The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.


Redeveloping McMillan is the only way to save it

At a recent public hearing, neighbors of McMillan Sand Filtration Site renewed calls to make it a park. But the only way that can happen is by developing part of it as a neighborhood, and it's up to the DC Council to make it happen.

Rendering of the future McMillan Park. All images from VMP.

Residents filled a June 6 public hearing held by the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development to oppose plans to sell the derelict 25-acre site to Vision McMillan Partners, who will build homes, shops, offices and a park there. But others, including Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie and groups like the Coalition for Smarter Growth say it's the best way to bring McMillan back to life.

It would be prohibitively expensive just to make McMillan a park. Since the underground cells are made of unreinforced concrete, they would have to be demolished and rebuilt just to make them safe to enter. Allowing some private development will give the neighborhood new amenities while paying to keep the best of what's already there.

Plan preserves historic structures while creating new park

VMP's plan preserves all 24 of the plant's above-ground structures, including the vine-covered sand silos visible from North Capitol Street, along with 2 of the below-ground filtration cells. 2/3 of the site will remain open space, while the southern third will become an 8-acre public park with a pool, recreation center, and a community center with meeting rooms and an art gallery. VMP promises that this will be "one of the largest and best-designed public park spaces in the District."

Proposed site plan of McMillan redevelopment.

The historic buildings will become part of a new neighborhood with about 800 585 apartments and townhouses, half 10% of which will be set aside for families making between 50 and 80% of the area's median income. There will also be street-level, neighborhood-serving retail anchored by a 50,000-square-foot, full-service grocery store. Along Michigan Avenue, there will be taller office buildings with a medical focus, taking advantage of proximity to Washington Hospital Center across the street.

To make this happen, however, the DC Council must decide this fall whether to declare the land as surplus and "dispose" of it. They can do this either by selling it to VMP or granting it as-is to VMP under existing zoning, which wouldn't allow major redevelopment to occur. They could also divide the property and sell off the parts to different owners and under different zoning. They can do all of this in a single set of hearings and votes, and they should to ensure that this process happens as quickly and fairly as possible.

This rendering shows how new and old buildings will coexist at McMillan.

Throughout the summer and fall, the council will hold separate public hearings on whether to surplus McMillan and the details of VMP's plan. Meanwhile, the DC Historic Preservation Review Board is reviewing VMP's plan to redevelop the site with housing, shops, offices and an 8-acre park and will hold hearings about it this month and in September. They've already offered comments about the proposal and will make their recommendations before the end of the year.

Plan will improve stormwater collection, traffic

Groups like Friends of McMillan Park and the DC Chapter of the Sierra Club argued that McMillan is already a public space and should become a public park. However, one DMPED official I spoke to after the hearing said that the city can't afford to do the work necessary to make the site safe for public occupancy. If the District retains ownership, the site would most likely remain decrepit and fenced off indefinitely.

All 24 of the site's historic above-ground structures will be preserved.

Opponents maintain that the site's underground cells are needed to retain stormwater, mitigating the effects of frequent floods in Bloomingdale, which is downstream from McMillan. But DC Water already plans to replace two of the cells with water storage tanks, which will remain after redevelopment. Meanwhile, VMP has also promised to incorporate stormwater retention and buffers into the buildings and landscaping on the site, reducing stormwater runoff.

Another top complaint was traffic. Residents feel that the neighborhood's roads are already quite congested, especially at rush hour, and could not handle the extra trips generated by a major office, retail and residential center on the McMillan site. There is no question that the Washington Hospital Center, the city's largest non-government employer, needs better public transportation service, as it is not located near a Metro station.

Buildings will step down moving south from Michigan Avenue.

VMP plans to build a bus turnaround for shuttles between McMillan and the Brookland Metrorail station, which would operate until a planned streetcar line along Michigan Avenue is built. Moreover, North Capitol Street has been designated a Bus Priority Corridor, meaning that the city intends to make changes to the street design and traffic flows to permit faster and more frequent bus service. The development would also open new through streets across the McMillan site, improving traffic flow and connections within the larger neighborhood.

Ward 5 needs parks, but it needs housing too

Some opponents say that new development should happen elsewhere in Ward 5, like on vacant and abandoned lots along North Capitol Street or Rhode Island Avenue. While not enough resources have been dedicated to encouraging more infill development, there's no reason why that can't happen in combination with the redevelopment of McMillan.

Rendering of the completed McMillan Park.

It is true that Ward 5 needs more and higher-quality parks, recreation facilities, and community centers. But the surrounding neighborhoods and the city as a whole are growing and are need more affordable housing, as well as more diverse shopping and entertainment opportunities within walking or biking distance or a short transit ride.

VMP's current plan reflects the input of community members gathered over the course of several design charrettes that were open to the public. It satisfies the need for several types of amenities in this part of the city in a balanced way. It combines buildings that are in keeping with the surrounding neighborhoods with a large park, and preserves some of the historic filtration cells and all of the silos and brick regulator houses.

We have an opportunity to transform a decrepit former public works site that has been fenced off for over 70 years into a citywide destination: a vibrant and attractive new place to live, work, shop and play that serves many of the needs of residents in this part of DC while incorporating many reminders of its unique history. The Council shouldn't waste any time taking advantage of it, as an opportunity like this won't come again soon.

If you'd like to tell DMPED and the Council to surplus McMillan and allow VMP's plan to happen, you can contact them here. Comments must be received by June 20.

Malcolm Kenton lives in the DCís NoMa neighborhood. Hailing from Greensboro, NC and a graduate of Guilford College, he is a passionate advocate for world-class passenger rail and other forms of sustainable transportation and for incorporating nature and low-impact design into the urban fabric. The views he expresses on GGWash are his own. 


Add a comment »

The Friends of McMillan Park put out a fact sheet today exposing the misinformation being peddled by VMP, and you can read it here.

Notice how VMP never shows in its campaigns the black office buildings we highlight.

We've also found that many of the folks arguing for the VMP plan, such as the Coalition for Smarter Growth, are actually linked in some way to or sponsored by the developers. If you follow us on Twitter @McMillanPark, you'll see that the CSG refuses to make public its connections to the corporations it proclaims to be proud to be associated with.

Mr. Kenton fails to mention that over 100 people attended the surplus meeting on Thursday. Of the over 40 allowed to speak, only three -- Mr. Kenton, Cheryl Cort and Barrie Danneker -- supported the surplus designation. Over 40 opposed it. Moreover, our petition opposing the VMP plan has gathered nearly 3,000+ signatures of DC residents. The petition is not anonymous and includes the signers' address.

VMP claims there is a silent majority for its poor plan but is unable to produce these people in any significant way.

Nearly 3,000 DC residents believe we can do better than a plan that destroys 80-90% of the historic structures of the site (according to the Historic Preservation Review Board) and relies on a bus stop and bike and car share to handle the significant increase in traffic that will occur on Michigan Ave, First Street and North Capitol.

Compare the VMP plan with that proposed by Collage City at If the city had engaged in a competitive bidding process in the first place, we would be reviewing a quality plan, like that of Collage City, that Washingtonians could support.

DC is sitting on a $1 billion surplus, and every new condo and restaurant adds to that revenue. It's untrue that we are in such dire straits that we must rush into VMP's poor plan.

It's time communities drove the development process and not the wealthy and well-connected developers using front groups, like the CSG, to push their agenda.

by friendsofmcmillan on Jun 13, 2013 10:56 am • linkreport

Hey FOM:

Your shrill written and verbal carpet bombing on this issue is getting old.

You dont represent the prevailing position on this issue in the neighborhood. One of your most outspoken people is from several neighborhoods away. You publicly yell down anyone who disagrees with you. You have no viable plan. Your criticisms arent based in facts. The people in your group who are from Bloomingdale are among the most annoying, power hungry, know-it-alls around. Your petition numbers was the result of misinformation and your subsequent mischaracterization of why people signed the petition. In short, you are a sham. its time to sit down and shut up.

by Anon on Jun 13, 2013 11:07 am • linkreport

Good piece, and I have sent my correspondence urging the council to surplus McMillan.

@Friends of Mcmillan - your website is pretty out there. "Obliterating the character"? Its a fenced off crummy looking lot right now. Your point about the city paying 50 million for a NOMA park is silly - VMP's plan includes lots of green space. And "build the affordable housing elsewhere" - stay classy.

by h st ll on Jun 13, 2013 11:10 am • linkreport

Thank you for laying out the issues so well, Malcolm. I've emailed my support of the plan to DMPED.

by Rebecca Mills on Jun 13, 2013 11:12 am • linkreport

I could not care less about whether the majority or a minority of the "historic structures" are preserved or not.

That said, this plan is something to be skeptical of. The pictures of active pedestrian foot traffic are simply not going to happen. They're creating a large city deadzone with a sterile office park. This is recreating the worst parts of K Street and I Street in a place surrounded by residential neighborhoods.

