McMillan Park History Walking Tour – Sat, 28 Oct 2017, 9am (rain: 29 Oct)

We are hosting another history walking tour through Bloomingdale and around the perimeter of McMillan Park, led by our neighbor and friend, Paul Cerruti, who has compiled a tremendous amount of detailed historical information about the park and its role in our neighborhood through the years since it was first opened to the public. This event will expand upon the successful history walk that we held in October 2016 that was well attended and enjoyed!
The tour will showcase McMillan Park, its vistas, unique history, and connection to historic landmarks in the Bloomingdale neighborhood.  The first part of the walk will include information and bonus highlights about Bloomingdale.
The tour will last approximately 1 ½ hours and will start at the Big Bear Café (located at the corner of 1st St. and R St. NW) on Saturday, October 28th at 9am (rain date Sunday, October 29th, 9am). At the end of the tour, we will serve light refreshments and offer a selection of our favorite mounted art photos of McMillan Park for sale.

This walking tour through Bloomingdale and around McMillan Park is mentioned in the current issue of Home & Design magazine, linked here, and will immediately precede the annual Bloomingdale House Tour that begins at 10:30 am on October 28th (see details of the house tour linked here).  The Park History Tour will conclude in time for everyone to participate in the House Tour, and encourage all to do so!
Please register for the Park History Tour by sending an email to or by calling Kirby at 202 213-2690.  We are accepting up to 30 people for this tour to ensure that all who join can hear and fully participate, so we will accept the first 30 persons who register.

Kindly note, we suggest and greatly appreciate a donation of $20 in advance ($25 on the day of the event) to benefit the Friends of McMillan Park’s efforts to save this registered national historic landmark.  Even if you are unable to join the tour, please consider making a donation online to help support these efforts.  Payment may be made via PayPal or Crowdrise links on the web page,, or in person with cash or credit card on the day of the event.

Thank you for your continued interest and support!

Mayor’s Agent McMillan Remand Hearing to Continue: Sept 11th; Zoning Decision Meeting: Sept 14th

On July 14, 2017, the DC Mayor’s Agent for Historic Preservation (Mayor’s Agent) held an initial hearing on the remand of the McMillan Park case from the D.C. Court of Appeals. The Mayor’s Agent was unable to conclude the hearing that day, so an additional hearing will occur on Monday, September 11, 2017 starting at 9am at 441 4th St. NW, Room 220 South (same room as Zoning hearings).  The July 14th hearing only partially completed cross-examination of the DMPED/VMP witnesses, so the hearing will continue at this point on September 11th.  Then Friends of McMillan Park (FOMP) will present its case, there will be cross-examination of FOMP witnesses, and then public organizations and members of the public may testify later in the day (or possibly on the scheduled continuation date of September 18th if the September 11th hearing also runs into overtime).  The Mayor’s Agent assured us that he will allow the public to testify on the condition that persons testifying address the specific questions in the Court of Appeals remand. Persons may submit advance written testimony in opposition to or in support of the VMP/DMPED project (FOMP remains in opposition to the project) by 4PM on FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 8th, via email to (HPO staff member). Please specify in any submission whether your testimony is in support of or in opposition to the VMP/DMPED project, keep it brief, and identify which of the remand questions you are addressing (see the specific questions the Mayor’s Agent must consider at this hearing here).

The DC Zoning Commission has decided to hold another McMillan Park meeting (a “decision meeting”), on Thursday, September 14, 2017 at 7pm (in the usual Zoning hearing room) to “explore more exhaustively whether or not the Commission has considered the proposed height and density of the medical center.”  FOMP will attend this Zoning meeting although t is unlikely that there will be any opportunity for the public to speak. This special meeting has been called to ask VMP/DMPED to address certain specific questions about the height and density of the medical buildings proposed for the project. The public is welcome to witness the proceedings in person or via webcast (see the Zoning Commission web page for details).

Presumably the Mayor’s Agent and Zoning Commission will write orders at the conclusion of their respective hearings and meetings for presentation to the D.C. Court of Appeals. We are unable to estimate when these written orders will become public since the hearings themselves have yet to conclude.

WaPo Op-Ed: A Chance to get McMillan Development Right

The Washington Post published the following op-ed on January 13, 2017.

By Kirby Vining
D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) recently held a “groundbreaking” ceremony for the long-embattled development of the 25-acre parcel of land known as McMillan Park, a historic location in the heart of the District along North Capitol Street that should be an inspiring, world-class public space that would make us proud. But the District’s handling of the development of McMillan Park has been a slow-motion train wreck.One day after the groundbreaking, the D.C. Court of Appeals issued a unanimous decision overturning the District’s zoning and historic preservation approvals for the project at the old McMillan sand filtration site. The court’s resounding rejection of the agency approvals sends the entire process back to D.C. officials to reconsider how to proceed with the project.

