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Residents Fight McMillan Development Plan

James Wright | 6/19/2013, noon
Scores of Ward 5 residents speak out against the Vision McMillan Partners plan for McMillan Park in Northwest. Friends of McMillan Park

A group of activists who primarily live in Ward 5 are taking on the Gray administration’s plan to support a development firm bent on transforming an historic site into an enclave of high-rise buildings. The group opposes the plan because they contend that it’s out of character with the neighborhood.

The Friends of McMillan Park (FOM) want the Gray administration to open up the bidding on the development of the McMillan Park Reservoir Sand Filtration Site in Northwest to firms other than Vision McMillan Partners (VMP), the city's preferred development team. Kirby Vining, a leader with FOM, is concerned that VMP's plans are too focused on commercial and residential development and does not respect the history and green space of the McMillan site.

"The mayor has considered one proposal," said Vining, 59. "We want to see some competition. We would like to have a plan where 50 percent of the site stays parkland and we want more creative uses."

The VMP plan, according to its website, envisions a new community that consists of homes, offices, parks of various sizes, retail stores and arts spaces while retaining the historical character of the property. Vining, who disagrees with the VMP plan, said that high-rise buildings are included in their design and the greenery on the site will essentially be destroyed.

The 25-acre site, which sits along North Capitol Street, cleaned all of the city's water supply for decades through its sand filtration plant and is one of the first areas to racially integrate before World War II. The site was owned by the federal government until 1986 when it was declared surplus property and the General Services Administration decided not to keep it.

The District government bought the site for $9.3 million in 1987 and a decision was made to develop the property. For 26 years the parcel has been vacant and has deteriorated.

In the mid-2000s, the former National Capital Revitalization Corporation selected the property as a part of a land swap involving what is now the Nationals Park in Southeast. The District government led by D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty selected VMP to develop the land in 2007.

Two officials with the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, McMillan site project manager Shiv Newaldness and director of real estate Jeff Miller met with residents on June 6 at the All Nations Baptist Church in Northeast to hear the concerns of the community. Well over 100 residents criticized the VMP proposal, with some supporting a plan that would preserve the site's underground caverns and parkland with limited residential and retail space.

The meeting didn’t convince the deputy mayor's officials to change its development team.

D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5) is believed to support the VMP plan. However, he recently aided the FOM by prodding the city's planning and economic development office to release a document – the Exclusive Rights Agreement – to the organization that pertains to the site.

"The Friends of McMillan Park are very grateful to Council member McDuffie for stepping up and aiding us with obtaining this document," Vining said.

The FOM has collected 3,500 signatures from District residents to open up the bidding process, Vining said. In addition to McDuffie, they have approached D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), a 2014 mayoral candidate and the chair of the D.C. Council's economic development committee, and D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), another 2014 mayoral hopeful and the chair of the powerful finance committee, about what they plan to do to preserve the character of the McMillan site.

Tony Norman, a longtime member of the FOM and the chair of the 1B advisory neighborhood commission, said that he hopes Evans makes the right choice.

"This is a chance for Evans to set himself apart from the other contenders and support the clearly demonstrated desire of the residents around McMillan Park and Ward 5 for a park instead of the suburban-style development pushed by the Gray administration," said Norman, 48.

Vining said that if necessary, FOM will approach the entire D.C. Council on the matter.

"What we want is a normal bidding process for the development of the park," he said. "It should not be limited to just one group."