Sure, better than nothing, but...

by JustMe on Jun 13, 2013 11:12 am • linkreport

See photos of Thursday's surplus meeting (in which three people, including Mr. Kenton, stood in opposition to everyone else) here:

BTW, thank you for giving us another chance to highlight VMP's plans. Each time an article like this appears, the number of signers of our petition jumps by about 100. At this rate, we may top 4,000 by the end of the month.

by friendsofmcmillan on Jun 13, 2013 11:14 am • linkreport

FOM: What character? It's a field that's been fenced off for 80 years. When was the last time you or your family had a quiet picnic in the park?


Thought so.

by Michael on Jun 13, 2013 11:20 am • linkreport

If you follow us on Twitter @McMillanPark, you'll see that the CSG refuses to make public its connections to the corporations it proclaims to be proud to be associated with.

Actually, if you look at your twitter page you can see that CSG invited you to email or call them for a full explanation and you declined to do so.

I find it amazing that your campaign of misinformation to get everyone to conflate "McMillan Park" with the sand filtration plant has succeeded. The area to be redeveloped was never a park. The area around the reservoir was a park.

by MLD on Jun 13, 2013 11:20 am • linkreport

This has to be the least "historic" set of historic structures in town.

by worthing on Jun 13, 2013 11:23 am • linkreport

As someone who lives less than a block from McMillan, here are my thoughts, which, I suspect like most of my neighbors don't fit as neatly into either the VMP or FOM camp:

1. I haven't heard a good reason from VMP why the medical office buildings make sense on top of Mcmillan rather than building on the parking lots in the Hospital Center. If there's sufficient demand for office space in the area, then the air rights over those parking lots (which could be dug deeper and converted to a garage to yield even more parking!) should be sufficiently valuable to encourage a sale to and subsequent development by VMP.

2. We need housing in this city. We're pricing out the young and hungry who build businesses and careers, create jobs and want to start a family. They'll move elsewhere if we as a city can't even facilitate the growth of housing stock to meet demand. Our loss will be some other city's gain and our economy will suffer. I'm partial to market-rate housing since that keeps housing affordable at all levels, but I understand and appreciate the need for more subsidized housing as well. I'd propose replacing the medical office space with even more condos, a portion of which would be affordable or designated senior housing. Scrap the apartments- there's enough rental buildingsprouting up in NOMA and Brookland.

3. VMP hasn't given a good reason for not restoring more cells in the designated park area. Sure, it would cost money to restore the cells, but they are a key part of the historical legacy of the space. I think this is a reasonable ask from the community and one that VMP should give on. I'd even by fine if VMP converted them to a unique retail space and profited from it.

4. I love FOM as an organized group pressing for improvements to the plan. I don't like it when they dip their toes in NIMBY'ism by noting that buildings are too high, too much traffic, not enough parking, or some people's views will be altered. This is a growing city and this part of the city in particular needs to develop.

5. I think a 50/50 park/condos split is reasonable and let's each side get more or less what it wants (and build out the rest of the Hospital Center with more offices). If VMP can't make boat loads of money off the condos and retail it's doing something wrong. If FOM isn't happy with 50% park space, they're getting greedy too given that this isn't NYC and David Bowie and his celebrity buddies aren't going to come to our rescue like what happened with the High Line. DC and the city has proven time and time again it is incapable of doing the far-sighted, ideal thing, and it's naive to think that these deeply-rooted institutional problems in our city government can be wished away with signatures on a piece of paper. Given the history of neglect and poor planning decisions inflicted on this part of the city (North Capital as 6 lane highway, the debacle of Florida/NY Ave intersection, etc), city officials owe it to make sorting this out a priority, and expending money if needed to get it right.

6. Why isn't the street car on Michigan a greater priority? It looks like this one isn't going in for a decade or so. If transit is an issue here, and I think it is, why not bump it up the priority list?

by 11luke on Jun 13, 2013 11:26 am • linkreport

Oof, the plan is way worse than the VMP one. You get a larger park sure but awful urban design in the developed portions.

Meanwhile 4 vs. 8 blocks of development isn't going to have a huge impact on traffic, especially when the extra blocks are mostly townhouses.

by drumz on Jun 13, 2013 11:30 am • linkreport

So much of the "McMillan Park" complaints collapse upon the least bit of scrutiny. What it amounts to is a demand that we DC taxpayers lavish a fortune on their backyards.

Just stabilizing the site would apparently cost some $50M, and one neighbor demanded that "McMillan could be Washington’s Millennium Park or High Line" -- parks which cost $250M and $475M, respectively. Never mind that those parks, as well as new parks and plazas at the Yards, the Wharf, CityCenterDC, NoMa, Hill East, Hine School, etc., were all paid for by private development. (By contrast, rebuilding all of DC's neighborhood libraries, in every ward, cost $180M.)

The "McMillan Park Committee" has further undermined their credibility by backing an economically unfeasible development proposal drawn up mostly by undergrads, in a tacit admission that the status quo is not a realistic option. The status quo actually makes flooding worse: the grassy field hides a concrete lid across the entire site, such that development would actually *reduce* runoff.

A fast-growing city in a fast-growing region, with already outlandish housing prices and a narrow tax base, needs every available opportunity for more space. Growth in DC is a both/and proposition, not an either/or. As it is, D.C. needs ~500 housing units every month to keep up with population growth, and under the Sustainable DC Plan (whose goals the Sierra Club might consider supporting?) that growth will continue for another 20-30 years. The scale of development proposed for McMillan would require redeveloping a mile of vacant lots -- a tall order in a city that's 10 miles wide -- or 500+ acres of exurban habitat. Everyone agrees that this site is a rare redevelopment opportunity, but VMP has the only sensible and realistic proposal on the table.

by Payton on Jun 13, 2013 11:33 am • linkreport

Many, many of those in opposition to the VMP plan are not demanding that whole thing be turned into a park, but rather that the plan on the table be modified to make more of the development a park. There are many people who oppose the VMP plan as it stands but who support some level of development on the site. We just deserve better than what's been served up thus far and VMP is penned in by the DC govt because they've been given certain design parameters (i.e. govt should receive X amount of money in tax revenue annually). We want to shift the dialog. What's being offered is a false dichotomy - develop it only as the VMP plan presents or be left with a fenced-off field for all eternity.

by NEsortofgirl on Jun 13, 2013 11:33 am • linkreport

I'm a resident with a house overlooking the site. I think the layout has moved in the right direction with the most recent updates, but the architecture is a disappointment. There's been no effort to make the buildings fit in with the surrounding neighborhoods, and overall it might as well be K Street or Tysons Corner. Even if the site is going to VMP without a competitive bid, VMP should open up the design to a competitive bid among architecture firms so we at least get some choice as to what this place looks and feels like. The developers have enough floor space in an area where condos are going for $750k to afford to pay a decent architect for this one. As another commenter noted, there is not a good explanation of why so much office space needs to be on this space when the hospital has available land of its own.

by Andy on Jun 13, 2013 11:36 am • linkreport

The traffic is a major concern and a "bus turnaround" is not going to help. 1st street already is a parking lot with people trying to get to VA on 395 via NY Ave, and heaven help you if you are stupid enough to try to turn right off of N. Cap.

The neighborhood infrastructure was built for this to be a park and nothing in the VMP plan changes that.

by devoe on Jun 13, 2013 11:37 am • linkreport

It seems like a thoughtful plan with lots of greenspace and amenities and the massing in the right place relative to the adjacent SFH's.

But the fact sheet is a hoot - they reference an alternative that appears to be just as dense with a similar amount of green space.

But the best part is the last sentence:

"To avoid gridlock, the VMP plan would require the construction of a Metro station."

Would a stand alone station take care of the traffic problems?

by TomQ on Jun 13, 2013 11:37 am • linkreport

If FOM has a better plan to redevelop McMillan, they should put in an alternative bid for the land - one that will convince the Council to act in their favor instead of VMP's. If FOM doesn't have a better plan or can't piece together a viable alternative, it should either get out of the way or use the long and extensive permitting process to influence the scope and/or outcomes of the project.

by Ben on Jun 13, 2013 11:45 am • linkreport

Seems to me that any development here should be linked to moving the streetcar at a higher priority. The Calvert-Michigan line is listed as phase 3 (the final phase) of the proposed system plan. That line should be running in time for any development here to open.

by Gavin on Jun 13, 2013 11:45 am • linkreport

Two transportation thoughts:
1. How, and therefore when, various phases of the streetcar network get built is entirely dependent on the forthcoming streetcar PPP contract. At this point, everything in the streetcar plan is purely speculative; phasing is ultimately up to the eventual PPP awardee.

2. The High Line and Millennium Park (to clarify: both were funded through appropriations, donations, underlying development rights and/or TIF on adjacent development) draw such huge numbers of visitors that they both create traffic jams, and so will "McMillan Park" if it's similar. Or maybe its advocates are being disingenuous and demanding a private park for themselves.

