Tag: McMillan

Testimony Regarding McMillan Sand Filtration Site before the Mayor’s Agent

We have tracked the community discussions and historic review process of this proposal for several years. We are here to express our support for the adaptive reuse of the historic McMillan Sand Filtration Plant. This thoughtful plan restores the major historic features, along with creating a new large park that incorporates the distinct historic elements of the former industrial site. Implementing the proposed plan will deliver a wide range of public benefits of special merit, including:

Testimony to DC Zoning Commission on McMillan (Parcel 1)

We wish to express our support for the healthcare building on Parcel 1 as part of the adaptive reuse of the McMillan Sand Filtration site. The scale of the medical buildings responds to the scale of the hospitals on the other side of Michigan Avenue, with the highest point closest to the similar height at Children’s Hospital. The healthcare building uses Cell 14 as an acre of open space next to North Capitol Street to buffer its massing from nearby rowhouse neighborhoods.

Redeveloping McMillan is the only way to save it

At a recent public hearing, neighbors of McMillan Sand Filtration Site renewed calls to make it a park. But the only way that can happen is by developing part of it as a neighborhood, and it’s up to the DC Council to make it happen.


Rendering of the future McMillan Park.

Residents filled a June 6 public hearing held by the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development to oppose plans to sell the derelict 25-acre site to Vision McMillan Partners, who will build homes, shops, offices and a park there. But others, including Councilmember Kenyan McDuffieand groups like the Coalition for Smarter Growth say it’s the best way to bring McMillan back to life.

It would be prohibitively expensive just to make McMillan a park. Since the underground cells are made of unreinforced concrete, they would have to be demolished and rebuilt just to make them safe to enter. Allowing some private development will give the neighborhood new amenities while paying to keep the best of what’s already there.

Plan preserves historic structures while creating new park

VMP’s plan preserves all 24 of the plant’s above-ground structures, including the vine-covered sand silos visible from North Capitol Street, along with 2 of the below-ground filtration cells. 2/3 of the site will remain open space, while the southern third will become an 8-acre public park with a pool, recreation center, and a community center with meeting rooms and an art gallery. VMP promises that this will be “one of the largest and best-designed public park spaces in the District.”


Proposed site plan of McMillan redevelopment.

The historic buildings will become part of a new neighborhood with about 800 apartments and townhomes, half of which will be set aside for families making between 50 and 80% of the area’s median income. There will also be street-level, neighborhood-serving retail anchored by a 50,000-square-foot, full-service grocery store. Along Michigan Avenue, there will be taller office buildings with a medical focus, taking advantage of proximity to Washington Hospital Center across the street.

To make this happen, however, the DC Council must decide this fall whether to declare the land as surplus and “dispose” of it. They can do this either by selling it to VMP or granting it as-is to VMP under existing zoning, which wouldn’t allow major redevelopment to occur. They could also divide the property and sell off the parts to different owners and under different zoning. They can do all of this in a single set of hearings and votes, and they should to ensure that this process happens as quickly and fairly as possible.


This rendering shows how new and old buildings will coexist at McMillan.

Throughout the summer and fall, the council will hold separate public hearings on whether to surplus McMillan and the details of VMP’s plan. Meanwhile, the DC Historic Preservation Review Board is reviewing VMP’s plan to redevelop the site with housing, shops, offices and an 8-acre park and will hold hearings about it this month and in September. They’ve already offered comments about the proposal and will make their recommendations before the end of the year.

Plan will improve stormwater collection, traffic

Groups like Friends of McMillan Park and the DC Chapter of the Sierra Club argued that McMillan is already a public space and should become a public park. However, one DMPED official I spoke to after the hearing said that the city can’t afford to do the work necessary to make the site safe for public occupancy. If the District retains ownership, the site would most likely remain decrepit and fenced off indefinitely.


All 24 of the site’s historic above-ground structures will be preserved.

Opponents maintain that the site’s underground cells are needed to retain stormwater, mitigating the effects of frequent floods in Bloomingdale, which is downstream from McMillan. But DC Water already plans to replace two of the cells with water storage tanks, which will remain after redevelopment. Meanwhile, VMP has also promised to incorporate stormwater retention and buffers into the buildings and landscaping on the site, reducing stormwater runoff.

Another top complaint was traffic. Residents feel that the neighborhood’s roads are already quite congested, especially at rush hour, and could not handle the extra trips generated by a major office, retail and residential center on the McMillan site. There is no question that the Washington Hospital Center, the city’s largest non-government employer, needs better public transportation service, as it is not located near a Metro station.


Buildings will step down moving south from Michigan Avenue.

VMP plans to build a bus turnaround for shuttles between McMillan and the Brookland Metrorail station, which would operate until a planned streetcar line along Michigan Avenue is built. Moreover, North Capitol Street has been designated a Bus Priority Corridor, meaning that the city intends to make changes to the street design and traffic flows to permit faster and more frequent bus service. The development would also open new through streets across the McMillan site, improving traffic flow and connections within the larger neighborhood.

Ward 5 needs parks, but it needs housing too

Some opponents say that new development should happen elsewhere in Ward 5, like on vacant and abandoned lots along North Capitol Street or Rhode Island Avenue. While not enough resources have been dedicated to encouraging more infill development, there’s no reason why that can’t happen in combination with the redevelopment of McMillan.


Rendering of the completed McMillan Park.

It is true that Ward 5 needs more and higher-quality parks, recreation facilities, and community centers. But the surrounding neighborhoods and the city as a whole are growing and are need more affordable housing, as well as more diverse shopping and entertainment opportunities within walking or biking distance or a short transit ride.

VMP’s current plan reflects the input of community members gathered over the course of several design charrettes that were open to the public. It satisfies the need for several types of amenities in this part of the city in a balanced way. It combines buildings that are in keeping with the surrounding neighborhoods with a large park, and preserves some of the historic filtration cells and all of the silos and brick regulator houses.

We have an opportunity to transform a decrepit former public works site that has been fenced off for over 70 years into a citywide destination: a vibrant and attractive new place to live, work, shop and play that serves many of the needs of residents in this part of DC while incorporating many reminders of its unique history. The Council shouldn’t waste any time taking advantage of it, as an opportunity like this won’t come again soon.

If you’d like to tell DMPED and the Council to surplus McMillan and allow VMP’s plan to happen, you can contact them here. Comments must be received by June 20.

All images courtesy of VMP.

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Testimony before the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board, Support for McMillan Sand Filtration Plant Master Plan Update

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.

Cheryl Cort
Policy Director

Testimony in Support for McMillan Sand Filtration Plant Master Plan

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.