The court’s decision vindicates the arguments of the community that the approvals “failed to adequately explain why it was necessary to disregard” certain key policies in the Comprehensive Plan, which should “guide executive and legislative decisions.” The court also found that agency approvals failed to comply with D.C.’s historic preservation law, which prohibits harming landmark sites such as McMillan except under very limited circumstances.

The District’s disregard for its own preservation and planning laws in the McMillan Park case is only the tip of the iceberg of flaws in this project. Consider:

There was essentially no competition on the project, as pointed out by the D.C. auditor in an October 2015 letter to the D.C. Council chairman warning that the entire project should be rebid. In response, the chairman authored an “emergency” bill in April 2016, retroactively waiving the requirement for bidding out this project.

The District has signed an exclusive rights agreement with its selected development team, precluding competition for any aspect of the project. Residents were presented with a single, high-density “spec” development project whose impacts are grossly disproportionate to its public benefits. The location of this high-density development, about a mile from the nearest Metro station, in an area that already suffers from severe traffic congestion, is asking for trouble. The court decision correctly criticized the District’s failure to undertake any consideration of alternative designs that could achieve the same public benefits — a park, a grocery and affordable housing — while reducing the level of harm to this iconic site.

The McMillan site is assessed by the city to be worth approximately $100 million, as is. Nevertheless, the District has agreed to pay all the predevelopment costs for the project, estimated to be approximately another $100 million, thereby assuming the developers’ risk, so that the developers can build for an undisclosed rate of return almost a million square feet of commercial space that no one wants or needs. And here is the real kicker: The council has agreed to sell this land — assessed at $100 million plus the additional $100 million taxpayer-funded upgrade — back to the developers for only $17 million. What a bargain.

What can we do now? First and foremost, this is not, as D.C. officials have said, a mere “bump in the road” toward approval of this development. Changes to the project must be made in order to comply with D.C. law. And let me also be clear: The opponents of the current development want a design and development that raises our game, not lowers our sights. We recommend three simple steps:

  1. Rebid the project in an open and transparent manner as outlined by the auditor and consistent with D.C. laws;
  2. Ensure that there is a world-class design competition commensurate with the historic and land value of the site; and
  3. Demand a clear and binding accounting from the winning bidder to clearly establish the benefits to the District and taxpayers of the project.

Bowser has a huge opportunity here to undo years of misguided and secretive backroom dealings and irresponsible spending that she inherited from her predecessors. She should let the sunshine in and ensure that the site is developed in a manner consistent with the unique character of the District, our history and the law.

The writer is treasurer of Friends of McMillan Park.

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 ( 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

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Councilmembers Silverman and Mendelson Clash over McMillan Park

On Tuesday, November 3rd, District of Columbia freshman Councilmember Elissa Silverman (At-Large) sharply disagreed with Council Chairman Phil Mendelson over the absence of competition in the selection of a real estate developer for a proposal to develop historic landmark McMillan Park. The exchange took place as the DC Council considered approval of a five-year extension of a deal to privatize the 25-acre tract of contiguous open green space and transfer ownership to a consortium know as Vision McMillan Partners (VMP).

At a DC Council Committee of the Whole hearing held prior to the November 3rd legislative session, Silverman cited the recent letter sent by DC Auditor Kathy Patterson to Chairman Mendelson.  After examining records from the DC Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, Patterson found that VMP won the job of “master project planner,” but subsequently was designated, without competition, as the project’s developer and owner, including responsibility for financing and vertical construction. Friends of McMillan Park (FOMP) have repeatedly highlighted this procurement irregularity to the DC Council and other District Government agencies in written and oral testimony provided during public hearings. Ms. Patterson effectively agreed with FOMP and concluded that “a new competitive process” should be undertaken.

CM Silverman

“The master project planner should not be the developer,” Councilmember Silverman said. “That’s Planning 101.”

Councilmember Silverman’s objections were rebutted by Council Chairman Phil Mendelson. He said it was “too late to unwind” the deal and that there had been a lot of local input and approvals, although a key local organization cited by the Chairman — the McMillan Advisory Group (MAG) — did not support the VMP plan, contrary to the year-old report from the Mayor’s Office that Chairman Mendelson quoted.

