Sierra Club Opposes McMillan Development Plan

Photo by PoPville flickr user hellomarkers!

We last spoke about the development plans and saw lots of photos for the McMillan Sand Filtration Site here [Located on the north by Michigan Avenue, on the east by North Capitol Street, on the south by Channing Street and on the west by First Street].

From a press release:

The DC Chapter of the Sierra Club has come out against the current development plan proposed for the McMillan Park Reservoir site. In its letter to the Historic Preservation Review Board, the Club asks the HPRB to “reject the currently-proposed master plan” because it contains far too little contiguous public park space.

“The present design plans do too little to preserve the parklike characteristics that dominate the present space,” Jim Dougherty, the Club’s Conservation Chair, tells the HPRB. “A more balanced plan for the McMillan Park site would devote half or more of the surface to contiguous park and park-like use.”

The local Sierra Club thus joins Howard University, Advisory Neighborhood Commission 1B, and community groups representing Bloomingdale, Pleasant Plains, and Stronghold in opposition to the current plan.

Full Text of the Sierra Club Letter:

On behalf of the Sierra Club and its 2,500 members living in the District of Columbia, I write to express our concerns regarding the proposed master plan and design guidelines for development of the McMillan Park and Sand Filtration Site.

In our view, the present design plans do too little to preserve the parklike characteristics that dominate the present space. Though the site has, regrettably, been fenced off over the past decades, its vast green vistas have always given us hope that the inevitable commercial development plans would honor that tradition and provide nearby neighborhoods with the myriad blessings of accessible parkland. A more balanced plan for the McMillan Park site would devote half or more of the surface to contiguous park and park-like use. Further, this park space should be unfenced and thus available for the use and enjoyment of all of the City’s residents and visitors.

The Sierra Club therefore asks that the Board reject the currently-proposed master plan and insist on the submission of creative alternative plans that achieve a better balance of commercialization and parkland preservation.

55 Comment

  • FUCK the Sierra Club.

    These are the asshats who worked so hard to scuttle Atlanta’s T-SPLOST proposal because “it didn’t give enough to transit”–since 50% is apparently “not enough” and because more money to transit than has ever been given in the history of Atlanta–and the south in general as a region–is an opportunity that comes along, oh, every day, right?

    If these people win, you can damn well bet McMillan will sit there for another 15 years unused before someone is willing to even think about touching it again. I swear, as someone invested into environmentalism and clean energy, groups like the Sierra Club do more damage to our movement than a thousand coal companies pooling all their political capital.

  • Has the Committee of 100 Dildoes weighed in on this? I can’t imagine they’d support any redevelopment that doesn’t involve filtration, as that would not be in keeping with the historic character of the filtration site.

    • The C100 submitted HPRB testimony that supported the idea of development at the site, but opposed the proposed plan in its current form.

  • Yes yes please yes on an indoor olympic sized pool!

  • So the Sierra Club would rather have me build a house or office on some old farmland in Prince George’s County?

    People are going to live somewhere, and this region is growing. If Sierra & co prevent the expansion of living & working space in the city, prices will rise and people will move further out. City dwellers live in less space on less land using less energy. Is the Sierra Club about the environment, or are they just NIMBYists?

    • It’s not the Sierra Club & co that “prevent the expansion of living & working space in the city,” it’s crime, bad schools & poor city govt. which renders half the city un-liveable to many people in the (working/tax-paying/higher quality of life) demographic.

      There is plenty of room to develop housing & businesses within the city already. End crime and Anacostia becomes the gem of the region!

      I’m not actually supporting the Sierra Club’s proposal – don’t know enough about it. (Anyone can make up pretty plans and videos – but where is the cost estimate for this?)

      But clearly people pay a premium for housing near urban parkland. NY Central Park is a big hunk of valuable real estate that could be jammed full of development too.

      • “End crime and Anacostia becomes the gem of the region!”