Conflict of interest disclosure: I have none. The true vested interests are the NIMBY neighbors, who demand that the rest of us DC taxpayers shower them with $millions in construction costs and foregone tax revenue.

by Payton on Jun 13, 2013 11:50 am • linkreport

It is so sad that the DC Sierra Club has let itself be co-opted by this single issue NIMBY organization. Hard to believe it is the same organization that once published "Restore the Core" and lobbied for investment in the District as at least part of the remedy to endless sprawl. BTW, the guy spearheading FOM and directing the Club's position on this issue was elected to the local Sierra Club leadership at about the same time his own neighbors rejected him for an ANC seat. Of course, I think local Sierra Club elections draw all of about 40 voters, so they are being a bit disingenuous when they claim to speak for all 10,000 or so DC Sierra Club members. They certainly do not speak for me on this issue. Seriously considering letting my membership lapse, no matter what good they might do at the national level.

by rg on Jun 13, 2013 11:55 am • linkreport

I'm really disappointed with the level of analysis presented in this post. The claim that "it would be prohibitively expensive to make McMillan a park" is offered with no support. If the claim were true, then there really would be nothing to debate this month: by assumption, McMillan can't be used as a park and everyone is better off if the city gets tax revenue versus the status quo (no tax revenue). Surplus is a foregone conclusion.

We can debate the competing merits of the VMP plan versus other development plans with more or less open space and different community amenities, but those discussions aren't really ripe until the city first decides to surplus the land. And that's the decision on the table now.

In the past, I have appreciated GGW's focus on evidence-based analysis of transit funding and road design. So...evidence please! Mr. Kenton, do you know how much it would cost to restore the unreinforced underground structures and make the McMillan site safely usable as greenspace, supporting your claim that it is "too costly"? It seems like that information would be a more effective starting point for a discussion, allowing individuals to reach their own informed conclusions about the competing merits of parks, affordable housing and tax revenue.

by ABloomieNeighbor on Jun 13, 2013 11:58 am • linkreport

@11luke: Scrap the apartments- there's enough rental buildingsprouting up in NOMA and Brookland.

There isn't enough rental housing anywhere in the city. There are too many condo conversions and not nearly enough rental stock to supply the young and not-especially-well-paid with decent places to live. DC is severely lacking in apartments, and while this in no way alleviates that pressure, it's at least something.

And as for transit: this would be a great location for a separated yellow line to at some point run to. In the meantime, I agree that upping the priority of the Calvert-Michigan streetcar line is an absolute must (though would also add that without dedicated ROW that's going nowhere fast. Or everywhere slow). Dedicated bus lines on North Capitol would be a good start, as well.

In general, though, the renderings look good but as others have pointed out I don't see how any park here - in a standalone plot that doesn't really link any centers of employment or commerce - is going to generate that kind of foot traffic. It's definitely not going to be a destination, whether developed or maintained as a park, and there's little reason to use it for cutting through; there's not a lot of "there" there.

by MetroDerp on Jun 13, 2013 12:01 pm • linkreport

@11luke: Interesting point about the medical office market. Without knowing any details about MedStar/VA's plans, though, I would say that either (a) like other institutions [e.g., Howard University] not in the real estate development business and don't see their land as an asset, (b) have other plans for their parking lots, or (c) don't have zoning permission to build any more [MedStar's land is only zoned for 0.9 FAR]. One also can't assume that MedStar or VA would occupy the office buildings, and those new tenants can't easily set up shop across the street.

@rg: The only-slightly-more-difficult alternative would be to take back the SC DC Group.

by Payton on Jun 13, 2013 12:09 pm • linkreport

Here's an idea - why not put shops and restaurants and galleries and art spaces and a food court in the underground cells?
Call it "McMillan Down Under".

by Surplus It on Jun 13, 2013 12:14 pm • linkreport

I agree with Gavin and others calling for mass transit to be up and running before this development opens up. The riders will already be there -- have you seen the square footage coming on line between there and the Brookland station? Then the hospitals can reallocate their multi-layer, lit-up-all-night-long parking tiers.

And does the VMP plan include a pedestrian passage UNDER Michigan Avenue?

by Lisa on Jun 13, 2013 12:17 pm • linkreport

A better plan would be just to make Michigan ave. easier and safer to cross.

by drumz on Jun 13, 2013 12:23 pm • linkreport


Here's where I'm coming from about the lack of condos:

And there's not a lot in the pipeline either. As someone who lived in DC as a young renter and now 30 something condo owner, I think the challenge is much greater on the middle class person trying to move into the city and raise a family. Young folks have the option of roommates, renting a basement level apartment in a row house, or one of the fancy new places that are currently being built throughout the city. And every condo can be rented out, but it doesn't work the other way generally. If you think there's more condos being built then rentals by those cranes that dot our skyline, you haven't been paying attention. If someone wants to stick around the city, buy and raise a family, send their kids to local public schools, your option is rowhouse or condo. Rowhouses aren't going to be enough to keep up with demand, even if they keep getting converted to condos (which, if we build more condos won't have to happen!). Condos, including, 2, 3 and 4 bedroom condos will be a great way for the city to accommodate these new families. Otherwise this city is going to turn into NYC- the wealthy have tony rowhouses, while the working class has a diminishing amount of public housing slots, and the middle class moves to the burbs. There is another way, and the city here should do the right thing.

by 11luke on Jun 13, 2013 12:24 pm • linkreport

your option is rowhouse or condo

Well one thing to do is to build apartments so that people with roommates who may rent a townhouse have the option of an apartment as well.

by drumz on Jun 13, 2013 12:26 pm • linkreport

If they area needs a park, they should cap the reservoir next door and tear down the fence to make that a real park.

by David C on Jun 13, 2013 12:26 pm • linkreport

@ Lisa, I don't think the current VMP plan makes any provision for pedestrians getting across Michigan Ave.

by Andy on Jun 13, 2013 12:28 pm • linkreport

People shouldn't even be paying attention to the design of the buildings at this point.

At this stage in the planning, the designers always overdo it in regards to the buildings. Modern, sleek, unique. When was the last time a building like that was actually built in DC?

by Michael on Jun 13, 2013 12:34 pm • linkreport

I have had many a near-death experience on Michigan Avenue on bike and on foot. A tunnel right to Children's Hosp, and to a bus/streetcar stop opposite might be good; I defer to transit people who know more.

by Lisa on Jun 13, 2013 12:36 pm • linkreport

During the Brookland Small Area Planning Process I kept arguing for linkage between streetcar and development at McMillan and AFRH. That didn't get in the plan.

I also argued for transit impact fees on those developments, something DC doesn't necessarily really do, outside of certain aspects of PUDs.

2. My recollection is that there was an RFP issued and multiple applicants submitted, and that the VMP proposal was chosen.

3. as others have mentioned, it's unclear that there is demand for medical office there. Yes, it should go into the WHC campus, but VMP doesn't own the WHC campus, they expect to own that land, hence their proposal.

It could be a kind of biomedical office park, with interaction with the CUA academic program, potentially HU, etc., and CUA's proposals for a research park on land they own on the west side of Harewood Rd. (ex-AFRH land that Congress forced AFRH to sell to CUA).

But the way that the medical industry is shaking out, I wonder if there is really demand for "doctors offices" in that location as more and more medical professions are directly linked to hospital groups, and in that location Medstar rules.

4. McMillan Down Under... cf. Atlanta Underground. If it were well located, maybe it could fly. It won't there.

5. vacant plots on N. Capitol? There aren't any, except for the parking lot at NY Ave. adjacent to the old People's Drug warehouse.

6. While generally I am not in favor of tunneling etc. I have come around on creating a tunnel to divert commuting traffic away from the neighborhoods, because of the pernicious effect it has on the neighborhoods. That could be from around Michigan Ave. to the MoCo border (Blair Road). But it won't ever happen.

by Richard Layman on Jun 13, 2013 12:37 pm • linkreport

I doubt the so-called Smarter Growth crowd will be happy as long as a tree or blade of grass is left standing in DC.

Odd this article so soon after the one on how appalling the 1800's plan to build over Rock Creek Park was.

McMillan Park was a central part of the McMillan Plan and was fenced off because integrated couples were spotted there in the 40's when DC was hyper-segregated.

Why do we never hear proposals to concrete over Olmstead's Central Park in NYC for development?

Just as with the freeway wars in the 60's, this may be a time for massive civil disobedience to tear down the McMillian fence.

The crooks running DC gov't and the developer shill groups are always going to be for development that lines their pockets.

by Tom Coumaris on Jun 13, 2013 12:39 pm • linkreport

David C -- if the Reservoir is used to store post-treated water, new EPA regulations do in fact require it to be capped.

by Richard Layman on Jun 13, 2013 12:39 pm • linkreport

I doubt the so-called Smarter Growth crowd will be happy as long as a tree or blade of grass is left standing in DC.