“Elissa is un-bought,” said Robin Diener, director of the Library Renaissance Project.  “Forthright questioning is the voters’ return on investment in a corporate-free candidate.” Silverman campaigned on the pledge of no corporate contributions. Ms. Diener opposes the current VMP development proposal because, among other things, it fails to honor the community’s decades-old request for a library.

In addition to the lack of competition, opponents of the Bowser-VMP plan for McMillan Park cite a long list of other problems with the deal including:  hiring public relations firm Fontaine & Co. to “discredit the opposition” and “generate political cover for elected officials;” taxpayers subsidizing $78 million in predevelopment costs (including over half a million dollars for lawyers and $68 million to destroy the historic underground caverns of the sand filtration plant – a designated national landmark); greatly increased traffic for a transit-deficient community; and overwhelming public sentiment against the current approach as demonstrated at the committee hearing on the five-year extension where 20 witnesses testified against and only two in favor of  granting the extension to the deal. These deficiencies were the subject of two recent articles published in the Washington Post.

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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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VMP Gathers ANCs and Coalition for Smarter Growth for HPRB Hearing

In June 2013, a consortium known as Vision McMillan Partners (VMP) was preparing for a hearing before the DC Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) on a proposed master plan to commercially develop historic landmark McMillan Park into residential housing and a large medical office building complex. Tania Jackson, head of Create Communitas, an outreach firm retained by VMP, contacted the following persons about a change in the HPRB’s hearing schedule for the McMillan project review:

  • Cheryl Cort, Policy Director at the Coalition for Smarter Growth
  • Commissioner Dianne Barnes, Chair of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 5E
  • Commissioner Ronnie Edwards, Chair of ANC 5C

Ms. Jackson informed Ms. Cort, Commissioner Barnes, and Commissioner Edwards by email, “We are starting at 2:45 rather than 3:00PM,” referring to the newly announced starting time of the HPRB hearing on the same date, June 26th. This information was revealed recently as the result of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for documents concerning the District Government’s handling of the McMillan Park project.

No members of the paid VMP team were included in this email correspondence, just officers of two ANCs and the Coalition for Smarter Growth. This email would seem to identify the recipients as part of the project’s outreach team, paid or not, although one might otherwise presume that these individuals testified on their own behalves rather than as part of the development project’s coordinated outreach team.

According to an earlier FOIA request for documents concerning the McMillan Park project, on June 20, 2013, Ms. Cort of the Coalition for Smarter Growth notified Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie’s staff that Friends of McMillan Park had planned a silent protest to take place during McDuffie’s “State of Ward 5” speech on June 25th. A member of McDuffie’s staff thanked Ms. Cort via email for the information and indicated that they had yet to hear this information elsewhere. Ms. Cort apparently obtained the information from Alex Posorske, Managing Director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. McMillan Park is located in Ward 5 of the District of Columbia.

Kirby Vining was represented in the suit that produced one of the documents referred to above by Don Padou, a lawyer who specializes in FOIA cases.

The article above is based on document 002823 available in the “Barnes FOIA Documents” folder and on pages 205 and 206 of the document “FOIA_mcduffie_finalbatch_2_10jan14.pdf” available in the “McDuffie FOIA Documents” folder at the following location:

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ANC Commissioner Sought $8 Million More for McMillan Project without Consent of Full ANC

Records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request reveal that Commissioner Dianne Barnes, then Chair of DC Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 5E, asked the District Government to give $8 million more to Vision McMillan Partners (VMP), a consortium seeking to commercially develop historic landmark McMillan Park, for construction of an apartment building intended for senior citizens. Commissioner Barnes made the request on behalf of ANC 5E although there is no record that the full ANC voted to make or approve such a request. ANC Chairs have no power to pretend to speak on behalf of a full ANC without specific authority to do so approved by a majority vote of a given Commission.

The District Government, at least as far as is known to the public, has yet to provide the additional funds requested.  VMP has set aside some of the housing included in its development proposal specifically for senior citizens.

On September 26, 2013, Commissioner Barnes sent an email to Marchim Williams, Ward 5 Liaison in the DC Mayor’s Office of Community Affairs, requesting that the District Government give an additional $8 million to VMP to cover overlooked costs of including a seniors-only apartment building in VMP’s plan for mixed-use development at McMillan Park. Barnes told Williams, “Regarding the request for the Senior Building, Ms. Corbett, the Project Director, informed me that they made the Senior Building fit physically, but it does not yet fit financially. VMP will need additional subsidy of about $8M to make the 80-90 unit senior building affordable to households at 50-60% of Area Median Income.”

Commissioner Barnes did not indicate why VMP did not request the additional money directly.