        End gravity, and the moon becomes valuable real estate.

    • or, people could move east of the river where there is plenty of affordable housing. also, we can build up.
      just because people live in the city doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have parks.

  • That video is ridiculous. With the district strapped for cash that just isn’t feasible. I seldom read news on the McMillian site as it hasn’t budged. I support the current iteration of the plans for the site.

    Compromise folks. Even if the developers kept bending over these people holding up the project would just push for more. I miss Fenty just pushing things through. Progress over complete consensus.

  • They can’t see the forest through the trees (or lack thereof). This is an industrial site that is unstable, unusable to humans due to the underground tanks, and was always slated for redevelopment since DC bought it decades ago. It only hasn’t happened because a) the area was not prime for development until the last 5-10 years b) DC had bigger fish to fry and recently c) new resident NIMBYs who don’t want “traffic” (yet live off of… North Capitol Street).

    Build it, bring density, amenities, residents, and taxes to the city.

    • As someone who has moved to the area in the last 5 years, my objection is not with traffic or development in general. Development would be great and directed my decision to move to the area. However, I think there is a concern for what the development would do to the flooding issues. If the development could incorporate the easing of flooding, great. If not, I don’t think it’s all together fair to lob NIMBY at someone who has concerns that development would increase the odds for his or her house flooding increasing frequently and impactfully, suffering property damage and loss, and a diminution of property value. Would you say f the homeowners?

      • This plan does nothing to address flooding concerns. The developers, on the other hand, have said they are open to including flood resolution into their plans.

        • One could argue that more green space = more permeable surface = less flooding. But I haven’t really studied the plans and don’t know if this is a rigorous / fair point in comparison with the developer’s proposal.

          • That’s a very simplistic explanation, especially considering that the flooding problems are concentrated roughly a half-mile south. The issue is infrastructure, and development can still occur while fixing those infrastructure issues.

    • To be fair, the traffic concerns aren’t primarily about North Capitol (it’s an urban highway as it is, not like you are going to make it much worse at rush hour). It’s about funneling more traffic onto an already overcrowded 1st St and various neighborhood streets during rush hour without some serious changes to the traffic flow. People avoiding N. Cap just barrel down 1st and often don’t stop at the signs or crosswalks as it is. The street is simply not designed for heavy volume. There would need to be a re-working of the street system there to prevent really, really bad backups and essentially keep traffic on N Cap where it belongs.

      The other issue is that the area is not well-served by public transit other than the bus lines. Plopping a couple thousand new residents and office workers without increasing that service just makes the traffic situation worse since people will drive. Yes, yes the Rhode Island and Michigan Ave streetcars are supposed to be in the works, but with the way that is moving along it’s not a foregone conclusion that they will ever exist.

      Traffic and flooding concerns aren’t like some other ad hoc NIMBY barriers being thrown up. There are those of us who live in Bloomingdale that WANT this development to happen, but the current plans aren’t clear on how they would address some very real infrastructure issues.

      • There are also those of us in Bloomingdale that agree with Sierra Club and would like to preserve at least 1/2 of this space as contiguous park space.

        Having moved from a neighborhood near Rock Creek several years ago I constantly miss the open space. East of Rock Creek there is very little public open space in the city. Since the city purchased this land with tax payers money years ago it is about time they give back to the communty and work with a developer that will find a way to develop 1/2 and preserve the other for park space by makeing it safe for people to use. Surely Eya can find a way to make this profitable and if not there will be other developers that will.

        It’s a unique space with views of the Naitional Cathedral, Shrine, Capitol dome etc.

        • Yes, of course, everybody in the neighborhood wants parkland to be preserved. I do, my neighbors do, not many people want to see LESS than what EYA has proposed. That’s not what I was talking about. There is a small but very vocal contingent that sees nothing less than conversion of the entire grounds to recreational use as complete failure. They need to get real. The city is not going to lose out on it’s investment to increase the tax coffers for this hunk of land in some shape or form. We have to start proposing realistic alternatives. Delaying the inevitable is just that, and it will make it easier for the developers to dismiss *actual* concerns as NIMBY hand wringing and pie-in-the-sky fantasies, forcing through the design that they want.