Pay no mind to the VMP plan which includes park space. Or the vigourous discussion in the RCP story about how to make the parkway less harmful to the park. Or how the Smart Code discusses both city parks and greenbelts as a tool in Smart Growth.

by drumz on Jun 13, 2013 12:47 pm • linkreport

I'll echo rg's disappointment with the DC Sierra Club's involvement on this one. Fifteen years ago, their "Restore The Core" report demonstrated an understanding that environmentalism in an urban context is much more subtle than the naive green=good, development=bad perspective. Parks in particular are a very complicated issue, and as I suspect Richard Layman would point out, the lack of a comprehensive DC park plan does not help matters.

In an urban setting, parks are not about wildlife; even if left to grow 'wild' (such as Bunker Hill park in Brookland), at best they'd be ecologically useless edge habitat inhabited primarily by species that need no help. In an urban setting, park are about people, for a myriad of uses.

One of the most insightful pieces on parks in an urban setting is found in Christopher Alexander's masterful "A Pattern Language," in pattern 60: "Accessible Green." Alexander and colleagues actually measured park usage and interviewed park visitors and concluded that people love parks, but will only travel about 3 minutes to visit one, which is about 750 feet if you're walking. They summarize: "People need green open places to go to; when they are close they use them. But if the greens are more than three minutes away, the distance overwhelms the need."

A focus on the size of a park is misguided. Bigger doesn't mean better. What makes a park successful is the number of people who are close to it. Take as a comparison Dupont Circle and Barnard Hill Park. Barnard Hill Park is huge, and empty. Dupont Circle is probably the most successful park in the District. It is not large, but its proximity for lots of people, all throughout the day, ensures that it is used to its fullest.

And this is just about making a park successful. It is true that DC cannot control what development happens outside its borders. But if we do not find ways to accommodate more residents in the already-urbanized parts of our region, then a growing population will have no choice but to keep expanding outward.

More generally, its sort of ironic if NIMBY-fueled opposition to densification of urbanized areas leads developers to focus on greenfield sites, whose present lack of development means that there are no NIMBYs to object loudly. A save-this, save-that approach to fighting development is perhaps the ultimate in losing a war by winning every single battle.

by thm on Jun 13, 2013 12:48 pm • linkreport


This isn't McMillan Park. It's an old filtration plant next to McMillan Park. See this map from 1909.

You can see that the Park is the area next to the Reservoir (and that this connects to Soldier's Home Park without Michigan Avenue or the hospital in the way).

I'd rather see that somewhat restored, with McMillan Park reopened, the green strip between hospital and Park place reconnected - with the roads buried - and at least the southern section of Soldier's Home returned to the city as a Park.

But the Filtration site is not, nor was it ever, a park.

by David C on Jun 13, 2013 12:50 pm • linkreport

I'm a bit surprised to see the 'pass' GGW has given to the transportation issues of this site and plan.

Metro is in the process of studying the 80 and H-bus lines, which would travel right to the east and north of any potential development. As of last week the Metrobus teams were not talking to anyone from the development team.

There is no doubt that this development will bring hundreds if not thousands - of new cars to the already congested and chocked area. Mayor Gray - in his remarks after launching his Sustainable DC vision said (from WJLA):

“We’ve got to get people out of automobiles,” says Mayor Gray. “We can’t add 250,000 people and add a proportional amount of cars.”

But that's what this development does - the buses can not handle more people - as is, there is no plan for streetcars (until phase 3), there sure as heck is no real plan for a Metro station, bikeshare docks just aren't going to cut it and what's left - cars on roads is unsustainable.

I take the 80 to and from work each day and some days traffic can be backed up from NYAve to Michigan. Add another 800 cars into that mess and it's a huge recipe for disaster.

- Sam Shipley

by Shipsa01 on Jun 13, 2013 12:59 pm • linkreport

Sam, certainly not thousands of cars.

by David C on Jun 13, 2013 1:09 pm • linkreport

They're planning for 800 residences, 3 13-story medical offices and a large grocery store + many little stores (you know, the requisite Chipotles and such).

While thousands may be a tad hyperbolic (though I think it's probably more than fair), I'll go with "lots and lots of new cars." Regardless, it still flies in the face of the Mayor's comments and vision for the future of this city.

by Shipsa01 on Jun 13, 2013 1:19 pm • linkreport

I live in Stronghold and walk by the site every day. I can see it from my bedroom window. I support VMP's efforts to move forward on their plan to convert this abandoned industrial site, which is not nor has ever been a park, into a grocery store where my family can buy groceries, an actual park where my family can picnic, restaurants where my family can eat, an aquatic facility where my family can swim. I do not support the "friends," which I will not call "friends of McMillan Park," as that name is another of their deceptions. They are not my friends and are not very friendly. Their materials are highly deceptive (their flyers show the reservoir under the phrase "save the park," of course you will get people to sign a petition!) and their tactics are to bully and silence anyone who disagrees with them. Their main spokesperson yelled obscenities at the surplus meeting and then apparently spit on someone who disagreed with him.

I do not believe them when they say they do not want the site to remain fenced off. Their alternative plan is not real, it was a project by some college kids. If they are successful in stopping VMP nothing will happen to the site. It will simply sit there, fenced off, for many more generations. The city will not spend $153M (the cost of the high line) to build a park on the site. The $1B that DC has in their rainy day fund is not meant to be used for parks, it is a financial tool to make sure that the city government can continue to function in case of an economic emergency.

Enough is enough: this is the best chance that we have to finally use this site for the betterment of the city. I have written my city council members, DMPED and the HPRB in support of moving this forward. I urge anyone who wants to ever set foot on this site in their lifetime to do so as well.

by Stronghold Resident on Jun 13, 2013 1:40 pm • linkreport

To some extent the more development you do on that plot, you might actually reduce some car use. For people living around there, they have to get in their car right now to do lots of things, if you give them amentities they might walk to them reducing their use of their cars.

by nathaniel on Jun 13, 2013 1:41 pm • linkreport

It's true, a lot of the residents around McMillan would not have to drive as much to shop for groceries and go to restaurants or bars if those amenities were available at the site, but they, and the thousands of new people living at the development, still have to get to work, and transportation in this area is quite inadequate.

by Andy on Jun 13, 2013 1:53 pm • linkreport

Regardless, it still flies in the face of the Mayor's comments and vision for the future of this city

So they're buildings things in walking distance, there are already things in walking distance and this location. Meanwhile while transit improvements aren't coming immediately they are actively being planned (in addition what's already there).

I think that lines up fine. If you acknowledge there will be new car trips made you have to acknowledge the new ones made by other modes and demonstrate that those will be less than new car trips.

by drumz on Jun 13, 2013 1:57 pm • linkreport

I'm not sure I understand this:

"If you acknowledge there will be new car trips made you have to acknowledge the new ones made by other modes and demonstrate that those will be less than new car trips."

Also, for this statement: "Meanwhile while transit improvements aren't coming immediately they are actively being planned (in addition what's already there)."

What are you referring to?

by Shipsa01 on Jun 13, 2013 2:00 pm • linkreport

To the other comments on this point: I unsubscribed from the Sierra Club's list because of their shortsighted position on this.

by Gavin on Jun 13, 2013 2:03 pm • linkreport

Sam, agreed: the site will likely bring more cars, and Andy, agreed: Stronghold needs more/better transportation options. But do you believe that the best way to get these new/better transportation options is to oppose the VMP plan?

I would argue that the best way to get better transportation is actually to support the plan. This is because there would be very little incentive to put any new transportation options, eg, bikeshare, streetcar, etc, near the abandoned industrial site if there is no development there. If the VMP plan moves forward the city council, including Kenyan McDuffie (who lives on N Cap DIRECTLY across from the site and supports the VMP plan) will be forced to create the new/better transportation options that we all want.


by Stronghold Resident on Jun 13, 2013 2:04 pm • linkreport

and at least the southern section of Soldier's Home returned to the city as a Park.


The Soldier's Home had a large development plan for their lands to the northwest of the North Cap/Irving interchange. I would love to see that development happen, extending the city grid to a new area of town, make the Hospital Center less of an 'island' land use.

The green space at the Soldier's Home should then involve closing the golf course and opening the area to the public as a large park - a much greater park than what you're going to get from an old sand filtration site.

by Alex B. on Jun 13, 2013 2:06 pm • linkreport

You say this project will add a lot of cars. Fine, but its pretty clear from the site plan that a lot of day to day stuff will be in walking distance, plus it's an area with transit to take care of the commute. You can't acknowledge the cars while ignoring the walkable design and its central location.

And transportation improvements are coming. Maybe the timing is off, maybe it isn't, neither one of us have any sort of projection handy but I think 800 residences in a city of 600K can be absorbed for the moment.

by drumz on Jun 13, 2013 2:09 pm • linkreport

The project will add traffic to North Cap and Michigan Ave, no doubt. And the people that live there, as acknowledged in the article, will not be well connected to the existing transit, so this will definitely put further stress on the entire road network.

