Monday, June 10, 2013

City wants to develop McMillan Sand Filtration Site, but some neighbors are opposed

For some time now, the city has planned to redevelop the old McMillan Sand Filtration Site, a former water filtration plant located south of Michigan Avenue (which becomes Irving Street) and west of North Capitol Street -- just east of Howard University's campus and the McMillan Reservoir.

The city has long planned to redevelop it with condos, apartments, offices, retail and parks, including a Harris Teeter, but lately opponents have turned up their volume, arguing it should be redeveloped into a park. Here's more on the development plans from the plan's own website and from Urban Turf, a real estate blog. Currently the site is closed to the public, although there used to be tours which apparently were awesome.

Last week, the Friends of McMillan Park stuffed a meeting about the plan -- basically, they're arguing that the city shouldn't declare the land "surplus" so it can be sold to developers. They prefer restoring it into a park. (You can see their press release below.) They also have a petition with about 2,000 signatures.

The developers, on the other hand, argue on their site that they're going to preserve as much of the historic features as they can, which includes leaving some of the towers and underground vaults intact up as parts of parkland (as you can see in this image from one of the plans.)

The site is pretty interesting to look at, even from afar -- there are rows of giant brick towers, hillocks in the grass next to them, and other interesting features. The grounds were designed by famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., who also worked on the National Mall, White House grounds, Jefferson Memorial, and a lot more (his father designed Central Park.)

He was also a part of the 1902 McMillan Commission, which looked into ways to plan DC's parks and led to the National Mall we recognize today, with the Smithsonian museums, Lincoln Memorial, and the like. Both McMillan Reservoir and the Sand Filtration Site got their name from Sen. James McMillan, who started the commission.

Personally, it's sort of hard to balance the two -- the McMillan Site is a really interesting historical place, but at the same time, DC has a real shortage of housing and it's the probably the biggest open plot of land in the city, certainly the biggest not too far from downtown. What do you think?

Here's the Friends of McMillan Park's press release.
Community Says “NO SURPLUS!” for McMillan Park
Posted on June 7, 2013 by WHY

Overwhelming Support for Park, Against District Plan

Community members from the areas surrounding the Historic McMillan Sand Filtration Sitecame out in full force last night to declare loud and clear to the Gray Administration thatMcMillan Park should not be declared surplus and sold to private developers, and thatMcMillan should be restored to its previous glory as a public park.

More than 110 people came to the surplus meeting, over 40 people testified, and only about 3 of those people testified FOR Mayor Gray’s privatization proposal. Shiv Newaldass, the Project Manager at the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED), convened the meeting, and Jeff Miller, Director of Real Estate at DMPED, was also present. Conspicuously absent were Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, Deputy Mayor Victor Hoskins, and Mayor Vincent Gray – the current plan’s biggest supporters.

Those who spoke at the meeting reflected the racial, age, and length-of-residence diversity of the surrounding communities. With minimal contradiction, the vast majority who testified said that the land should be kept a park with its historic identity intact for the neighborhood, Ward 5, and the District. Pointing to the convener, the crowd demanded that DMPED and the city government stop disrespecting their positions. Phil Blair, an older gentleman, said that he has been coming to these meetings and appearing as “the grumpy old man” who opposes development of the site for over twenty years, but he was happy to see last night that he was one of many grumpy old men. A few shouted out, “Mayor! Tear down this fence!” Long-time resident, Wanda Foster, who has lived on the 2900 block of North Capitol since 1986, said that she enjoys her view of sunsets over McMillan Park each night from her home and that she hopes to stay there and someday pass this gift to her grandchildren.

The speakers also strongly challenged DMPED and Mr. Newaldass for not listening to them before in previous meetings and questioned whether their testimony would mean anything now. Many also noted that while there was no microphone or recording equipment present for the meeting, two MPD officers were there for the entire evening.


  1. According to the Historic Preservation Review Board, the developer's plan will destroy 80-90% of the historic structures. They could retain a lot more, which is one of the things the neighbors want, but then they'd make less money. And the petition, which is signed and includes an address, is well over 2,000 signatures and growing. The majority of the signatures come from the neighborhoods around the park. All the signatures are DC residents. Finally, the pro-park crowd isn't saying it has to be 100% park. They're open to some development but believe it should be majority park and that the amenities provided (such as a grocery store) should be designed in a way that preserves the historic integrity. The real beauty of McMillan Park is in the caverns below it. And neighbors are concerned about traffic since there only three streets connecting McMIllan and no metro. The photo you have on your site doesn't show the large black medical office buildings.