  • tennis courts next to basketball courts sans barrier is never a good idea

  • I jog through here quite frequently and have to say that “parklike characteristics” do not “dominate the present space.” It feels like an old, abandoned, industrial area. Because … it’s an old, abandoned, industrial area.

  • Oh the Sierra Club is at it again……………………………………..

  • The McMillian site should be used for a new DC United stadium.

    • DC United is interested in building a new stadium at Buzzard Point, which would be a much better place for them from both a usage standpoint and from a redevelopment perspective.

      • what’s your stake in this site?

        • None. But Sierra Club’s NIMBYism boils my blood (that, and I’m still pissed about T-SPLOST, because I have an unsold condo in Atlanta that I’ll only be able to unload when the economy there improves…and business won’t hire there until the transportation infrastructure is fixed).

  • I’m so sick of hearing the two ANC commissioners in Bloomingdale going on and on about “McMillan Park” and what the “people” want. They act like everyone in the community is monolithic.

    They really should stop calling it a park. Its not a park, its fenced off. No amount of half-hearted rebranding will change that.

    I even agree with them on some stuff. But the truth is, there wont be a compromise (I’m not even sure they’re interested in one). There will either be development or it will continue to sit as huge waste of space. There should be a compromise, but there wont be. So the choice is very simple: no development or development.

    The whole thing about flooding is a bit ridiculous, the rain causes the flooding. Even if everyone in the city stopped using water during these rain storms, the flooding would still happen. Your gripe is with the infrastructure. Adding more toilets and sinks is a bit like dumping a bucket of water in the ocean… yes, its deeper, but you’re not going to notice.

    • Exept that there will be a whole lot less land for the water to seep into rather than running down concrete.

    • Seems you’ve misunderstood the flooding issues. Losing permeable surface (grass, dirt, etc.) causes the water to run downhill faster and stresses the antiquated drainage system faster. It has nothing to do with toilets and sinks, and everything to do with the loss of permeable surface that slows the stormwater drainage. This can be improved with green roofs (which the video seems to indicate will be used at least on the rec buildings), rain barrels, etc.

      That said, the video seems to indicate half or more of the original green space will be preserved, what more can you logically ask for? Since it is above the neighborhoods that have the flooding issues, I agree someone needs to make sure this won’t make matters worse, but that isn’t a part of the content of the letter.

      • FYI – the video above is “the people’s plan” and was presented in last night’s stronghold civic association meeting as an alternative to the plan being proposed by Envision McMillan. From what I understand, the “people’s plan” was originally developed in the early 2000s by Catholic University students. To see the plan that is actually being proposed, which has far less green space, see here –

    • There are “soft path” technologies that can aleviate storm water runoff. With bloomingdale’s outdated drainage/sewer system stormwater is mixed with sewage. Therefore, when stormwater surges over the capacity of the drainage system the mixed sewage backflows into our neighborhood streets, basements etc.

      The less stormwater in the drainage system the better during large rain events. DC Water is running a program now to give people in the neighborhood free rainwater catchment barrels. I don’t have too much hope for this, but am very concerned for development at McMillan.

    • that’s simply untrue.

      • No, its simply true. Residential sewage lines are not going to break the back of the existing combined sewer. Obviously, rain water will.

        With regards to permeable ground, my understanding is that a lot of it right now is cement. Beyond that, in the type of downpour that is currently over powering the sewer, a very limited amount of water is being absorbed by the ground anyway. I have no idea whether the water collects somewhere or goes into the sewer, but without a doubt some of it goes into the sewer.