OTOH, I think the mayor's goal of 75% of all trips is neither achievable nor advisable.

The land has been an idle eyesore for as long as anybody can remember. The whole area between Catholic U. and Howard is a sort of suburban dead zone. Build something.

by goldfish on Jun 13, 2013 2:12 pm • linkreport

@Stronghold Resident

I think that the reason many people have opposed VMP's plan and may even have signed the "Friends" petition is that VMP has only begrudgingly improved the plan at all in the face of outright opposition from the surrounding community. I personally signed the "Friends" petition not because I want no development there (although that's what the "Friends" claim everyone signing the petition meant) but because the petition was worded simply as rejecting the current plan, which is ugly and doesn't include a real plan for transportation/traffic control. Do you really think that VMP will keep improving their plan after already receiving everyone's buy-in? I don't.

And I realize that transportation is District issue and not really within the purview of the developers, but they and the city are clearly acting as a team in this project. If the city wants its tax revenue and the politicians supporting the development want to keep their jobs, they should make sure that major holes in the plan, like transportation/traffic control, are adequately addressed, so that the downsides don't outweigh the positive aspects of development for those already living here.

by Andy on Jun 13, 2013 2:32 pm • linkreport

Andy, thanks for your response. I agree with you that the current plan, especially as regards the condos above the grocery store, is less than aesthetically pleasing. In an attempt to try to bring it into greater conformity with my opinion, which is a subjectively held belief based upon my individual thoughts, I emailed my city council member, the HPRB and the folks at VMP, conveying my concerns. Do I really think that the VMP will keep improving their plan after already receiving everyone's buy-in? Well, I don't know. I hope that they will.

In the alternate, I do believe that if the "friends" win, surplus does not happen and VMP walks, the abandoned industrial site will remain as it sits. This, to me, is the worst case scenario. I do not believe that any developer, even one who signs their name in blood to buy into the non-real, college kid designed plan, would come within 100 yards of touching any project for the abandoned industrial site, not for at least 25 years. If you were running a development company and someone said to you "hey, Andy, I have this great project! The last company that tried to do it put millions of dollars and many years into it and they utterly failed, so now we have a shot at doing what a small band of activists wants: we can't lose!" what would you say?

Serious questions:

1) if the "friends" win and VMP walks, how much longer do you think the site would sit as-is?

2) assuming (a major assumption) that the college-kid design would actually be built instead of the VMP plan, how long would be acceptable? 15 years? 25? 30? How long would be too long for you?

by Stronghold Resident on Jun 13, 2013 3:04 pm • linkreport

Wonderful post, Malcolm. Thank you for helping to untangle an unnecessarily contentious matter.

Friends of McMillan Park (though the “park” isn’t a park -- never has been, never will be -- and the “friends” are anything but friendly to anyone) want to keep DC’s streets wide open as traffic sewers for Maryland single-occupancy car commuters. Let’s all support the vote for “surplus” to foster density, intelligent planning and use of a wasted open urban space! Under the proposal, we will see enhanced commercial, residential and transportation options for everyone in the the North Capitol Street corridor.

One hates to question anyone’s motives, but it would be wonderful to know what the “friends’” motives really are.

Bravo to Councilmember McDuffy for supporting this wise step forward!

by Sydney P on Jun 13, 2013 3:15 pm • linkreport

this will definitely put further stress on the entire road network

Left as is, there will be futher stress on the road network, thanks to sprawl. By developing sites within Washington DC, at least a few miles of asphalt can be used first and foremost by Washingtonians – and not just in their automobiles.

by Sydney P on Jun 13, 2013 3:21 pm • linkreport

1. rg and thm both mentioned the "Restore the Core" report.

That document was hugely important for me too. It likely was the goad that finally put me over the line so I got off my armchair and started getting involved in local issues, especially back then in my neighborhood. I definitely read it before BP proposed the big gas station on H Street. It was a great goad, a great report.

2. and yes, thm is right both about the "Accessible Green" issue -- he referenced Christopher Alexander but Jane Jacobs made similar points -- and the need for a master plan for parks in the city (the process btw gets kicked off on Saturday, although I can't attend).

3. I mentioned above, how I advocated for tying transit approvals to development approvals in the Brookland Small Area Plan.

The add'l comments remind me that I was more specific, using the example of Potomac Yard. That area is maxed out on traffic. So to be able to develop specific projects, they have to meet various transportation demand/traffic reduction targets, or they can't build/can't get permits from the respective jurisdictions.

It's why there is a "voluntary" "Transportation Management Association" set up to cover the development, for both its ArCo and Alexandria portions, why there are plans to build an infill subway station, etc.

I argued for similar provisions with regard to development at both McMillan and AFRH as part of the Brookland Small Area Plan. OP was totally uninterested in pursuing this. My understanding is that DDOT was more open to the concept.

4. In any case, if people in govt. listened to me on this stuff, which for the most part they don't, DDOT/OP would create a TMA including VMP, Washington Hospital Center, and AFRH as primary members, and CUA, HU, and Trinity as secondary members, and integrate transportation planning and demand management in that broad geography.

And permits for construction should not be granted unless it happens.

Creation of and mandated participation should be part of the land disposition agreement between DC and VMP, it should be a required element of any land disposition contracts between AFRH and whomever they sell land to.

This is the kind of stuff that focused community groups and ANCs should be demanding.

It happens with ANC6C and ANC6A. I am not sure how much it happens elsewhere in the city.

by Richard Layman on Jun 13, 2013 3:29 pm • linkreport

Two more points:

1. Another thing, DC could create a transportation tax district like they did for the NoMA station. 1/3 of the cost of the station is paid for by an annual additional assessment on property within a certain catchment area of the station. It would be tough to figure out how to include WHC. They should have to participate with a PILOT, but they'd likely fight it tooth and nail.

2. Don't knock college students and their planning projects. Many great projects have come out of such efforts. E.g., the Atlanta Beltline concept was first put forward in a master's thesis.

by Richard Layman on Jun 13, 2013 3:33 pm • linkreport

For those who want to support the environmentalists and oppose the corporatists, the Sierra Club's petition is here:

by Tom Coumaris on Jun 13, 2013 3:42 pm • linkreport

The primitive petition, which essentially says nothing itself, was mounted on the local club's website by local Club chapter member Hugh Youngblood

Hugh actually describes the project a "Tysons Corner development" – just in case anyone is unclear about how misguided the hysteria is.

by Sydney P on Jun 13, 2013 4:18 pm • linkreport

2. Don't knock college students and their planning projects. Many great projects have come out of such efforts. E.g., the Atlanta Beltline concept was first put forward in a master's thesis.

I agree with you in general on this point, Richard, but it seems disingenuous to me for FOM to be waving around a plan as a reasonable option when it isn't really a "plan" so much as an idea and set of drawings that ignores any engineering challenges present. These anti groups seem to do this a lot with transit projects and other development projects; they draw some pictures and then demand to know why it can't be done this way, and continue to shout even when countered with the "engineering" answer.

by MLD on Jun 13, 2013 4:20 pm • linkreport

Just a quick note: every time you reduce the issue to simply "environmentalists" versus "corporatists," about 50 people who might have participated in constructive dialog instead throw up their hands and walk away.

by Jeff Morrow on Jun 13, 2013 4:24 pm • linkreport

MLD -- that's not exclusive, of course, to college students. DCOP wasted $50K or more to do an engineering analysis of Brookland residents clamoring for a "decking over" of the Brookland Metro station.

Regardless of the fact that because of grade issues, a deck there would just be a different kind of obstruction, it was obvious it was a no brainer.

Couldn't I have been given a few grand for this blog entry?

by Richard Layman on Jun 13, 2013 4:37 pm • linkreport

MLD, right on: the "VMP plan vs. Collage City plan" choice that the "friends" continue to put forth is false and misleading. If VMP walks or is removed from the project, as the "friends" advocate, the "alternative plan" will not just materialize out of the blue. There is no developer committed to the Collage plan. There are no studies on it, the city does not support it, no one is signed on to build it. It is as real as a crayon drawing that I can make on the back of a take-out menu.

If the "friends" have their way, NOTHING WILL HAPPEN FOR MANY MANY YEARS. If this is ok with everyone, well, I appreciate that, but it is not ok with me. I want to be alive when something happens with the site.

So, what should we do, just get out of the way and let VMP do whatever they want? No. I don't really like the design either, but the better option is to work within the framework of VMP plan. Those advocating against the surplus and against VMP are effectively advocating for an indefinite continuation of the status quo.

by Stronghold Resident on Jun 13, 2013 5:22 pm • linkreport

Aha. So, we're going for concern trolling, rather than outright opposition.

by andrew on Jun 13, 2013 5:55 pm • linkreport

I'm actually really impressed with the park at the south, especially with the way it juxtaposes artifacts, ruins, and new construction as traces of the change in the site, from pre-urban to today. It could be less literal, but it weaves the architecture into a wide variety of programs with a diversity of spaces. It's a real park, not just a big green space.