Commissioner Barnes also sent the email to the offices of DC Councilmembers Kenyan McDuffie, Anita Bonds, Muriel Bowser, David Grosso, and Vincent Orange.

The only apparent response that Commissioner Barnes received to her request for additional funds was from Councilmember Anita Bonds who expressed her support for VMP’s project centered around a one-million square-foot medical office tower.  Councilmember Bonds asked Commissioner Barnes what she could do to help make the project a reality. On the same day, Councilmember Bonds emailed Commissioner Barnes and said, “Can we talk about how I can help make this development a reality. Many months ago I understood that the community had settle on many of the items you mentioned herein as components of the McMillan project. Has there been a change? Let me know when you are available to talk about the project.”  Although Councilmember Bonds and Commissioner Barnes agreed to meet to discuss senior housing, the content of their subsequent discussion was not revealed in this correspondence.

It remains unclear who authored the email request for an additional $8 million sent by Commissioner Barnes.  The font, grammar, tone, and vocabulary included in the email differ substantially from that of other Barnes letters reviewed as part of this FOIA request.  Records obtained through the FOIA process reveal that Commissioner Barnes maintains extraordinarily close relationships with VMP employees and with key District Government officials pushing to develop McMillan Park.  For example, the records reveal that the ANC 5E resolution of support for the McMillan project was written for Commissioner Barnes by VMP’s public relations contractor, Tania Jackson.  It is possible that the Barnes request for the additional $8 million was also ghost-written by VMP or by an associated organization.

The District Government fought the disclosure of Commissioner Barnes’ emails and other public records related to the McMillan Park project for over one-and-a-half years.  Judge Nash of DC Superior Court ordered the District Government to turn over the last records in July 2015.  Kirby Vining was represented by Don Padou in the FOIA suit to obtain the hidden records.

The article above is based on documents 005761, 009506, and 009510 available in the “Barnes FOIA Documents” folder at the following location:

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ANC Role in “Create McMillan Park” Sign Campaign Revealed in Court-released Documents

Create McMillan Park supports Corruption

Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners (ANCs) are the lowest level elected officials in Washington, DC, the closest to the community, and are supposed to serve as the voice of local residents in zoning and other matters that affect their neighborhoods. But the ANC responsible for the district that includes historic landmark McMillan Park has presented only one side of the community position on the proposal to commercially develop the park. The story below, based on documents obtained through the courts and a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, demonstrates how the ANC in question has been in cahoots with a commercial developer’s paid outreach efforts to push the proposed project. This is the story of the ANC’s role in the mysterious “Create McMillan Park” yard sign campaign.

In December 2013, the Stronghold and Bloomingdale communities began to see “Create McMillan Park” signs appearing in yards of the neighborhoods where only the Friends of McMillan Park’s “Save McMillan Park” signs had been displayed previously. The new signs, and an organization calling itself “Neighbors for McMillan”, were later discovered to be part of a “Vision McMillan Partners (VMP) Grassroots Plan” designed by Fontaine & Company, a Baltimore-based public relations firm dispatched to “shift community dialogue and general perception to that of majority local support for the VMP plans” and to “neutralize and discredit the opposition (to the VMP plans)” according to the published goals of Fontaine’s program. Fontaine & Co. was paid about $28,000 by the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) to conduct this outreach campaign on behalf of the DMPED-VMP plan to massively develop McMillan Park into medical office towers and residences. Tania Jackson’s Create Communitas was another local outreach firm employed by DMPED for this purpose and was paid about $90,000. A third firm, Chesapeake Public Strategies of Rockville, Maryland, was paid over $100,000 by DMPED for its role in the VMP outreach plan. Fees paid by DMPED to these three firms were revealed in an earlier FOIA request.

The role that Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Dianne Barnes (Single Member District 5E09) played with the development team’s PR firms and the “Create McMillan Park/Neighbors for McMillan” campaign was revealed in documents requested by Kirby Vining with the Friends of McMillan Park under another FOIA request filed in November 2013. The resultant documents were finally divulged after a year and a half of court battles. According to the official description of the role of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, “the intent of the ANC legislation is to ensure input from an advisory board that is made up of residents of neighborhoods directly affected by government actions”. But in this case, as shown below, input from only one side of this issue was considered.

