Testimony in Support for McMillan Sand Filtration Plant Master Plan

                                     Testimony before the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board

                                                                                           Support for
McMillan Sand Filtration Plant Master Plan

by Cheryl Cort, Policy Director
May 24, 2012

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 proposed Master Plan for the McMillan Sand Filtration Plant. This plan is a careful, extensively vetted redevelopment and preservation plan that will highlight the unique historic resources of the site. The plan proposes to provide interpretation and 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. For decades, access to this large area was prohibited, thus creating a wide gap between surrounding activities and neighborhoods. When you walk across this area, bicycle along Michigan Avenue, or wait for a bus by the hospital as I have done, you feel disconnected, as if you are traversing through no-man’s land. This master plan will reengage the site with its surroundings and turn this gap into an inviting destination with a distinctive heritage.

In addition to the restoration of key historic features and a provision of public access and interpretation, the plan addresses other important needs of the area and city. The plan will create a variety of new housing options for our growing city, including affordable housing (though we would like to see more affordable housing and deeper levels of affordability). The plan also offers active commercial uses to serve surrounding neighborhoods and adjacent medical facilities.

The scaling of the development proposed in the plan is appropriate to the varied context, while also weaving in respectful public space that features historic silos, filtration cells, and adaptive reuse of historic buildings and other elements. 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. Large scale buildings are needed close to Michigan Avenue to give a sense of enclosure. Eventually, we hope these new buildings will be accompanied by a reconfigured hospital complex to the north with more pedestrian-oriented designs. While I am still concerned that the Michigan Ave. frontage will not offer enough active uses for pedestrians along the Avenue, fine-grained details of the proposed buildings and a healing garden on a pedestrian scale should support a sufficient level of engagement with the street and sidewalk.
Similarly, preservation of the second cell and restoration of the Olmstead perimeter path in the Northeast corner of the site are important elements in creating public access to these historic features; however, they may need additional treatment to help support a better pedestrian environment along these busy streets. We appreciate that all these design choices are addressing a variety of needs that require compromise.

We note that the central park is a wonderful feature that will be a great asset to surrounding neighborhoods as well as a destination for people interested in learning more about the historic sand filtration system.

The plan for complementary new uses of retail, offices, and residential will strengthen the facing hospital complex and reconnect it to the city and surrounding areas. 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.

Overall, we commend this master plan as a sensitive approach to preserving and making publically accessible this fascinating industrial architectural and public works heritage. At the same time, the redevelopment plan meets other important community and citywide needs. The balance of preservation and development makes the effort feasible and will enable a large number of people to enjoy these historic resources.

Thank you for your consideration.