Some of these features were already present in the plan, but I think the difference shows in how much of each feature is preserved. A lot of the student plan repeats the same experience and the same features multiple times without that much difference explored. I guess, if each cell is closed off from the others, why do you need more than one as an artifact. How many arcades do you need to get the experience of ruins?

The friends of McMillan plan, as much as it is one, doesn't even attempt to interpret history.

by Neil Flanagan on Jun 13, 2013 6:02 pm • linkreport

But, seriously. This is easily one of the best new developments that's been proposed for the city in a long time.

It's attracting mixed uses to an area that has none, getting feet on the street in an area that currently functions as a traffic sewer, creating the density necessary to attract better transit options in a neighborhood that has few, extending an existing rowhouse neighborhood with similar low-rise structures, and adding innovative park spaces at minimal cost to the city.

Yes, the project will add cars, but likely not as many cars as those 800 residents would own if they lived elsewhere.

We can (and should) scrutinize the details of the project to make sure that DC is getting a good deal in exchange for the land, but this really does seem like a great deal for the city.

by andrew on Jun 13, 2013 6:04 pm • linkreport

As a longtime resident of Bloomingdale, I've been following this project for a while. To be honest, I was not a fan of the development plans and naturally turned to the Friend of McMillan Park. However, it's apparent to me that these people have no intention of ever seeing this site developed. Look at their ramblings. They constantly contradict themselves by claiming Jair Lynch will do all of these awful things and then go off and present an almost identical option. Then when you begin to question their motives, they attack you. Now they have this group involved with them that hates the government and wants to tear down the fence and occupy the site. I'm just so tired of their behavior and want a place that my grandchildren will be able to use. I've waited almost two decades now and don't want to wait another two decades for the promise of something better.

by Delores on Jun 13, 2013 6:23 pm • linkreport

Yeah, what do college students know anyway? They shouldn't have a say in DC developm.... Wait a minute, I seem to recall an article to the contrary a week or two ago.

by Chris S. on Jun 13, 2013 6:33 pm • linkreport

Too many of the lies put out by the developers and their shills have become accepted by people.

1. The sand filtration site was always a part of McMillan Park. The silos were incorporated into the park by Olmstead. There was never a fence previously except for a small one directly on the reservoir. If you look at the historic designation application it makes clear that the park encompassed the entire site.

2. The Washington Hospital Center is not entirely desperate for land to build offices on. There are more than enough surface parking lots there which should be used for high rises before parkland is used.

3. Trammell Crow is requiring the city not only to give the park away but also to add $55M for them to proceed.

Nothing happens when there is not consensus on a project involving city assets, city subsidies, a designated historic landmark, etc. There's clearly no consensus on this project and that's a sure thing nothing will be built.

The best thing may be if the citizens do in fact tear the fence down and re-claim the park.

by Tom Coumaris on Jun 13, 2013 7:26 pm • linkreport

Tom, look at this map from 1911:

Someone else posted this earlier. To me it is clear that there are two distinct spaces in the area in question. "McMillan Park" is clearly circumscribed by boundaries around the reservoir. The site of the future VMP development is obviously labeled "Filtering Plant." Again, the map is from 102 years ago. Are you saying 1) that "Filtering Plant" is the same as a park, or 2) that a park was here before the Filtering Plant, or 3) after? Those seem to be the only possibilities that exist.

If this is not correct please post links reflecting the veracity of your claim.

by Stronghold Resident on Jun 13, 2013 8:04 pm • linkreport

SR- The description of the McMillan Park Historic District is on the National Park Service site here:

It makes clear the sand filtration site is a part of it as does the underlying application.

Olmsted incorporated the silos into his park design.

by Tom Coumaris on Jun 13, 2013 8:23 pm • linkreport

I'm calling BS:

Relevant segment:

"In 1906, the reservoir was designated as a park and a memorial to the late Senator James McMillan who had died in 1902, and before implementation of the plan which bears his name. According to the park plans designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. in 1908 following the reservoir's designation as a park two years earlier, the filtration plant was landscaped in a formal manner, complementing the industrial character of the various engineering elements..."

So, they built the reservoir and a park around it. Then they said "hey, let's put an industrial site over there, but let's make it look good by having some landscaping around it." Landscaping an industrial site is a good idea, but the fact that an industrial site is landscaped doesn't make it a "park," it just makes it a landscaped industrial site.

This makes it very clear that the "McMillan Reservoir" and the "Slow Sand Filtration Plant" were and are considered separate spaces. They are treated as such in the application and just rolled into one "historic district." I submit that the "friends" know this, they just want to conflate the two for the purposes of making their arguments, which now seem more clear: they want nothing to happen to the site and/or they want to tear down the fence and occupy it a some sort of anti-government/anti-corporate social demonstration.

Tom, I respect you for just going ahead and admitting it. Good luck in your movement to free Stronghold and Bloomingdale of the pernicious effects of corporations, including Boundary Stone, Rustik, Aroi Thai, Red Hen, Bacio, the dry cleaners on RI and 1st, New Reservoir Market and Grassroots Gourmet through tearing down a fence and camping in an industrial site: capitalist bastards!

by Stronghold Resident on Jun 13, 2013 8:41 pm • linkreport

SR- Exactly the paragraph you quote shows that Olmsted designed the silos as park of the park.

McMillan Park from 1908 to when blacks started coming and it had to be closed, was not just the sidewalk around the lake. The ballfields, picnic areas and places families slept out on hot nights were in the area you consider a separate sand filtration industrial site.

by Tom Coumaris on Jun 13, 2013 9:06 pm • linkreport

Tom C.-, open the pdf and go to the historic map of the 35th page. Notice in very bold letters, the McMillan Reservoir to the North, the McMillan Park to the South, and across the street, without any name is the actual McMillan Sand Filtration Site. The park was always located across the street- See the pretty picture with the actual reservoir directly North of the three muses fountain. Pretty blatant evidence of where the park actually was.

Regarding your insistence of the Silos coming after the Sand Filtration Site was landscaped, take a gander here As you will clearly see, workers in an unlandscaped site have Silos in the background. Doesn't seem to be much space on this active work site for park. Please use your commonsense here. This site was never an open public space. In fact, Olmsted himself created the perimeter walk and selected thorny trees to serve a natural barrier so that the general public would not wander into the active worksite with thousands of exposed manholes.

by FriendofMcMillan on Jun 13, 2013 10:03 pm • linkreport

Tom, that is not what it shows. It says "According to the park plans designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. in 1908 following the reservoir's designation as a park two years earlier, the filtration plant was landscaped in a formal manner, complementing the industrial character of the various engineering elements..."

Olmstead designed the park plans after the reservoir was designated a park. The filtration plant was landscaped in a formal manner that matched the park. Of which the plant was clearly not a part of, or why mention it at all.

Is it your position that the map from 1909 (really 1911) is wrong? Because I can find many others that show the same thing.

What else have you got? Any land records or newspaper accounts? Any original source material that backs the claim?

by David C on Jun 13, 2013 10:05 pm • linkreport

I will say this about the opposition.

Imagine that you rank the outcomes from worst to best as.

A. The status quo
B. The proposed design
C. Some other ideal design that maximizes local benefits at a profit the developer can live with.

Obviously, you'd want to move from B closer to C. But you can't let the developer know that you like B more than A. Or else they constantly threaten to walk. You have to make them believe that you prefer A to B. That you will blow the whole thing up if they don't move closer to C. [Think republicans with the debt ceiling or the two powers during the cold war with nukes]

If I thought the friends group were brilliant negotiators signaling that they were insane people ready to kill the whole deal to win concessions from the developers then I would admire them. But right now, I think they're just crazy.

by David C on Jun 13, 2013 10:11 pm • linkreport

Maybe families slept out on the sidewalk around the lake but the baseball fields of McMillan Park couldn't have been there. There was no fence between the parcels and if the silo site was legally a different site I doubt many people knew.

by Tom Coumaris on Jun 13, 2013 10:30 pm • linkreport

Tom C- really? That's your response. So when presented with actual photographic evidence disputing the silly claims of people sleeping next to expose manholes on an industrial worksite or the more logical one of people having an actual park across the STREET from the industrial worksite in a large enough space to hold a baseball field, you instead opt for the line that the there was no fence? There was a freaking STREET that separated the PARK from the active INDUSTRIAL WORKSITE.

