Wednesday, April 25, 2012

McMillan development project comments -- for and against

The topic of the development of the McMillan Sand Filtration site is being discussed on the Historic Washington list at Yahoogroups moderated by Mary Rowse.

Here are three recent posts from the Historic Washington list.

1) From: M. Farrell McCoy  
To: HistoricWashington @  yahoogroups. com
Sent: Friday, April 20, 2012 4:03 PM
Subject: Re: [HistoricWashington ] Website for McMillan development plans

One doesn't ``develop`` a park designed by the Olmsted firm, one restores and maintains it.  Can anyone think of another city in the nation that would fence off an Olmsted Park for 60 years and then talk about paving it over with buildings?

Mary Farrell McCoy

2)  From Jeff Soule


The piece that Frederick Olmsted, Jr.  had anything to do with was the promenade around the reservoir, not the filtration site which  was not designed as a public park. It would be nice if the Promenade were open again, but due to security issues, that seems highly unlikely. I think that many people believe that the sand filter system worked naturally, but in fact they started adding chlorine to the water as early as 1928. It`s a nice piece of engineering for its time, but not worth the apotheosis that many confer on it. The new public spaces created in the plan for the redevelopment will be a vast improvement in combining the historic features with real public access and more importantly adjacent uses to enliven them.

Jeff Soule

3)  From Stronghold resident Kirby Vining

Three residents of the McMillan site area testified today at the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development budget hearings, asking in different ways for a closer look at the procedures followed (rather not followed) in how this plan came to be. Here`s my testimony, which is now in the public record.
Kirby Vining.
Mr. Chairman, I am Kirby Vining, long-time resident, voter, and taxpayer in the Stronghold community facing the McMillan site, and while I am a member of all the various groups in my community discussing the future of McMillan, I speak today in an individual capacity.
Item EBO AMS11C of the 2013 budget of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) requests $50 million for the ``redevelopment, `` which I take to mean demolition, of the McMillan Sand Filtration Site in preparation for the Mayor`s plan for ``redevelopment`` of that site. You have heard in several recent meetings about certain real or perceived problems with the proposed development of the McMillan Site, including lack of community support, lack of transparency in the awarding of the project in an apparent case of bypassing the Request for Proposal (RFP) process, and general concern that this historic parkland, designed by the founders of the field of landscape architecture and urban design in America who designed the Capitol grounds and many other iconic landscapes in Washington, is not being given the proper consideration such a site deserves, to explore less destructive ways of keeping what is valuable of the site. The topic of the currently proposed development of the McMillan site is confrontationally controversial to say the least.
But today I would like to focus your attention on the item in the DMPED 2013 budget.
This item is a relic of the Fenty Administration and the Ward 5 Council term of Councilman Orange.  In 2007 the city took a property for the stadium project and gave the McMillan site to the now-defunct NCRC from whom in turn it devolved to the ``understood`` developer in a land swap compensation deal.  This set in motion several years of budget allotments for the project, including $1.34 million in consultancy fees to generate a design, and now a proposed $50 million to demolish much of the site in preparation for redevelopment.  But this has put the cart before the horse.  The District is currently both developer and owner of the site, no vertical developer has been named formally, the land has not been surplused, and the litany of required approvals from the Historic Preservation Review Board, the Zoning Board, etc., have not yet been obtained.  Yet funds to demolish the site in preparation for redevelopment have already been requested.
I think it obscene that in such tight budget times our fair city has $50 million spare dollars of taxpayer money to give to any developer for any purpose.  Viable developments pay for themselves.  Why shouldn`t this one?  The question of what development of the site would be most appropriate is a separate matter, though no less important.  The proposed development is fine in all regards except the specific location and the extraordinary amount of city money being requested for it.
Given these fiscal and procedural flaws in the McMillan Site development project, I hope that you will pay particular attention to both the costs and implications of this project, for the sake of both the budget and the neighborhood, and consider whether this proposed project is still appropriate for our city.
Kirby Vining


  1. @McCoy--you have really lost all perspective or know very little about this site.

    #1. It's not a park, has never been a park! No man has walked on the sand filtration since it opened over 100 years ago. It was a water plant with too many hazards to allow the public to use it as a park. It was a industrial site cover by grass which doesn't make it a park no matter what Congress, Tony Norman or these historical groups say.

    2. Yes many water facilities have been closed to the public due to security factors no matter who did the landscaping.

    3. If you really think about it, Olmstead spent taxpayer dollars that frankly were not needed to make the site pretty to the eye that's all it was. It wasn't for the actual physical pleasure of residents since they never got to go on the site.

    4. The park was located on the West side of this site not the parcel of land that is being considered for development.

    Finally I'd like to say that if you are not with clue then please get with the program because the misinformation and bull that has been going around about this project is outrageous! There have been numerous meetings over the past 4 years on this project and there are no excuses to be uneducated on this topic.

    @Soule Thank you for your comments. You actually know what's going on so please be loud and voice your opinions and knowledge as often as you can! We need residents who have gotten to know the plans and history of the site to make the opinions known.

