Published: July 24th, 2017
By William G. Schulz*
It can sometimes seem as if McMillan Park Reservoir– a now-blighted and fenced-off 25-acre open space crossing the city’s Stronghold, Bloomingdale, and LeDroit Park neighborhoods — is at risk of becoming Never-Never Land.Ever since the city bought the parkland portion of the historic reservoir area from the Army Corps of Engineers in 1989, plans to redevelop the vast green space have been dogged by controversy, marred by scandal and possibly official corruption, and fought tooth and nail by citizen activist groups who want to see much more of McMillan’s 19th century water purification technology and underground storage caverns preserved for posterity.
The latest episode of the McMillan Park drama played out on July 14th during an all-day hearing of the Mayor’s Agent for Historic Preservation, who is J. Peter Byrne, a Georgetown University law professor and expert on land use, historic preservation, and similar issues at the Georgetown University Law Center. Byrne works on contract with the city and his reports and findings are presented to the Mayor’s office for final approval.The hearing — which The InTowner has learned will be continued sometime after August 15th because one day was simply not enough time – addressed a set of remands handed down by the DC Court of Appeals’ decision in December 2016. That ruling vacated the city’s zoning designations for the McMillan site, thus bringing construction by Vision McMillan Partners (VMP) to a screeching halt just one day after a groundbreaking ceremony officiated by DC Mayor Muriel Bowser.
Bowser, like many other elected city officials, wants VMP’s development plans to proceed. The resulting park, community center, mixed-income housing, and towering medical office buildings would be a crowning achievement for her administration – at least in the eyes of pro-development forces. But they are plans that now hang in the balance thanks in large part to Friends of McMillan Park (FOMP), a neighborhood activist group that filed the original suit addressed by the Court of Appeals after a ruling against FOMP by the Mayor’s Agent.The Appeals Court remand — as The InTowner has reported –- instructed that the city address a set of five issues that the court’s three-judge panel unanimously deemed insufficiently explained or justified by the city to serve as the basis for zoning designations that would have allowed construction to begin.