David C- does Tom C answers answer your hypothesis? Not some brillant strategy anymore, just disconnected from reality.

by FriendofMcMillan on Jun 13, 2013 10:36 pm • linkreport

Maybe lets not focus on what happened 100 years ago and instead celebrate the fact that the neighborhood is getting a new park (since no one is alive to remember the old one) and a neighborhood where people of all races will live side by side.

by drumz on Jun 13, 2013 11:41 pm • linkreport

I have no horse in this race, except that I generally want what is best for the city as I'm sure most folks do. It would take a lot of drugs and a visit to some alternate reality to believe the FOM position is the better choice for the city. If I lived near the site I would be very upset about their misleading statements, bullying, and general irrationality. I've dealt with such folks in my own neighborhood before but thankfully for my blood pressure the stakes weren't nearly as high.

by Danno on Jun 14, 2013 12:06 am • linkreport

Perhaps I'm a rube, but even if true, I fail to see how people sleeping outside on the grounds of a sand filtration plant 100 years ago should have anything to do with our development choices today.

by worthing on Jun 14, 2013 8:17 am • linkreport

That small parcel set aside as a "park" in the above diagram is pitiful. Most of the plan is concrete. And the design is as Tysons Corner awful as the Historic Review board says (actually I think Tysons now has higher standards than this turd).

But the main point of this proposal, as with much in DC, was corruption and passing money to rich friends and supporters. It's a fitting legacy of the Harry Thomas years.

Anytime you have a proposal to give away for free a large public park to developers to build on it should raise red flags. It would in other places but never does here. I can't imagine NYC getting away with giving Central Park to a friend of Bloomberg's, or SF giving away Golden Gate Park. They're even rioting in Instanbul over this issue.

Is DC the most corruption tolerant city anywhere?

by Tom Coumaris on Jun 14, 2013 8:39 am • linkreport

So true worthing.

I've lived in NE DC on Michigan Avenue for 56 years, and my family has here since 1839. My great great uncle worked on the original roof of Union Station. That crap said, I never viewed that place as anything other than a filtration plant. Having worked many years in renovation in DC from the 70's to the 80's, worked as an engineer for twenty years, and as a member a family of architects and builders, I see the idea of keeping the silos and other silly industrial elements of the plant as juvenile or copying some other project, at best. It is the type of idea that originates from those who have no experience in design or practical matters of planning and construction.

The other stuff about people sleeping on the sidewalks sounds like hogwash urban myth material. Maybe it happened a couple of times, but believe me, if you tried that in the last 50 years, you would have been murdered in your sleep.

Let's do it tastefully and get the tax dollars rolling in ASAP.

by NE John on Jun 14, 2013 8:39 am • linkreport


Anytime you have a proposal to give away for free a large public park to developers to build on it should raise red flags.

Please. It's not a park. It never was a park. I think we've established that pretty clearly.

[Deleted for violating the comment policy.]

by David C on Jun 14, 2013 9:54 am • linkreport

So it may have been a park, but then functionally wasn't for a long time. Now we have an opportunity to make it public again and provide housing in a city with a huge housing crush (and a limit on the height of buildings) and yet this is exactly as if Central Park is going to be sold for 1$ in order to build a 6 mile long shopping mall.

by drumz on Jun 14, 2013 10:03 am • linkreport

I can't wait to see what these people will want to "preserve" in a future redesign of the Blue Plains waste treatment plant.

by NE John on Jun 14, 2013 10:34 am • linkreport

I like the plan. As cool as a park would be it's not really a central enough location (access wise) to merit that scale of investment by the city. This is the best of both worlds. New development, a still substantial ~6 acre? park and they keep the silos that I kind of adore.

by Alan B. on Jun 14, 2013 10:56 am • linkreport

The site plan looks incredibly dull and not too site sensitive. As much as I like historical buildings, I would tear down the whole site. Why be held to a site feature of concrete cylinders becasue they're old?

For starters the whole length of North Capitol should be built-up, especially that non-sensicle set back at Michigan Ave. The park on the south being elevated seems to turn the sholder to the neighborhood. It should be at street level to allow the community to "walk-in" and handle the grade change with some front facing conco-type towns facing south and some nice stair feature from the internal north-south road. It looks so segregated with the uses on thier own pads. A mixed skyline with finer grain would fit in so much nicer, and from the renderings, it looks like the buildings could be in Hamburg Germany.

Why not relate the open space(s) to the reservoir? Sun setting on the water's surface could make for a memorable view with the skyline (if we can hold on to it). This looks like a bery unimaginative plan for such a large parcel so close to the heart of the city. Seems like a lost opportunity, but maybe those "historic" silos are straight jacketing the whole endevor. I'd love to see an alternate plan with more texture and heart.

by Thayer-D on Jun 14, 2013 11:02 am • linkreport

Housing isn't fungible, so don't assume that new-market rate housing will increase the number of affordable units.

New market-rate housing units won't increase the number of units that are affordable to low- and moderate-income people unless they push the owners of expensive housing units to lower their rents significantly. Probably not going to happen in this market in the short or medium term.

In short new market-rate housing isn't going to help me or anyone else making under 80k actually find a place to live in the next decade.

What market-rate housing could do in the area, however, is further raise rents, making housing less affordable in the neighborhood.

And VMP's plans for affordable housing, last time I checked, are piddling.

by George on Jun 14, 2013 11:06 am • linkreport


Sunrise on the reservoir was the favorite part of my runs (later in life walks) by the reservoir. Only was just right once in a long while.

I do agree that the buildings look like Crystal City, Part III. Likely a result of the unreasonable demands of the "enlightened" fans of the industrial park.

by NE John on Jun 14, 2013 11:09 am • linkreport

They should daylight Tiber Creek in the SE corner of the project instead of building a pond. Look to what they did in Yonkers with the Saw Mill River --

If FOM really wanted to keep the historical value of the sand filtration site, then they should be pushing for the city to utilize the space for for storm water runoff or build a solar farm on the site. Keep it industrial, that is what is has always been.

by Flagler Place on Jun 14, 2013 11:19 am • linkreport

For starters the whole length of North Capitol should be built-up, especially that non-sensicle set back at Michigan Ave. The park on the south being elevated seems to turn the sholder to the neighborhood. It should be at street level to allow the community to "walk-in" and handle the grade change with some front facing conco-type towns facing south and some nice stair feature from the internal north-south road. It looks so segregated with the uses on thier own pads.

Given the vocal opposition within the neighborhood, I suspect the southern location for the park is by design. The grade change there is certainly a challenge.

I agree that the 'notch' setback at the northeast corner of the site seems odd - I'm not sure what it aims to accomplish.

That said, (as you mention) I also think the preservation of the sand towers naturally forces the hand of any site plan to segment things horizontally, as they have done with this site plan.

As far as relating the open space to the reservoir, I think the opted not to because there's not much of a relation there aside from proximity. And given the barriers that the rapid sand filter site and the reservoir have, I don't think the prosepcts are good to link those open spaces together in a public way:,-77.011129&spn=0.0026,0.00486&t=h&dg=opt&z=18&layer=c&cbll=38.923431,-77.012149&panoid=3LonzuIij5LV7m8L-BCXNw&cbp=12,272.79,,0,6.85

The other benefit of putting the park to the south of the site is that you use that grade to your advantage, with the potential for views down into the city. I'm not certain, but the difference in grade might be enough to see something like the Capitol Dome over the rowhouses that front on Channing St.

by Alex B. on Jun 14, 2013 11:26 am • linkreport

Tiber Creek used to end in Swampoodle, where malaria and dysentery were common

by NE John on Jun 14, 2013 11:27 am • linkreport

They do bring up a good point. The Adams Morgan-Brookland streetcar around the Washington Hospital Center should be fast tracked as should the GA Ave one. DC has a really poor horizontial transit set up apart from metro lines downtown. Of course increased density is an excellent excuse to actually argue for better transit.

by Alan B. on Jun 14, 2013 11:35 am • linkreport

Apart from whatever the merits are of developing McMillan (and I'm not an "opponent"), the surplus is premature. The city has not solved the flooding issue yet, and McMillan is a public resource available for that purpose. Two cells may not be enough, and there are viable alternatives that would require most of the site to solve the flooding. The city's medium-term solution (the First Street Tunnel) has flaws, and more transparency from the city is required. The surplus should not happen until the flooding is definitely solved in a manner acceptable to the community.

by eastof9 on Jun 14, 2013 12:10 pm • linkreport

The VMP plan calls for 160 townhouses with 2 car garages. That doesn't sound like improving traffic flow is a top priority for the developer.

by Bloomingdale Rez on Jun 14, 2013 12:28 pm • linkreport

I would like to finally add that if this project has anything to do with Harry Thomas Jr., it should be entirely scrapped for that reason alone. In fact, if he even sniffed or looked at the paperwork, it should be scrapped.

In fact, if the developers had any relationship with Harry Thomas Jr., they should be investigated and fined for that reason alone. With HTJ, it is guilty until proven innocent

by NE John on Jun 14, 2013 12:46 pm • linkreport

@ Alex B,
Good point about the grade and views to downtown. Could use a Cardoza Highschool kind of solution or a Meridian Hill Park one with tiers that have an overlook.

by Thayer-D on Jun 14, 2013 1:35 pm • linkreport

What's all the talk of views from residences? Aren't the 13-story buildings all dedicated as offices to serve the hospital center?