    @Vinning--Oh you just don't seem to get it whatsoever. You and that clan you hang with have been attempting to stop this development for 30 years with no viable plan in exchange. If you're bitching without offering a viable, financially feasible and economically sound plan then please shut up! Those who bitch without offering solutions are part of the problem not the solution.
    As for the budget item. What I think was obscene was the fact that a long time resident like yourself said nothing about financing a $613 million baseball park in which MLB has a ton of money and this project will actually reduce economic development in DC by 2-3%. McMillan is a project that will create much needed affordable housing, jobs, and economic development that will far exceed the returns we will see from our Nationals park and you are complaining. Really?
    The land surplused??? Well what the hell do you think it is? It's not being used, the city paid $9.3M for it 30 years ago and it's been costing us ever since to maintain this asset which has seen no return whatsoever, so I'd say it is surely SURPLUS land! Furthermore, you are clueless about urban development. I say we allow the land to come up for bid then and sell it to the highest bidder, which will bring us about 9.3 million we paid for it. It is important that the city pony up some funds so they have control over the development and outcomes of the project as a partner in this development but that concept must have been missed in your assessment. No surprise there! As for the transparency it's been there during this round of development talks. As for the neighborhood for the most part people want this are developed. They want an industrial waste land turned into a viable urban development that will provide jobs, services, affordable housing etc. So please spare us all with the rhetoric and misinformation because you're bound to get caught on the lies and bull you are attempting to serve up as the truth!

  2. I have studied the current plan and frankly I remain unimpressed. I'm pro development. But i really hate alot of aspects of this plan.

    1) The architecture... its so lackluster and boring. This in one of the most interesting neighborhoods from that point of view.

    2) All the roads in the plan. Why do we need so many service roads. Can't they leave the south corridor as a part of the park and a pedestrian walkway?????? Why does there have to be an road there? It isn't necessary either for the retail nor for the residential. In fact, there really doesn't need to be any roads other than perhaps a few service alleys. Is that Parking in the north corridor? WTF??? Stick the parking underground. How can i make this clear? Nobody wants to pave over McMillan's green space with a parking lot...let's get out of the 1980s already! Jeez, we can have tons of underground parking...or we can just ask DC to expedite the street car lines. Hell, they already are spending 50mn ...why not more?

    3) I have no idea why they are planning community gardens along North Capitol. I live 5 houses down and I'll tell's basically a freeway. It's not a nice place to be. And it's not going to be nice with a park right down the side of it either. Not until they do some massive rethinking of that traffic corridor. Put the community gardens along 1st where people can use them. Further, closer to the neighborhood. Who wants to walk thru an office park to get to the community gardens.

    In short there really seems to be a lack of thought in this current plan.

  3. In the end, the point here is this...

    "This plan is not good enough for Bloomingdale."

    Some want more green space, others more spectacular development, but nearly everybody is in agreement that the present plan is lackluster, boring and a severe opportunity loss for what could be a game changer for this side of the city. Nobody wants to lose this opportunity and we're willing to wait if it means that ultimately we get better development.

    We simply aren't ready to sell out this opportunity for this plan.

  4. @Todd- Todd I respectfully disagree. The community has had input on the development...What would make it not lackluster and a game changer? Why aren't their other plans out there after 30 years? There have been 3 different proposals over the years and nothing. There were 3 developers in the RFP for DC and VMP was chosen. After years of work on this with input from the city, urban planners, historical groups, and the community and you still think it sucks! It's a bit odd to come to the conclusion that the plan is not good enough!

  5. Well, i can provide actual concrete points:

    1) Too many roads. This plan is car-centric. Why? We don't want cars. We want to minimize the car traffic around the neighborhood and we want to minimize the traffic nightmare through it. We also want to minimize the parking issues. So...for starters...why is there parking (above ground on the northern silo corridor? Why do roads surround the majority of both corridors? The southerly one certainly isn't necessary. The residences there already have access to both 1st and N. Capitol. This plan is exactly like the traffic nightmare that is now Columbia Heights. Again, the terraced "Amphitheatre" is right on N. Capitol. Imagine trying to concentrate on a film, a theatre piece or some sort of concert over the traffic noise off of N. Capitol. just shows a lack of thinking thru the usability of the spaces. Why? Well of course, it's because they don't care about that. They care about the money that it's generating.

    2. "Community Gardens" along N. Capitol??? By anybody's account, N. Capitol street is a dismal freeway in the city. And that's from somebody who lives about 5 houses off of it. Why on earth would l want to spend time in a park on the side of a freeway? In the end, unless they do some major, i mean MAJOR, work on N. Capitol and make it into a charming boulevard (unlikely in the next 20 years), this community garden space is having your garden next to I385.
    Further, it is not accessible from Bloomingdale on the far northeastern corner. This community garden should be further south and off of 1st street ... Not N. Capitol.