        So recap:
        toilets, sinks, and bathtubs not causing sewer backups (nor will they at the load that is being proposed)
        ground not all permeable
        even permeable ground wont prevent what bloomingdale has seen

        The only permanent solution is fixing the infrastructure. Nothing else will solve the problem. period.

        • Hopefully this isn’t too confusing or rambling:

          Rain water, which creates stormwater drainage, is part of the existing combined sewer. It is called a “combined sewer” because the stormwater drainage is combined with residential sewage lines. So yes, rain water contributes to the infrastructure problems in a much greater way because the strain on the system during a heavy rain is hugely greater than a few more toilets and sinks.

          “With regards to permeable ground, my understanding is that a lot of it right now is cement.”

          Permeable ground is ground that can absorb water. Yes there is some permeable cement products out there, but the traditional material for cement is impermeable, meaning the water that lands on it is immediately moves to the drainage system. The more of this surface that is created, the greater strain on the system, the more often we have floods. The grass, dirt, sand, etc. that is the current surface of the site right now is permeable, and if most of it is turned into concrete, then that creates a greater strain on the system, which creates a greater chance of floods.

          You are absolutely right that the flooding will not be fixed by more parkland because that would just result in permeable surface remaining as much. The concern here is that this will make things worse by taking away a very large amount of permeable surface directly “upstream” from where the flooding is already occurring, potentially making the problem even worse.

  • I really don’t see why people are bitching about the people’s plan. I think the people’s plan looks amazing. This would be, if developed like this, one of the most unique, attractive, and popular green / public spaces in D.C. There is very little useable green space in this part of the District, and to just totally turn over something this promising to developers, leaving very little intact, is something that simply can’t be undone. Why is a compromise such a terrible idea? Developers can pay money for the two (still very large) tracts of land, as represented in this diagram. All of that money can then be poured into an amazing plan such as the one represented here for the middle space, which will in turn increase by an enormous amount the desirabillity / value of the property being sold be the developers, while at the same time creating a tremendous publlic asset. Seems like a win-win to me, and the folks boo-hooing this are in my view very short-sighted. I can think of a million example in urban development where public land was destroyed for development in a regretable fashion, but in a densely populated urban environment in a portion of the city short of significant public spaces, to throw that space away without trying to put it to creative use (while at the same time, developing a substantial portion of it) would be a huge mistake. No one has ever said, hey, Central Park (or more recently, the High Line) or Meridian Hill Park or Millenium Park in Chicago or name-your-prominent-green-space would have been SO much better if it was paved over the developed! Sierra nad whoever produced this video aren’t saying keep ALL the space, they are proposing giving two huge tracts over to large scale development which won’t totally dominate / congest a smaller neighborhood, while at the same time creating a really unique feature which will become a recreational anchor in this part of the city. I just don’t get the vitriol here.

  • Yeah, because parkland is something DC is really lacking. 20% of DC’s ~60 square miles is officially parkland, from DC owned park and rec centers, pocket parks, the 1800 acre rock creek park, 2000 acre anacostia park, the 6500 acres of national mall.

    We have more official parkland per capita than any freaking major city in the US and the multidecade eyesore of a sand pit (note, not park) is going to be held up in development by these yahoos?

    • There is no open space in ward 5. In this area there are several Universities, a new Park at Ledroit (temporary park) and the National Arboretum that is not always open. This in no way represents the abundant park space that is present elsewhere in the city.

      In many peoples point of view it is poor city planning to develop this site not to include a substantial portion for public use so that Ward 5 families can have open space within thier area of the city.

      • you don’t know ward 5 then.

        I’m 100% in favor of a park at mcmillian, but falsehoods are not cool. there is a lot of open space in ward 5. enough? no. but it’s a huge ward.

        • where are these open spaces in ward 5?

          • langdon park, edgewood park, barnard hill park, turkey thicket park, bunker hill park, taft rec center, michigan park rec center, harry thomas rec, fort circle park, fort totten, brentwood park, langston, loomis. to name a bunch.