And isn't most of the proposed housing low-income which will not affect the rental market?

by Tom Coumaris on Jun 14, 2013 2:45 pm • linkreport

The VMP plan calls for 160 townhouses with 2 car garages. That doesn't sound like improving traffic flow is a top priority for the developer

In other words: it's far better to keep traffic flowing (such as it does) for PG County residents who drive in and out every weekday. Let’s preserve DC’s streets as traffic sewers for Maryland commuters.

by Sydney P on Jun 14, 2013 2:46 pm • linkreport

4. McMillan Down Under... cf. Atlanta Underground. If it were well located, maybe it could fly. It won't there.

Richard: The reference was Dupont Downunder, a local example of underground retail/food courts (and/or whatever else might be proposed for the McMilan cells) that won't work.

by Surplus It on Jun 14, 2013 3:10 pm • linkreport

For those who claim the filtration plant was never a park:

The Washington Times, November 9, 1912:

"The site is one which he would have selected, because there was no project in which he was more concerned than he was in the filtration of the water supply. His friends knew, also, that the most appropriate memorial to him would be an object that should add to the attractiveness of Washington."
The monument referred to is now being erected on the grounds of the filtration plant, McMillan Park, near the head of North Capitol Street.

by Friends of McMillan Park on Jun 14, 2013 3:23 pm • linkreport

"Friends," your reference clearly states the opposite of the point that you are trying to make. This is saying that McMillan Park, a separate space, was once part of "the grounds of the filtration plant." Your mistake is to assume that since the park was carved out of the industrial site, the industrial site is somehow a park. As a matter of comparison, I submit the following example:

"The Capitol building is now being erected on the grounds of Washington, DC, the Mall, near the Potomac river."

Just because the Mall was once generally part of Washington, DC it does not mean that all of Washington, DC was once the Mall.

I suspect you already understand this, it just does not comport with your platform. Hence, your continued obfuscation. Sadly, this is typical of your organization. If you will consciously mislead the public on this point why should anyone listen to anything else you have to say?

by Stronghold Resident on Jun 14, 2013 3:49 pm • linkreport

... and actually, taken literally, I support your cause. If you want to mount an effort to get the federal government, current owners of the land that was once McMillan Park (on the west side of 1st st North of Bryant), I will come to meetings, write politicians, etc.

Just stop saying "save McMillan Park" when you really know that what you mean is "save an abandoned industrial site across the street from where McMillan Park once stood from the big, bad evil corporations so that we could potentially, somewhere down the line, do something with it besides the currently proposed plan."

Come on guys, isn't that what you really mean?

by Stronghold Resident on Jun 14, 2013 4:19 pm • linkreport

I'd just like to point out that I think it's hilarious that the newspaper print linked to by Friends of McMillian features a large prominent advertisement for.....a new housing development!

by JS on Jun 14, 2013 4:59 pm • linkreport

Actually - it's two different ads for two different new housing developments!! Even funnier, one of them is not all that far from the site in question. So, even back then, "greedy developers" were destroying our city by building houses, offices and stores. I plan to fully research the history of my house and, unless I discover that it was built by a nonprofit organization, I will move out and have my house demolished. After all, I wouldn't want to live in a house tainted by someone having made money from its construction. How vulgar...

by rg on Jun 14, 2013 5:24 pm • linkreport

Sometimes, you've just got to trust one of the country's best landscape architecture firms when they're working on a project.

Check out Nelson Byrd Woltz's website, the other development projects and the national award winning parks that they've designed. Then ask again, "Why on earth wouldn't we want a project of theirs on this site?"

Trust. The. Good. Landscape. Architects.

by Matt on Jun 14, 2013 8:41 pm • linkreport

"The best thing may be if the citizens do in fact tear the fence down and re-claim the park"

Ah, 'People's Park' of Berkeley 2.0 For 30 years afterwards, the so-called "People's Park" became nothing but a haven for homeless youth with rabid dogs, drug-dealers, prostitutes, and nearly destroyed the merchant class of Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley. Meanwhile, nearby Emeryville became a boom town.

But hey, you "environmentalists" really stuck it to the MAN.

When I hear the NIMBYists using their code words of "corporatist" "the rich" and "developers" I think of Berkeley's debacle with People's Park and how the professional protester class used it for their own purposes.

Look, no development is perfect, but there are a lot of folks who work in air-conditioned offices with cushy federal jobs who've never gotten their hands dirty complaining about something that could be putting a lot of construction trades types to work for 5 years plus.

My Dad was an Army combat engineer and they taught him how to be a master carpenter. He hated working outside, but he hated NIMBYists more because they took money out of his pocket.

As Ving Rhames said in Pulp Fiction "You've lost your L.A. privileges"

At some point after 70 years of inaction while opposing everything for the sake of opposing the "corporatists" you've lost the right to complain.

by 17BobTrey0 on Jun 14, 2013 10:04 pm • linkreport

Friends of McMillan- Do you all realize that the McMillan Filtration Plant included the Sand Filtration and the Reservoir? So, it wouldn't be inaccurate to say that the McMillan Park was created on the grounds of the Filtration Plant. It was. And for the ad to reference the park being located close to the head of North Capitol Street, which ended at Michigan Avenue back then. Well, near is not "next to" or even "on", both terms that might have been applicable for a park located on North Capitol Street at the McMillan Sand Filtration Site. I don't think the scribes who wrote the article 100 years ago even imagine that this little phrasing would be used to miscontrue reality. I think they would have even balked at the idea that some people would reinterpret this as you all have.

And all of this talk about the Sand Filtration being the McMillan Park, so where on the Filtration site was the Fountain located? Where was this baseball field exactly? Where did people in the previous decades sleep outside, which might me accurate if you're describing homeless people who sleep in parks. I'm just very confused by some of the things you all are claiming. Please help us understan.

by Hystorian on Jun 15, 2013 9:32 am • linkreport

Back then, Michigan Avenue was not even there! It was called Bunker Hill Road.

by NE John on Jun 15, 2013 11:33 am • linkreport

Can some please say what exactly is affordable housing ie affordable to who and what type of salary are we talking about 100k, 80k, 50k, 30k, 20k, or 15k

Concerning the actual plan one question what the hell is the point of the new street plus the alley for the townhouses on both sides couldn't that be done without adding the new street. You could probably have the same amount of houses but bigger or more houses.

Why not create a grid that matches the other side of North Capitol ?

by kk on Jun 16, 2013 1:32 am • linkreport

Finally an article that tells a fair story about this site. As a resident of Bryant St NW just 100 ft from the site, a home owner, a former two term ANC for the area that includes the site and WHC, Ward % Vice Chair and a DCDSC member who has been actively involved in many issues facing DC, as an affordable housing expert for the last 9 years, working at HUD in community planning and development, along with 15 years in financial services seeing many deals on developments and rel estate, let me say thank God for you Mr. Kenton and this article.

Over the past 8 years i have worked with all parties on this development and can tell you it's been HELL! i have been accused of taking a bribe from the developer by Ms. Defoe a former ANC commissioners along with serveral of the FOM members. I have been yelled at, called names, been disrespected so many times, I have been called more nasty things by these wackos who claim they are saving the world. Well this article proves what i have been saying since day one! Build baby build. I was alos vindicated this week when i spoke at the surplus hearing about the 80 thousand housing units that DC will be short in 2020 and got laughed at by that rude crowd of tree hugging morons that attempted to hijack the hearing. Well GMU just released the stats for 2030 and we now have a 153,000 units short of demand in DC by the year 2030. so to all you new progressive White home owners in Bloomingdale...even you won't be able to afford a home in DC nor the taxes if we don't start to address the supply side of housing.

Now you can call me whatever you want, because frankly they having been calling me names in the school yard since i was 3. But i can tell you this, i will not allow you at lie, cheat and steal from the majority of DC residents what this development can do for DC as a whole. i will not allow you to cheat your way to victory, we have had enough of that in DC. you can yell you can scream, you can tear down the fence, but the Dc council and Mayor know what's best for everyone and it's not a 25 acre park that you want for a site that was and is an industrial site! BUILD BABY BUILD!

Furthermore..;.thank you to all who commented no matter what side. What did show was that Dc residents believe this site should be developed, it wasn't a park and Olmstead son is that big of a deal to anyone PERIOD! It's and INDUSTRIAL SITE!

by DCCommish on Jun 17, 2013 3:38 pm • linkreport

Add a Comment

Name: (will be displayed on the comments page)

Email: (must be your real address, but will be kept private)

URL: (optional, will be displayed)

You can use some HTML, like <blockquote>quoting another comment</blockquote>, <i>italics</i>, and <a href="http://url_here">hyperlinks</a>. More here.

Your comment:

By submitting a comment, you agree to abide by our comment policy.
Notify me of followup comments via email. (You can also subscribe without commenting.)
Save my name and email address on this computer so I don't have to enter it next time, and so I don't have to answer the anti-spam map challenge question in the future.


Support Us