Monday, December 23, 2013

Jazzy Wright: The McMillan Sand Filtration site

See this latest Bloomingdale Bites article from Jazzy Wright:


The McMillan sand-filtration site

On a foggy Saturday in November residents from the Bloomingdale, Eckington, and Stronghold neighborhoods gathered on the McMillan Park grounds to take a tour of one of the site’s remaining underground filter cells. Throughout the tour, representatives for DC Water, the agency currently working to divert floodwater to one of the cells, assured visitors that the cell is stable enough for flood-relief construction. But, given that several cells on the sand filtration site have already collapsed, just how safe is the filtration site?

Much of what is known about McMillan Park comes from a structural analysis report published nearly 14 years ago by engineering firm C.C. Johnson & Malhotra (CCJM). The study, which was commissioned by the DC Department of Housing and Community Development, found that the underground network of filter cells was built with non-reinforced concrete, meaning that the structures are not reinforced with steel bars and cannot support aboveground development. While the report noted that several of the cells had deteriorated significantly, the engineers also found that a few of the cells were stable, marked only by small hairline cracks.

But the report is quite old. Since the CCJM report was released, several additional filtration cells have caved in. There was also the earthquake in 2011. Then there’s the issue that the soil underneath the filtration cells has not been tested for contamination. To save and preserve most of the stable cells – which is what many community activists want – the city has to make substantial structural modifications to the underground structures.

“From what I do know, some of these cells will fail and there’s a hole in the ground,” recalled Donald Koch, CCJM vice president and managing principal of the firm’s survey department. Koch was one of the engineers who analyzed McMillan years ago for the report. “If you have the misfortune of standing there, then that’s not safe.”

Officials from the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) say that many of the cells are in such bad condition that they would need to be rebuilt from the ground up. “In order to make the cells safe, they would need to be outfitted with exterior reinforcement,” said Tania B. Jackson, who is the neighborhood outreach coordinator for Vision McMillan Partners (VMP), the city-backed team leading efforts to redevelop the site after decades of decay. As part of the VMP development plan, which relies heavily on findings from the 2000 structural report, several cells and more than 2,000 manholes will be demolished. Developers plan to preserve cells 14 and 28; DC Water will use Cell 14 until completion of the stormwater storage project in 2022.

On top of the needed remedial work there is the issue of cost. The city would have to raise funding to cover the preservation of the cells, as well as funding to support the build-out infrastructure for the development, which includes new roads, electric grids, and sewer and water lines.

“A report commissioned in 2000 by the District indicated that the cost to preserve the nine moderately stable cells was in excess of $23 million. However, the notion of preserving more than the two cells that the current plan will preserve means that the entire development footprint will need to be readjusted,” said Chanda Washington, the spokesperson for DMPED. “If we were to attempt such an exercise to preserve nine cells, even utilizing the estimates from the year 2000, there just would be no viable way to finance a project like this.”

Until development begins, the city has closed off public access to the site, citing safety and liability concerns. Interestingly enough, McMillan landscape architect Franklin Law Olmstead Jr. had similar concerns a century ago, which is why he added thorny shrubs along the perimeter of the filtration site to keep the public out.

Some nearby residents question the city's assertion that the site needs to be closed to the public, since the structural analysis report showed that a few cells were in stable condition. John Salatti, a neighborhood resident who previously gave tours of the cells, has asked the city to continue to allow tours. “Tours of the site are vital for community members to have the complete picture of what the District intends to do to their neighborhood,” said Salatti, who has called on city officials to provide an updated safety report. “They may love the VMP plans, but I feel that all residents really need to see what they will lose if the city continues to treat McMillan like a superfund site that needs to be remediated and plowed under.”

Over the next few months VMP will need to pass a few more hurdles before site demolition and development can begin. First the developers need to have their plan reviewed by J. Peter Byrne, the mayor's agent hearing officer. Next the plan moves to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and later the Zoning Commission. In the meantime DC Water has taken safety precautions of their own, building steel braces around several concrete columns and installing crack gauges throughout the cell.


Daniel in brookland said...

National Register of Historic Places nomination ( )

Jazzy, the hard push VMP is making is full of distortions, they are desperate, it'a embarrassing. Lawn signs to coopt lawn signs, childish, no?. The city government had little difficulty wasting about $50 million keeping McMillan closed.They spent the money for restoration twice over , totally flushed it down the toilet, and now they are making the underground cell into a sewer. The site is safe, and simple solutions will secure any problem. Jeff Miller , the Mayors Deputy for Real Estate is a Trammel Crowe former employee(shouldn't be running our big deals for development), he cancelled the perfectly safe tours, to block the people's educating themselves, to claim their park, our park.
I think it was institutional racism that allowed the successive mayors to keep our park fenced off. Do you believe McMillan would have been fenced off for 27 years if it was located in an upper income predominantly white neighborhood?
Our own Historic Preservation Office, Kim Williams, wrote this incredible nomination, recently approved for National historic District. The amazing , largely intact park, water filtration facility,, ready for restoration and a place to train yong people and under-employed in historic restoration, masonry, carpentry. Jazzy, the people can restore this park for a fraction of the wasteful DC govt.
Do you really believe the developers? Please read this nomination and see the national significance of this Olmsted designed historic site. It is protected by DC agencies that are making a farce out of historic preservation. If taking a 25 acre "great place" with wonderful vistas, views and sunsets, is such a good idea, you can get the Federal Govt. to cede a big section of Rock Creek Park to DC for mega-suburban style development. Don't take the critical recreation space we all own, and hand it to a talentless group of big developers. Think for yourself.

