianne Barnes (SMD 5E09) on December 6, 2013 against sharing with the MAG a draft CBA prepared by VMP. The MAG is a group established by the District Government, VMP, and representatives of all local community groups affected by the McMillan Park development proposal to represent local community interests.

According to a 2007 Letter of Commitment that created the MAG and that was signed by all parties, the purpose of the Group is to work with all concerned stakeholders “to develop a detailed community amenities package” among other specific goals. Commissioner Barnes, a MAG representative by virtue of her position as the ANC for the immediate neighborhood, was also Chair of ANC 5E at the time of the December 2013 incident. Ms. Jackson instructed the ANC that the CBA would be worked out directly between VMP and the ANC 5E Commissioners only, directly and deliberately excluding the MAG from the process. Commissioner Barnes clearly implemented Ms. Jackson’s direction given the lack of MAG role in the CBA crafting.

Independently, the MAG worked diligently from December 2013 to April 2014 to prepare a proposed CBA for the project in accordance with the MAG charter, including comments provided by all member groups in the community. Throughout this time, the MAG was unaware that the ANC had no intention of including the MAG’s CBA, or even looking at it. ANC 5E then approved the CBA prepared by VMP, blindsiding the entire community represented on the MAG. The CBA produced by VMP that ANC 5E later presented to the DC Zoning Commission bears little resemblance to the MAG CBA.

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

To review the files on which the above article is based, see documents numbered 000138, 000139, and 000147 located in the “Barnes FOIA Documents” folder at the following address:

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ANC, VMP, DMPED Celebrate Mayor’s Office Refusal to Meet with Friends of McMillan Park

In August 2013, District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray appeared on the Kojo Nnamdi radio call-in show to discuss District issues in an open forum. During that radio show, a caller inquired about the Mayor’s position on the proposal to destroy historic landmark McMillan Park and replace it with high-rise medical office buildings and a large number of residential housing units. Specifically, the caller pressed the Mayor about how he could ignore the large numbers of constituents who had expressed written opposition to the controversial development proposal. The Mayor responded to the caller that he was unaware of the thousands of people who had registered strong concerns about the project.

Following the radio show, Kirby Vining and Friends of McMillan Park formally requested a meeting with the Executive Office of the Mayor to deliver copies of the petition in opposition to the development proposal with 5,200 signatures. Chris Murphy, Mayor Gray’s Chief of Staff, responded to Mr. Vining by denying the meeting request, citing Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) support for the project.

On August 7, 2013, Shiv Newaldass, then a project manager for the DC Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) overseeing the McMillan development proposal, received a copy of Mr. Murphy’s response to the Friends denying the requested meeting with the Mayor. Mr. Newaldass in turn thanked Mr. Murphy “… and the Mayor for taking such a firm stance in support of this project.” Newaldass then shared this correspondence with the entire Vision McMillan Partners (VMP) development team hired by DMPED to develop McMillan Park. The following day, VMP Project Director, Anne Corbett, shared the message with Tania Jackson of VMP outreach contractor, Create Communitas, and with Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners Dianne Barnes (SMD 5E09) and Ronnie Edwards (SMD 5C11), both of whom served as Chair of their respective ANCs at the time. Ms. Jackson noted that this was “good stuff – firm replies we really wanted from the Mayor.” Commissioner Barnes also thanked Ms. Corbett, noting that this was great information to share.

For the DMPED project manager to thank the Mayor’s office for this kind of support begs the question of who is actually in charge of this project. Presumably the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development is implementing the Mayor’s agenda, so why are the Deputy Mayor’s office and the Deputy Mayor’s contractors thanking the Mayor for taking a firm position on the project? Whose project is it anyway?

Shortly after receiving the denied meeting request, Mr. Vining insisted to Mr. Murphy that even if the Mayor refused meet with Friends of McMillan Park, the Friends would still deliver the petitions to the Mayor’s office. Resisting at first, Mr. Murphy finally relented after Mr. Vining invoked the petition clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, to which Mr. Murphy responded that his door was always open to receive petitions in that case, even though no meeting would be scheduled.

This article is based on documents obtained from the DC Government via Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Don Padou, a lawyer who specializes in FOIA cases, represented Kirby Vining in the lawsuit that produced these documents.

The source material on which the above article is based is document number 001150 available in the “Barnes FOIA Documents” folder at the following location:

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