    3) So they show pix of all these wonderful plazas and outdoor cafes. But I'm at a loss to really identify where that would be on this plan. perhaps that's because they aren't really planning on building any.

    4) Architecture. It's crap. Sure they show a lot of promising things in the photos. But Please show me a single instance in DC where any developer has has built: a) old style row houses; b) storefronts like the ones they display (all of which are a 100 years old or more). In the end, you get cheap imitations of old architecture. We all know the reason: nice architecture is expensive to build. Details add cost. They do sneak in several photos of Bethesda Row and Columbia Heights...which is, let's face it, exactly what they are planning to build. Nobody should be under any illusion that they will build an Eastern Market type development on this property. They will not do it. But they can certainly do better and they should be held to that.

    Commish, I'm not saying that this plan can't be redeemed. But it's gravely flawed as it is. It really presents no vision, nothing outstanding, nothing remarkable and nothing inspiring. And what VMG has not understood is that this is all that people are looking for... some inspiring places. What does the average bloomingdale resident get out of this plan? A few mediocre, half usable parks (some on the freeway), and a grocery store. What do they risk? Clogged streets, Difficult parking, Invasions of suburbanites, big box stores...everything that has basically made Columbia Heights a "no go" zone. Oh and they give up the opportunity for some real extraordinary development on that land in the future. Once it's there, it's there for good.

  6. @Todd: Well they community has gotten nothing in the past 30 years. They did reduce the roads in the site so maybe you haven't been paying attention to the various drafts of plans. but then again your a freaking expert on design. Not one thing did you say was good about the plan which shows that you lack any understanding whatsoever. On top your complaining that the park is too close to N. Capitol street and not accessible from Bloomingdale. Are you NUTS! Either you want the park or you don't the location of the land is not going to move to another quiet area of DC and on top of that you can't walk a block you lazy sack of crap! Please you are a joke with these comments. The design is similar to Navy Yard you think that look's like shit?

    Furthermore, it's better than what we have been paying for the the past 30 years! NOTHING! Dig EYA DIG!

  7. Well, these comments reflect a certain objectivity... also a certain lack of refinement i would say. In fact, yes, i am an expert. Thank you. In any case, you just make our point with the barbed comments. I did see they reduced the roads. But not enough. There is no need for that road that i mentioned (S. Corridor). Again, the Community Garden is all along N. Capitol... I'm not talking about the S. Corridor park. In fact, the park space is all over the place here...not coherent or contiguous. Oh yes. the Navy Yard looks like crap. You haven't seen good design Commiss if you think that's good design. In fact, DC doesn't have much of it. You have to go to Chicago or out West to see good urban design. Or better yet, Europe. East coast is just one long strip mall hell. People see Columbia Heights and Shirlington and Bethesda Row and they think that's good urban design! You just took a mall and turned it inside out. That's not good urban's cheap design. Oh BTW, Jair Lynch specializes in that.
    Just look at the stuff on Ustreet that he's done. They Ellington Blding...etc. all crap. Cheap architecture that will fall apart in a few decades.

  8. @Todd: agreed that development a la Columbia Heights is not the best idea (in my own personal opinion), however I disagree with your statement, "nice architecture is expensive to build". Good design costs no more than bad design. Design is not directly relative to cost. Any good architect knows this. Todd, please tell me you have SOME experience in the architectural field, otherwise calling out other accomplished individuals in the field displays the "lack of refinement" you so succinctly identify with The Commiss...

    @TheCommiss: what's with the name calling? It's sounds VERY elementary. Todd is just stating his POV (even if you don't agree with it, clearly I don't agree with all of either, but manage to not insult), calling him a "lazy sack of crap" doesn't positively promote yours.

  9. In fact, not an architect but a community developer. But I work with architects all the time. So yes, I'm an expert. And though I agree with the subtle difference in what you are saying "Good design need not be expensive." You can get good design at any price point (in relative terms). I agree with you. I think that also I may not have been clear. It is however incontrovertible that you pay is what you get. And at some point, the breakeven point is so far in the future, that from a short term business perspective it becomes untenable. The point here is this: What McMillan deserves is a world class development. The price tag for such a thing is really beyond the scope of a business development. It won't ever make sense on the balance sheet. So what needs to happen is that they need to carve this land up into pieces...for instance, the top third (near the Washington Hospital Center, can be a business development along the lines of what they have here. The middle portion could be a city funded park and the lower portion a foundation funded development of some sort. In this way we could get something more along the lines of Chicago's Millenium Park for this site. So in fact, I'm acknowledging a part of the TheComiss's argument (despite his vindictives he in fact has a valid point...too bad it gets lost in his vitriol)...from a business standpoint a park doesn't make sense... but if we look at it from a broader perspective and mix gov't funding, with city funding, with business development then we can do something much more interesting on this site than relying on business alone to fund this thing. I think that the ANC leaders are putting together this kind of plan right now.

    1. "you get what you pay for"... now THAT I definitely agree with... Todd, you've got me really interested in this, where I was just so so before. I'll keep up to see what's happening.