Please accept our testimony on behalf of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. My organization works to ensure that transportation and development decisions in the Washington D.C. region accommodate growth while revitalizing communities, providing more housing and travel choices, and conserving our natural and historic areas.
We wish to express our support for the revised Master Plan for the McMillan Sand Filtration Plant proposal. The new plan takes an already thoughtful plan and provides additional open space and careful treatment of the unique historic resources of the site. The plan will restore and provide public access to key elements of the distinctive historic resources. This would not be possible without the redevelopment program that helps pay for the cost of the restoration.
We recognize that the expansion of park space on the site was in part driven by D.C. Water’s enhancement of stormwater management and flood mitigation efforts. The expanded park space, driven both by D.C. Water and public demand for a larger park, has traded off a significant loss of affordable housing for the space. This is a major disappointment and a loss of D.C.’s use of public lands to address the housing needs of many residents, especially at lower income levels of 60 percent of AMI and below.
Notwithstanding this significant loss, we recognize the important historic preservation, public space, housing, and commercial space contributions of the revised Master Plan. For decades, access to this large area was prohibited, creating a wide gap between surrounding activities and neighborhoods. The revised plan would make this historic resource featured in a major public park a citywide destination. The Master Plan honors and replicates the historic landscape elements of the Olmsted Walk that have disappeared from the site. We agree with the staff comment that additional work should be done with DDOT to ensure that the Olmsted Walk connection to the sidewalk design is more than a standard sidewalk. This might require some flexibility in DDOT’s design standards.
The plan appropriately focuses taller office buildings towards Michigan Avenue and tapers building heights and forms as the development moves south to meet rowhouse neighbors. The plan adds separation to the neighborhood to the south with a large public park. Large scale buildings are needed close to Michigan Avenue to give a sense of enclosure and connect to the Washington Hospital Center. Eventually, we hope these new buildings will encourage reconfiguration of the hospital complex to create more pedestrian-oriented designs.
Preservation of Cell 14 and recreation of the Olmstead Walk along North Capitol Street highlight the historic features of the site; however, they should be balanced with the need to support a better pedestrian environment along these busy streets by better connecting the pedestrian to adjacent uses on the site.
The plan for complementary new uses of retail, offices, and residential will strengthen the facing hospital complex and reconnect the site the city. These proposed uses are likely to build upon and amplify the contribution that current hospital center-related activities make to D.C.’s economy and employment base. While the northern components of the plan better connect the site to its surroundings, the large park and recreated Olmsted Walk also allow the site to stand out as a distinctive and special place.
Overall, we support the revised master plan as a sensitive approach to preserving and making publically accessible this industrial architectural and public works heritage. The housing, retail, and office components help address the needs of a growing city and hospital district. Given that we have already lost a significant number of low income housing units planned in the first Master Plan, we ask that historic design guidance work with existing proposed levels of housing and commercial space, and not force further reductions. While we would like to see significantly more affordable housing in this plan, the redevelopment plan does contribute to important community and citywide needs. The proposed plan for preservation and development is a compromise to enable the restoration of this distinctive historic resource.
Thank you for your consideration.