Photos from the McMillan Sand Filtration Plant

by Prince Of Petworth April 23, 2012 at 10:04 pm 30 Comments

Photo by nathan jurgenson

Thanks to everyone who sent/uploaded photos from this past weekend’s tour of the McMillan Sand Filtration Plant site.

Another reader sends the developer’s new Website. He also notes:

“Did you Notice how they slipped a picture of whole foods in there?”

Of course we’ll be updating as progress is made. In the meantime, here are some more great photos of how the site looks today:

Photo by nathan jurgenson

Photo by nathan jurgenson

Photo by PoPville flickr user hellomarkers!

Photo by PoPville flickr user jennverr

  • Almost makes you want to leave it like it is, kind of an urban ruin, but then you realize when you drive past it, it kind of looks butt-ugly

  • Jeff

    Beautiful, eerie pictures. Thanks for sharing. It is chilling to see how a city’s public works can fall to ruin in a matter of decades when left unused. Still, I’m glad they’ll be able to put all that valuable space to much more productive use soon.

  • Anonymous

    Build, baby, build!!

  • After touring the site, I really, really wish that it was developed as creative public space. I recognize that this simply may be impossible from a financial perspective. But if you look at the High Line in NYC, taking a “ruined” industrial space that, frankly, had a lot less to offer than this spectacular space (albeit in a far better location), and the ENORMOUS success that has become, you can easily envision how awesome this space can potentially be. Clean up some of the dangerous spots but leave the incredible catacombs and towers and historic buildings, add in some gardens / attractive landscaping, make the huge fields public picnic / frisbee / fields, and you would have a huge number of familes, etc. using this space all the time, it would be a spectacular and totally unique urban space.

    Now, at least the developer has proposed leaving some of the historic (and when you see them in person, super, super cool) Olmstead-designed structures in place. But it is still FAR too much development for the space and the neighborhood, far too little preservation / green space. At most, about 30-40 percent of the land shoudl be developed, with the proceeds from the land sale used to fund conversion of the rest of the space / structures into a public park. Ideally, that number would be zero, but I realize that is likely simply not feasible. But the city needs to do all it can to preserve and rehabilitate this public space, rather than have it totally overwhelmed with massive-scale development.

    • Why only develop 30-40%? From my perspective developing it is a great thing. You increase the cities tax base. Further all of the poeple complaining about high prices, the only way you can really slow their rise is to build more housing where people want to live. Plus from an environmentla perspective, the more people that live near tranist in cities, the better as they use a lot less resources.

      • Anonymous

        More taxes for the city should not be the guiding force behind what happens with land. If that were the case then every city would look like las vegas or tysons corner. The economic argument of more housing lowering prices is false… is this why NYC has such cheap rent?? Prime locations command high prices no matter how much you build. And ultimately you can always take away green space but bringing it back is almost impossible.

        • This is where people are confused. I absoutely agree we should not develop like Vegas or Tyson’s. the reason for that is neither of them are actually developed densely. There is lots of car infrastructure. The best way in my view to develop so that we have a good mix of retail and other such thing is to put lots of people in a smallish area and have them walk to things.

          Also the concept of supply and demand isn’t really controversial. I know no one who says more supply doesn’t lower prices.

          • Anonymous

            This is just friendly debate so sorry if I go on and on, but this development will be car centric. What can the average lazy person walk to from here? Also you must realize that no one is going to build affordable housing here. In theory, and probably in theory only this will release the pressure on housing costs somewhere else. If you look at the new housing in dc the demand is for high end. So this will not lower prices in the city but raise them, while making its less green.

          • U Street

            Anon @ 3:26 you are confusing supply and demand. All the SUPPLY is at the high end. There is plenty of DEMAND for cheaper housing in this City. It is just not being met. (So people are making due …. living like college students: roommates, putting temporary walls up, shared bedrooms, borrowing from mom & dad to pay rent, etc.)

          • Anonymous

            U St. I’m definitely not confusing supply and demand, obviously when there is demand at the high end for a limited space it will dictate the supply. My statement was in response to nathaniel who thought building more at this location would reduce costs. My argument was that this would only increase supply but not lower cost because of the limited supply of land… supply and demand is not a sea-saw at the micro level.

      • I am all for dense development of urban areas, generally, and there are LOTS of great places throughout DC where density could and should be increased, in particular, around certain underdeveloped metro stops like Fort Totten (finally coming) and throughout Southeast. But there are lots of reasons why massive development along the scale the developers are proposing is a bad idea here (and again, I only say 30-40 as a compromise, I’d rather 0-25, but I am not sure that will work, financially).