  2. Over 100 people showed up to the meeting, 40 some were given time to speak and of those, 3 were for surplus and the rest opposed. The FOM "stuffed" the room in the sense that a large number of people in the neighborhood showed up to support our position. The VMP crowd keeps saying that the Friends of McMillan are a small and vocal bunch, but we have over 2,000 signatures of support and can actually get people to turn up at meetings. Where are all the VMP supporters? VMP launched its own petition and made it anonymous and with the ability to vote as many times as you want! They are loud online but have no support in the neighborhoods. Fortunately for them, McDuffie and Gray don't care what the people are saying and seem motivated by something other than large numbers of voters.

  3. See photos of the surplus meeting here:

  4. I'm so tired of the HPRB "90% of the historic structures destroyed" misquote. It's just not true. VMP is preserving 100% of the above ground assets. A significant portion of the below ground cells have already deteriorated to a state that is absolutely unusable, and the McMillan Park Committee would even agree about that. DC Water has plans to destroy a significant number of cells, and use two others in order to facilitate their plan to stop Bloomingdale floods. Those of us who have actually paid attention throughout the process know this. Those who have seized on a sensationalist quote apparently do not. The current plan calls for 8+ acres of park, a community center with a 25 meter pool, outdoor play space for grown ups and kids, and adaptive reuse of the historic features. It also includes plans to preserve two cells, and to memorialize the site. All of the VMP supporters are people like me who didn't want to get booed or yelled at or interrupted. I wrote a letter to the Deputy Mayor, and another to the HPRB. I also have showed up at all of the meetings and given my feedback. I want to actually use the site in my lifetime, not buy into some pie in the sky pseudo altruistic BS. I was at the surplus meeting listening to all the people who spoke with incredible privilege about "everyone" in the neighborhood, and how their false concern about what we actually have in our community. The room was definitely stuffed with FOM supporters. And their sense of entitlement was amazing. Anyone who disagrees must be evil or corrupt. And who cares about smearing people's good names or just agreeing to disagree with people who have differing views? Oh, I forgot. It's "their" neighborhood and "their" site. The rest of us aren't worthy.

  5. I use to pride myself on being a part time community activist, until I got involved with this project. I’ve lived in Bloomingdale for a few decades now and have seen the highs and lows of the District and of this area. I was inclined to side with the Friends of McMillan until I realized that their tactic isn’t meant to do anything other than delay this place from ever being developed. I might not be the sharpest person around, but a group that prides itself of preserving this “historic” asset has an inherent conflict with then trying to destroy it and rebuild something else. If you really look at the core members of the group, you’ll find that many of them want to keep this site exactly as it is, except without a fence. So how come now, they are all of sudden developers that will bring in just as large buildings on the Northern and Southern portion of the site. Aside from the fact that none of these people have ever renovated a house, I was initially sold on their concept. I really wanted to see something amazing here, but the more I looked into it, the more skeptical I became.

    I’m not a huge fan of the plans by Jair Lynch, but one thing is obvious to me, he’s an experienced developer who knows a lot more than that Catholic teacher. I prefer having a smaller park today than a massive one never. My kids are grown now, but this needs to be a place for my grandchildren and theirs.

    I don’t like going to meetings anymore because I’m literally frightened by some of the Friends of McMillan. I just want a nice place and I’m tired of waiting. I only ask that my neighbors think for themselves and look beyond it all. What is realistic and what is just a sham? Friends of McMillan seems to be more mischievous than Jair Lynch.

  6. Commentator #1.
    HPBR Review has incorrectly stated %'s. The bullshit about neighbors is completely false and those people most don't even live anywhere near the site never mind DC! If FOM were truly partners or actually wanted some development on the site then all the questions about the site would have been resolved by now 35+ years later. FOM just wants to stop everything on the site PERIOD!

    Commentator #2
    VMP supporters are sick of being treat like dirt! With the disrespect and outlandish tactics no wonder why no one would show up!

    Commentator #4
    AMEN now there is some truth finally surfacing in this discussion.


    Thanks you! I know we have disagreed but i know you have finally seen the light of what FOM really is and that their tactics are outrageous and will not fool DC into believing this misinformation they put out for their own selfish wants instead of the true needs of our community!


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