Tuesday, October 29, 2013

John Salatti responds to WBJ reporter Michael Neibauer's 10-28-2013 McMillan story

From: John T. Salatti <john.salatti@gmail.com>
Sent: Tuesday, October 29, 2013 11:15 AM
Subject: Re: [BloomingdaleDC|#2432]
WBJ: "DC`s proposed McMillan redevelopment winning over planners"


In response to the WBJ article on McMillan, I posted the following comment:
What Michael Neibauer of the Washington Business Journal and the Vision  McMillan Partners Don't Want You to Know
Although I appreciate Mr. Neibauer's ongoing coverage of the District's efforts to develop McMillan Park, I have to raise the concern of his willingness to play the shill for the developers.  I concur with his article that the Historic Preservation Office (HPO) report includes the statements he cites, but he clearly just cribbed from the developer’s recent missive about the report.  He includes none of the serious, indeed one could say fatal, concerns that the HPO report also includes. 
The HPO report does go out of its way to complement the recent revisions put forth by the Vision McMillan Partners (VMP).  Such upbeat assessments are not surprising.  After all, one of the roles of the HPO staff is put as bright a face on to whatever subject they are commenting on.  What Mr. Neibauer should have brought out is that the VMP team been the subject of almost 18 months of blistering critiques from the Historic Preservation Review Board.  And even after resisting those critiques for the longest time, the VMP team has made some changes to its plans that address some (and I emphasize, some) of the problems that the Board has had with the plans.  The HPO report gives the changes the credit it can give them.  But unfortunately what the developers and apparently Mr. Neibauer don’t want you to know is that the report doesn’t end there.  Here’s what he neglected to tell you.
For example, although Mr. Neibauer correctly notes that the report describes the design revisions as a significant improvement over previous iterations of the plan, he takes that point of out context when he leaves out the rest of the sentence that precedes his quote, which is “While resulting in substantial demolition of the below-grade cells and compromise to the site’s open space character . . . .”  In other words, they’ve done their best to improve on the plan, but at the end of the day even the improved plan does significant damage to what makes McMillan Park what it is.
But Mr. Neibauer’s omissions do not end there.  He left out quite a bit more of what the staff had to say about the impact of the plans.  For all the changes the VMP plan has gone through, the staff report still admits that
As has been acknowledged by the Board since its initial review, demolition of the majority of the sand filter beds and the extent of new construction would result in the loss of important engineering, architectural and open space features for which the property is recognized and designated [on the DC Inventory of Historic Sites and the National Register of Historic Places]. The extent of removal meets the definition of substantial demolition as defined by the historic preservation regulations and is not consistent with the purposes of the preservation act.
HPRB Master Plan Review (McMillan Reservoir), 10-31-13, p. 3 (emphasis added).  The VMP plans fall so far short of what the law requires that the staff reiterated that point just a page later:
As the project will result in substantial demolition of character-defining features and the redevelopment will compromise the open-space quality of the site, the SHPO [State Historic Preservation Officer] concludes that the project does not meet the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation and Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings and advises the District to forward the plans to the Advisory Council [on Historic Preservation] for comment.
HPRB Master Plan Review (McMillan Reservoir), 10-31-13, p. 4.  The report concludes that what the District and its development partners wish to do at McMillan Park is therefore inconsistent with the purposes of the Historic Landmark and Historic District Protection Act.”  HPRB Master Plan Review (McMillan Reservoir), 10-31-13, p. 4 (emphasis in the original).
Given that all this relevant material is missing from Mr. Neibauer’s article, I am left wondering whether he read the report at all or whether he just took what the developers fed him and quoted from there.  Either way he does his readers a disservice.
As for Eric Fidler of LeDroit Park who figuratively rolls his eyes in snarky tweets supporting the VMP plan, he is more than welcome to request that the District build this albatross at the Park at LeDroit.  But I suspect that he would be trampled by his neighbors rushing to defend this two-year old site.  McMillan, a century-old park in Bloomingdale, deserves better than what the city (and apparently Eric) want to foist upon us.  We can create cool retail, a grocery store, and a community center and create something iconic if only someone down at the Wilson Building could envision more at McMillan than Tysons Corners and dollar signs. 

John T. Salatti
(202) 986-2592
"Together, Building a Better Bloomingdale"