        I don’t want to develop this for the same reason I wouldn’t have wanted to see Meridian Hill Park (which used to be a total mess), or any other truly unique historical (and yes, as an Olmstead-designed space, this is historical) urban space that has fallen into disrepair be destroyed. You can’t unring the bell, and we’ve seen in various cities all sort of urban planning disasters when special places were thoughtlessly bulldozed for development. Yes, it’s fair to say that this is distinguishable from the High Line in that there is not nearly the foot traffic in the area, but it also has a lot more to offer than merely an elevetaed railway. The space can be a really magical one, lots of really interesting, gorgeous spaces, in particular the underground catacombs, that you just can’t find anywhere else, and can’t be recreated. It really has a magical feel, a sort of modern castle ruins. Plus, the huge open fields (even if just one of the two is preserved) could be an attractive feature filled with pristine green space and playing fields. That, combined with the architecturally interesting site, would attract a ton of recreational visitors, if rehabilitated right, and there is really prescious little attractive green space in that part of the city. I thought it was one of the coolest spaces I’ve been in DC, personally.

        The other reasons this huge development here don’t make sense is that it is small-scale residential neighborhood surrounding it, with little public transit nearby. The proposed development is radically out of scale with the surrounding areas and will increase car traffic enormously, since eveyone who lives there will undoubtedly be car-centric in their lifestyle (it’s also far from a lot of retail amenities, etc.). I’d rather see massive residential development (which I agree is needed) in other parts of the city, where it is better serviced by existing infrastructure, and won’t be destroying a unique historical space that could turn into a tremendous public space.

        • classic_six

          I think you also highlighted another big difference between what the High Line is in NYC and what you hope McMillan could be here for us: The High Line does not only serve a recreational function to that neighborhood; it is an integral part of the neighborhood complex. I think McMillan it would serve as a recreational purpose where people would have to travel to, for the most part, and it would be a destination of sorts. I don’t disagree with you at all about the magical aspect of McMillan and I wish something could be done to capture, to preserve and to celebrate that uniqueness.

    • classic_six

      Interesting idea about trying to do something similar to the High Line in NYC. I like the way you think about this space. The main difference or problem has to do with the fact that McMillan is nothing like the Meatpacking District (a really trendy, a really expensive and a really popular destination spot/neighborhood) – and doesn’t have two essential coordinates (timing and location) to move the project to success. I don’t think McMillan has trend and popularity on its side right now.

      • Anonymous

        If it became a public park (and they did it right) it would be slammed each and every weekend. They city could rent out a garden restaurant in there (think Central Park or Kew Gardens) and make a killing without having to do spend their own money.

        • classic_six

          What happens to it every day that is a non-weekend day?

          • Anonymous

            It remains a city wide asset rather than another developed parcel. You don’t use you house all day while you are at work but it’s still has value right?

          • classic_six

            To Anonymous 3:30,

            Not sure I’d agree…being a city asset will then presume it to be public. If I were to own a home, that would be private. I think people, in general, take care of and use public property a little differently from private property. So, even if I were to actually be in my home for part of the time, I would also be maintaining and upkeeping my home, so my home would still have value. Or conversely, if I don’t maintain or upkeep my home, it would then lose some value. This could also be true for public spaces or public property but then someone has to assume responsibility for the upkeep or maintenance and when budgets fall short or are slashed, public funding (in the form of taxes or what-have-yous) might be dedicated elsewhere and so the value of said public space/property could actually fall in value.

          • Anonymous

            classic_six what would happen if your line of argument was applied to central park, rock creek park, or any other well used green space? Just because this site is stuck in limbo and the city wants to cash in on it in the short term doesn’t take away from the fact that green spaces are a benefit to all.

          • classic_six

            To Anonymous 10:45,

            First of all, my argument was specific to talking about the High Line in NYC and McMillan. If you wish to expand the thinking to Central Park, as an example, please note that Central Park is a public space that is both publicly/privately funded; the funding is a partnership between public and wealthy neighbors or donors. If you think I am against green space in DC – you would simply be wrong. I was responding to nolongernew2ch’s thought about trying to do something like the High Line here at McMillan because while I really like green spaces in the city, turning McMillan into what nolongernew2ch’s desire isn’t entirely feasible, as is, unless there were to be a public-private funding partnership, in my opinion. That said, it still might not be that feasible considering that Central Park is smack in the middle of a lot of wealth and as people on these boards call it (density) on all sides surrounding the park.

        • U Street

          Really? I’d love to see some numbers behind that.

          Everyone wants to be a Highline now…Funny how we want all the cool amenities of NY without the density of NY. It doesn’t work that why.

          • classic_six

            To U Street,

            Is your comment regarding the High Line directed to my comments? If you’ll read my comments, you’ll see that while I like the High Line in NYC, I do not think it is an idea that is transferable to McMillan.