Commissioner Barnes Meets Fontaine & Company

On October 27, 2013, Commissioner Barnes advised a constituent interested in the VMP McMillan development proposal to contact Jamie Fontaine, principal officer of Fontaine & Co., to learn about an open house presentation of the VMP plans scheduled to be held in the Bloomingdale neighborhood. Ironically, the constituent had actually inquired with Barnes about how to register strong criticism of rather than support for the plan, arguing that housing and commercial development are inappropriate for the McMillan Park site. Clearly, Commissioner Barnes had already been in contact with Fontaine & Co. on that date. On October 29th, Mary Urban of Fontaine & Co. contacted Commissioner Barnes to inform her that Urban worked with Tania Jackson and Envision McMillan (VMP’s name for its project team) and reminded Commissioner Barnes that they had spoken together the previous day. Later, on November 1st, Ms. Urban thanked Commissioner Barnes for her pro-VMP testimony at the October 31st Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) hearing on the VMP proposed master plan and informed Commissioner Barnes that Fontaine & Co. was planning an open house to present the VMP plans to the Bloomingdale community on November 16th.

“Neighbors for McMillan” Kicks Off

On December 10th, Byron Johnson of Fontaine & Co. informed Commissioner Barnes of the first meeting of the “Neighbors for McMillan” (NFM) group scheduled for a home in Bloomingdale on the evening of December 18th. Shortly after the December 18th meeting, Johnson thanked Commissioner Barnes for attending.

“Create McMillan Park” Sign Launch

On December 26th, Jamie Fontaine provided Commissioner Barnes with information concerning several press items containing favorable mention of the VMP development proposal and provided the Fontaine-produced ‘infographic, fact sheet, and toolkit link’ located on the “Envision McMillan” web page. Fontaine suggested that “Neighbors for McMillan” members post comments on the Bloomingdale Blog article concerning the Create McMillan Park signs, and post on Facebook the Washington City Paper article mocking the “Save McMillan Park” signs. Based on this communication, apparently from Fontaine to Commissioner Barnes alone, Barnes was both a member of Neighbors for McMillan and also played a leadership role in the group, serving as local point of contact for Baltimore-based Fontaine & Co. in these outreach efforts.

Commissioner Barnes Helps Get the Signs Out

On December 19th, Jamie Fontaine and Byron Johnson coordinated with Commissioner Barnes to dole out “Create McMillan Park” signs to residents in Barnes’ area. Commissioner Barnes offered to distribute signs and asked for more flyers to circulate in the neighborhood. Barnes also indicated that she would try to get neighbors to host house parties for the Neighbors for McMillan group meetings. On December 29th, Commissioner Barnes informed Tania Jackson that she had run out of “Create McMillan Park” yard signs and needed about 20 more, and passed along a list of names and addresses mostly in the Bloomingdale area of where she planned to try to place those additional signs. Ms. Jackson promised to drop off the additional signs on December 31st, apparently in coordination with Byron Johnson who thanked Commissioner Barnes for the list of proposed sign locations. Mr. Johnson noted that Commissioner Barnes had expressed interest in hosting a Neighbors for McMillan meeting at her home during the second week in January 2014 and offered to organize the meeting and send out invitations for it. Mr. Johnson also asked Commissioner Barnes to arrange a meeting at All Nations Baptist Church in the neighborhood to try to interest local businesses in the VMP McMillan proposal.

Chesapeake Public Strategies Helps Out

Chesapeake Public Strategies coordinated some of the outreach campaign for VMP, as revealed in several testimony letters sent to the HPRB in October 2013 in support of the VMP proposed master plan. On October 30th, Barnes submitted her own testimony letter to the HPRB supporting VMP for the October 31st hearing and provided copies of that testimony to two officers of Chesapeake Public Strategies, Ellen Bogage (CEO) and Dana Davidson (another officer).

Ronnie Edwards, Chair of ANC 5A in the district immediately north of McMillan Park (and former Chair of the ANC in which McMillan was located before redistricting), submitted his own testimony supporting the VMP plan to the HPRB on October 31st. Commissioner Edwards also provided copies of his testimony to Chesapeake’s Bogage and Davidson. Two other constituents associated with the Neighbors for McMillan also provided copies of their testimony supporting the VMP plan to Bogage and Davidson. No information was revealed about why these Chesapeake officers were provided copies of testimony written for the HPRB hearing. Commissioner Edwards of ANC 5A frequently coordinated actions in his ANC with both Commissioner Barnes (ANC 5E) and Tania Jackson as well as with VMP Project Director Anne Corbett, other VMP senior officials, and DMPED Project Manager, Shiv Newaldass.

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

The article above is based on documents 000352, 001085, 001087, 001101, 001165, 001197, 001202, 001212, 001588, 001590, 002012, 002257, 002259, 002856, 003629, 004210, 005716, 010041, 010456, 010458, and 022775 available in the “Barnes FOIA Documents” folder at the following location:

McMillan Park Identity 2 - Cropped