National Register of Historic Places nomination ( ) Jazzy

Remika said...

It is time for opponents of redevelopment to stop crying foul with every report, article, study, etc that doesn't support their views. You have a right to disagree with development - but not to call into question the integrity of anything or anyone who disagrees with you. The real facts are this: VMP plans include many acres of open space with the "wonderful vistas, views and sunsets" mentioned in the above comment. And they will preserve two underground cells. Lets not stoop to talk of lying developers, racism and "childish" behavior. Instead, let's finally do something great for this community - by removing the fences and creating a great space that we can enjoy - and that will create jobs and opportunity for this community.

Unknown said...


I completely agree with your sentiment that the community must discuss facts going forward, whether you are a supporter or opponent of the plan.

I agree that the Vision McMillan Partners plan will produce a sizable park.

I disagree slightly with some other statements: 1) only some of the historical views will be retained (see the EHT Traceries report for a full list of all internal and external 'historical' views on the site), 2) only one cell is intended to be preserved with plans proposing only partial preservation of the other cell (for museum purposes), and 3) the plan projects to create 1,239 permanent jobs for District residents (average salaries between roughly $30,000 and $70,000 a year), none of which are committed to Ward 5 residents. The cost for the affordable housing components on this site is projected to be approximately $80,000+. That is simply the affordable, and not market rate, components of the site.

Whether you are in support or opposed to the project, issues such as affordable housing, job creation, traffic mitigation, and funding for the community center/park activities need to be addressed. To the extent that anyone would like to discuss areas to focus on going forward, please do reach out to me ( or attend McMillan Advisory Group (MAG) meetings in person to voice your opinion. If you simply wish to gather as many facts as possible, please do look at the MAG website:

Mathew Bader
Bloomingdale Civic Association MAG Representative

TheCommiss said...


Thanks for your support of this project. You are right on target! As for the views you'll still many of them and if you live there you'll have even better views. The views don't disappear they just change from where you see them. As my fahter would say you can't eat the view, but it is nice! As for the jobs for Ward 5 residents. Mr. Bader makes it complete crap! Of course there will be jobs for Ward 5 residents, if they apply! Many of these jobs will and have to go to DC residents. Mr. Bader has a notion that just Ward 5 Bloomingdale residents should get something. They did an acre for their flooding issues. What are we doing for everyone else in Ward 5 and the city, after all it was their $9.6 million invested in this land FOR DEVELOPMENT!

Unknown said...

Mr. Daneker,

Thank you for the response. What I stated is simply the fact of the matter as I know it. The contract with the District stipulates certain requirements as they pertain to development.

-- 50% of the contracts awarded for this project must go to Certified Business Enterprises (CBE) in the District. (see the Development Management Services contract, section 15, for support here:

-- 35% of the dollar volume shall be awarded to entities that are designated Small Business Enterprises (SBE) in the District (see the same section of the contract as stated above)

-- To the best of my knowledge, nowhere does the contract require any of the CBEs or SBEs to be located in Ward 5 nor future job opportunities to be for Ward 5 residents. Further, to date, the only registered Ward 5 small business associated with this project has been Green Door Advisories (who received the smallest allocation of funds - for support see the Exclusive Rights Agreement, Exhibit D:

-- Specifically, these are the District certified business enterprises associated with this project and their respective Wards: Shalom Baranes (Ward 2); WDG Architecture (Ward 2); EHT Traceries (although no longer listed as a CBE, Ward 6); Symmetra Design, LLC (also no longer listed as a CBE, Ward 2); Gorove/Slade (Ward 2); Robert Silman Associates (also no longer list as a CBE, Ward 2); Green Door Advisories (Ward 5); Wiles Mensch (Ward 6; approved CBE but unclear on nature of engagement with project)

According to the filed PUD application, statement of support, filed by Holland & Knight (see page 3), "VMP is in the process of entering into a Certified Business Enterprise (CBE) Agreement and a First Source Employment Agreement with the city." I believe that these two agreements will help to clarify exactly the District job components of this project and, in some instances, may specify how many of the new permanent jobs created by this project must be set aside for District and/or Ward 5 residents. No such agreement exists at this time, to the best of my knowledge.

Anyone looking to verify the registration of the entities I referenced above can find the Certified Business Enterprises here: This includes a break out for those certified as a Small Business Enterprise. You can find the list of subcontractors associated with this project either through the Development Management Services contract amendment, same URL as cited above, or the Envision McMillan website (current subcontractors only).

Thank you as always for the responses and please do reach out to me with any specific questions as they pertain to this project:

Mathew Bader
Bloomingdale Civic Association McMillan Advisory Group Representative

Daniel in brookland said...

Why is our money spent like this, when the Mayors special agent, the Federal Advisory Council on historic Preservation and the City Council can cancel this BOONDOGGLE!..Is this a fixed, process?