What is the Save McMillan Park Lawsuit All About?

Friends of McMillan Park and other historic preservation organizations have joined in filing a legal appeal of the District of Columbia Government’s zoning and preservation decisions that would allow for demolition of 80 to 90% of the historic, below-grade vaults and numerous other historic features combined with high-density commercial development on the 25-acre, DC-owned portion of historic landmark McMillan Park. The appeals also challenge the proposal to subdivide the historic site into several parcels for sale to commercial high-rise developers who aspire to turn McMillan Park into a suburban office park reminiscent of Tysons Corner.

The Friends organization has been working with legal counsel since 2014 before the case went before the DC Historic Preservation Review Board, the Mayor’s Agent for Historic Preservation, and the Zoning Commission under the assumption that these District government agencies would approve this commercial development proposal that has plagued our community since at least the Fenty Administration. That assumption proved true.

After the Mayor’s Agent and Zoning Commission decisions for McMillan became public in April 2015, we immediately began the appeal process by filing petitions for review with the DC Court of Appeals. The court accepted our preservation and zoning appeals and consolidated them into one case. We filed our opening brief for the case this past week. We currently have no date for the first appearance in court on this matter although we expect that it may be some months away.

Here are our main arguments, in plain language:

  • High-density zoning for McMillan Park is inconsistent with the DC Comprehensive Plan and the Future Land Use Map recommendations of low-to-moderate density zoning.
  • Because McMillan Park has been a DC Historic Landmark since 1991 (and also is listed in the National Register of Historic Places), demolition of a significant portion of the site’s protected historic resources is inconsistent with the protections afforded by the DC Historic Landmark and Historic District Protection Act.
  • The Mayor’s Agent decision to permit demolition and subdivision of this DC Historic Landmark did not consider alternatives that could achieve the “special merit” objectives of the proposal, as required by the Preservation Act.
  • The proposed development project does not satisfy the “high standard” required of a project of “special merit” (required in order to waive the statutory preservation restrictions) because the majority of the development proposal, such as the commercial medical office buildings has no demonstrated special merit.

McMillan Sand Filtration Site is a unique and irreplaceable landmark that should be developed in a manner consistent with the site’s historic character and within existing zoning guidelines. The project should also align with the concerns and wishes of the surrounding community expressed consistently for decades (http://bit.ly/24AgxuX). As such, McMillan Park needs a competitive, open bidding process or a Request for Proposals (RFP) solicitation like the District government used for the St. Elizabeth’s, Walter Reed, and Franklin School redevelopment projects. The McMillan Park redevelopment deal before us today devolved long ago into the current no-bid, sole-source plan that violates DC Government procurement law. McMillan Park deserves an open design competition like the one used for The High Line redevelopment project in New York City.

What might the Court do if it agrees with us? We hope that the Court of Appeals will grant our petitions to review and vacate the DC Government’s zoning, demolition, and subdivision decisions. We hope that this will happen and that a new ethical, community-driven development process will begin — consistent with the District’s existing rules, regulations, and laws, and with the wishes of the people of the District of Columbia,


John Salatti, Kirby Vining, and Hugh Youngblood

Board of Directors

Friends of McMillan Park

McMillan Park Identity 2 - Cropped