  • Anonymous

    What the neighborhood needs is plenty more market-rate development and commercial activity, not vacant land or ridiculous “historic preservation” of dilapidated junk.

    There is no comparison to the High Line, which is woven into the most densely-populated neighborhood in the country and literally runs through art galleries, the Googleplex, etc.

    Nor is there a comparison to Central Park, or Rock Creek Park, both of which are surrounded by super expensive real estate and densely-packed tall buildings.

    • How about a comparison to Meridian Hill Park, circa around fifteen years ago? Good thing that wasn’t turned into a massive, overbearing development, even though it was a dangerous mess and the area was struggling … there is no shortage of massive development going on in DC, just take a drive downtown or along 14th street. Yet there is no development at all, it seems, of new green / recreational spaces located in this general quadrant of the city. Gotta think in the long term, and losing one of the last interesting potential recreational spots of any magnitude in the city would be very short-sighted.

      • Anonymous

        You mean the Meridian Hill Park that’s located on a bluff overlooking the white house and surrounded by dense apartment buildings?

        How is that comparable to this desolate, dilapidated eyesore located far outside the city core adjacent to a spread-out hospital campus, a reservoir, and a major highway?

        We have plenty of parks in the area – the park at ledroit (full of graffiti), Metropolitan Branch Trail (a great place to get mugged), and the park at Florida Avenue and 1st Street NW (love the 8′ fence and prison turnstile).

        • Yeah, also the Meridian Hill Park that was a crumbling, derelict center of drug trade and violence and surrounded by nothing close to what is around there now in terms of upgraded housing stock. Ya gotta have a little vision. I’ve seen great public spaces destroyed over and over in the name of urban renewal in various cities, and again, you can’t go back once these spaces are gone. Ask the huge number of people who were walking around the site this weekend and taking loads of photos of really interesting features if it is worthless, I mean, have you ever actually been inside the spaces? It’s only desolate because it’s fenced off. It’s only dilapidated because no work has been done to fix it up in decades. And there are plenty of residential areas nearby and in some areas adjacent to the site, it’s hardly the middle of nowhere. There are residences directly to the east, and directly to the south are many, many blocks of residential neighborhoods, with very, very little green / public space integrated. This Looking at it more holistically on Google Maps, you could develop the top third of the property, which would then mean it is surrounded on three sides by residential neighborhoods. Use the proceeds from selling that land to fix up the rest of the property, keeping the massive field in the middle (while sprucing it up and adding some public gardens and such) and turning the lower third into recreational / playing fields, while leaving the two rows of historic structures and underground passageways intact.

          Or WORST case, also sell off the bottom third as well, and keep the entire middle field, bordered by the two rows of historic structures, intact. But developing 80 percent of this would be awful. And the infrastructure is just not there to support massive development at the scale currently proposed, with very limited public transit and parking in the area. But turning this into a very unique green space with unique and historic urban character would make it the centerpiece of that portion of the city, and create an anchor community space for future development (such as in the Soldier’s home directly to the north) to be anchored around.

          • JS

            This site is surrounded by SFHs while Meridian Hill is located in the middle of the densest ward in the city. The comparision isn’t really apt; there’s simply no way the current population density will support any type of foot traffic similar to what’s currently at Meridian Hill.

            Furthermore, wouldn’t developing any portion of the Old Soldier’s Home require an act of Congress? Shouldn’t DC focus on development that it can control and isn’t subject to approval outside of its control?

          • JS

            The developers plan on leaving 26% of the site as public green space, with build structures covering 46% of the site. It’s not like the area is going to be 80% covered with buildings.

            Sourced from:

          • They want to preserve/adaptively reuse most of the distinctive structures and even a couple of the filtration cells. There’s a large central park as well as several other garden/park spaces included in the concept. As a resident of the neighborhood, I want more out of this site than just some desolate empty green fields that would quickly become a magnet for illicit activity after sunset. A full service grocery, restaurants/shops, more residents; we can have all those things plus more publicly useable green space (which, in case we’re forgetting, right now stands at zero for this site).

        • Anonymous

          @ Anonymous 1:58. Right now there are views of the Capitol / Washington Monument from Michigan Avenue over McMillan.

          According to the FAQ – “Residents made it clear throughout the engagement process that the plan must include not only affordable housing, but also specific affordable options for seniors wishing to age in place. As a result the current plan includes 758 units of affordable and workforce housing over a broad spectrum of pricing, and with options for adults across many age and income categories.”

          758 ? No way am I buying this.

          This is too much density not to be right at a Metro station. Note: there is an alterntive Plan floating around that reverses the ratio of park : development offered in this plan. I think 1/2 developed 1/2 park is the way to go.

          • Js

            Which means you’re in luck, because the current plan is to build on 46% of the available land.


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