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Who is Peter May, and why is the National Park Service anti-urban?

It would seem logical that a representative of the National Park Service would support sustainable, eco-friendly development. Of course, the National Park Service frequently confounds logic when it comes to traffic, parking and development, such as when they prevented WMATA from building Farragut North and Farragut West closer together as a transfer station, their opposition to tolls, rejection of more limited hours on Beach Drive, or Cherry Blossom Parkway proposal (ok, not really on that last one). NPS continues to confound my hopes for good policy with the comments made by their representative on the Zoning Commission, Peter May.


Photo by bourgeoisbee on Flickr.

May is Associate Regional Director for Lands, Resources and Planning for NPS's National Capital Region. He's one of two federal representatives on DC's Zoning Commission, and often attends National Capital Planning Commission meetings as representative for the Secretary of the Interior.

At the recent parking zoning review, May was the only member of the Zoning Commission to advocate for higher parking requirements than the Office of Planning proposed. And on Tuesday, the Zoning Commission considered the Addison Square project, which will replace the Kelsey Gardens apartments along 7th Street between P and Q in Shaw. This is across from the O Street Market plan and is about the same height (9 stories). The ANC supports the project, as does the Office of Planning. Nevertheless, May announced that he was "not comfortable with the density" of the project.

May also raised some other stylistic objections, which may be valid problems with the site's design. The other Zoning Commissioners concurred with many of May's comments, though less about the height. As with DC's many bizarre rules that give federal representatives undue influence, it's ridiculous that the National Park Service is meddling in DC's decisions about how tall buildings should be when those buildings aren't near national parks. More importantly, having more housing along 7th Street supports NPS's mission to "preserve and enhance important local heritage and close-to-home recreational opportunities" by adding new residents near parks that they can enjoy.

There's a broader debate among environmentalists over smart growth. Many environmentalists realize that by adding housing in cities, we reduce our overall carbon footprint and alleviate development pressure on wilderness land. Others don't appreciate the nexus between our land use decisions and ecological sustainability. Sometimes I'm not sure National Park Service staff are environmentalists at all, with their apparent enthusiasm for using their parks as commuter highways. But if the dedicated civil servants of the Park Service do believe in the environment, they seem to be missing the point altogether. May's dislike of density cuts against good public policy, good environmentalism, and everything else a planner for our national parks should support.

David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He loves the area which is, in many ways, greater than those others, and wants to see it become even greater. 

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Is May a civil servant or political appointee? In the post you say he represents the D. of Interior.

by Bianchi on Dec 10, 2008 4:35 pm • linkreport

Good question; I don't know, and haven't been able to find much online. He works for NPS, and NPS is part of Interior.

by David Alpert on Dec 10, 2008 4:48 pm • linkreport

Don't forget NPS forcing WMATA to dig under Rock Creek Park making a Metro station in Adams Morgan/Kalorama basically impossible, and forcing Metro to put Woodley Park and Dupont Cirlce stations far below ground.

One good thing for the District (potentially) in an Obama administration: Adrian Fenty was an early supporter of Obama. Hopefully in a case where federal officials are unreasonably interfering in District affairs, the mayor can complain to the White House these guys put on a leash.

by Steve on Dec 10, 2008 5:52 pm • linkreport

That vehicle has a chimney!

by Hiya on Dec 10, 2008 6:26 pm • linkreport

Add to the list of gripes all of the land that was seized in the 1930s to create the Fort Parks/Fort Drive parkway system, that now serves relatively little purpose as urban park space beyond places to run and let your dog poop.

Hiya: It's the air intake, so you can go across fords without flooding the engine.

Steve: Is that really the reason, or was it hydrological. Would you really like a railway viaduct there, or the demolition of the Connecticut Avenue Bridge, replaced with something like this ?

by The King of Spain on Dec 10, 2008 7:25 pm • linkreport

So what is the story with Kelsey Gardens/Addison Square?? Please dont tell me they are forcing this poor developer back to the drawing board...I am very nervous about the many projects in Shaw that are supposed to break ground any day now..

by Chris on Dec 10, 2008 10:43 pm • linkreport

Add to the list of gripes all of the land that was seized in the 1930s to create the Fort Parks/Fort Drive parkway system, that now serves relatively little purpose as urban park space beyond places to run and let your dog poop.

It's worse than that. Parts of Circle Fort system are the nexus for a lot of neighborhood blight/criminal activity, yet they are "patrolled" (if I may use so grand a term) by the Park Police. While everyone talks about the Mall, the Circle Forts were part of the McMillan Commission Plan. They probably had something like Boston's Fenway in mind, but as usual in DC, the execution was half-assed and half-hearted. For me, it's basically that the NPS lacks the institutional competence and desire to run urban parks. They just don't understand urban parks and the needs of urban park users, and they never will.

by Paul on Dec 11, 2008 12:52 pm • linkreport

It was in Battery Kemble is a great place to do underage drinking.

by The King of Spain on Dec 11, 2008 6:38 pm • linkreport

NPS is a wilderness recreation agency first, an urban park agency last. Only in recent years has there been any real acceptance of mainstream ecological concepts. Those ideas entered into the forest service much earlier. For most of its history, NPS has been a politically-controlled agency that works at the behest of congress, engineers, and highwaymen for the benefit of the industrial tourism industry.

by David on Sep 12, 2009 11:22 am • linkreport

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