  • McMillian isn’t a park, and it isn’t “open space” either. It’s an abandoned industrial site, and something should be done with it.

    If the Sierra Club wants even more park space in the area, it should work with the water treatment plant across the street, which has plenty of green space that it won’t open to the public due to security concerns, even though the area has operated as both a public park and a water treatment plant in the past. That’s where the unused park space is.

    • no one is saying that it is currently a park. many many neighbors want this to be a park. thats why its a proposal.

    • The lack of imagination and foresight here is sad to see. Yes, this space is industrial and currently abandoned. But have you toured it? I have, and it has INCREDIBLE potential to become an unbelievably cool public space without radical reinvetion, infrastructure of the type that just can’t be created from scratch. Watch the video above to get just one example how this could be done, while still developing a substantial (meaning hundreds of residential units, for sure) portion of the site.

      The high line was once just an abandoned overgrown rail track. The Tate Modern was once just an abandoned factory. As was MassMoca. These are now three of the most successful redevelopment projects in recent memory. Just because something is “industrial” and not currently used doesn’t mean that it does not have very-easy-to-see potential. We see this type of successful redevelopment work over and over, and this site certainly can. Other parts of the city have huge public / green spaces. So what? This part does not. Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever. All people are doing is fighting to see that there is a development between retaining the very cool elements of what can be transformed into a highly useable, dramatic, fun public space while funding that through development which doesn’t totally overwhelm the site. It’s just so incredibly short sighted to say rip it all down and fill it all up with more condos. There are plenty of places to build condos in the city that won’t result in virtually total destruction of a site with this type of unique and interesting character and potential.

  • this site is sort of like the streetcar issue. everyone seems to have so many opinions and solutions without knowing even half there is to know, and so many don’t live or work nearby and will not be impacted.

  • This is a very important subject and I’m happy that it is being debated.

    I’d like to lay some things out in bullet form:

    1. This site was never a park.
    2. The McMillan reservoir adjacent to it was an open public park and even had a really nice fountain before white flight.
    1. The city now owns this land.
    2. That means WE own this land. WE means all of us who are resident in DC.
    3. The question is, what do WE want and need? Do we need more tax revenue? More amenities? More green space? Etc.
    4. ALL of US have a valid opinion. Here’s mine:

    First of all, open up the reservoir space to the public. Put the old fountain in, maybe even let us swim. People will love it. That will truly be a unique amenity and something that the city is lacking. Plus it’ll be good for Howard.

    Second, if you open the reservoir area feel free to build out a lot more of the filtration cite. Please do still keep some of the old ruins, as they are cool.

    Third, That underground basketball/swimming pool/ gym is awesome. Let’s build it, but let’s just build one and not make it take up the entire site.

    Fourth, developer–We’ll let you build on a good majority of the cite but it better not look like crap. I mean REAL BRICK ALL THE WAY AROUND.

    Fifth–And no crappy town center layout. Make it urban, not suburban. Don’t cut it off from the rest of the neighborhood and let the yuppies who move in pretend they live in a bubble. Connect it. Do it right. Short term profit might be slightly lower. Long term it will be the right thing for US (the people who own the land).

    Thank YOU ALL for listening

    • you have my vote.

    • I’m sorry but the definitive statement that the filtration site was never a park is simply not accurate. There is debate on the subject because early records indicate it was declared a park by Taft. There are a number of long-time residents who recall using the site for recreation. There is some debate about how much of the site, however. So at best, there is not a consensus about the extent of public access prior to WWII…. the entire campus (both the reservoir and the filtration site) were closed to the public.

  • How has that “park at ledroit” worked out for everyone?

  • saf

    “2. The McMillan reservoir adjacent to it was an open public park and even had a really nice fountain before white flight.”

    Actually, it was locked down during WWII.

  • Not opposition to blind progress, but blind opposition to progress…

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