Housing Complex

McMillan Plans Start Taking Shape

Matt Bell puts words on paper. (Lydia DePillis)

Three weeks ago, the design and development teams tasked with the redevelopment of the McMillan Sand Filtration Site started over on the long, painstaking process of doing something with the area that neighbors could accept. After another couple of salons with interested residents, the planners came back to St. Martin's Church on Saturday morning with some general ideas of what pieces might go where–but pretty much all of the details remain to be ironed out.

Based on the surrounding geography, master planner Matt Bell of EEK and landscape architect Warren Byrd of Nelson Byrd Woltz outlined a rough sketch of how the site's 25 acres might be apportioned: Office buildings would go on the north end, across Michigan Avenue from the medical center; townhouses would go on the south end, along Channing Street; with multifamily residential buildings and park space somewhere in between. They also proposed building higher towards the west side of the site, so as not to crowd the short townhouses on North Capitol Street, though that corridor was identified as the most viable location for retail (a representative from Councilmember Harry Thomas' office relayed North Capitol residents' strong desire not to have tall buildings across the street).

A few ideas seemed to have been removed from the table: Byrd said he had heard no requests for formal sports fields, but rather a few smaller green spaces for casual recreation. He also downplayed the possibility of "daylighting" Tiber Creek, which some community members have supported, saying it was buried too far underground to easily unearth.

Other than that, much of the development is to-be-determined before the next community meeting on November 20. The major issues raised include:

Traffic: A new traffic study will be done based on the draft development program, but there's no doubt that handling the new car trips generated by so much housing and new office space–with no metro stop and a potential light rail line certainly many years away–will be challenging. Bell mentioned the possibility of a transit center towards the north end of the site to handle increased bus traffic.

Park space: Where to put it, exactly? In the center, diagonally, or in a big belt from 1st Street to North Capitol? Byrd reported hearing a strong desire for culturally-focused programming, with spaces designed to accommodate art and public performance.

Historic assets: The old sand filtration plant has a number of concrete cells underground that some residents would like to see turned into usable space, so as to leave more room for parkland on the surface.

Developer Jair Lynch, who will be building the multifamily housing component, tapped away at his laptop in between greeting latecomers and chatting with attendees. His architects are waiting for all the community input to be digested before drawing up plans, he said. Asked whether he'd ever attempted a community planning process this contentious and drawn out–the development team first presented its plans in 2008–Lynch thought back to his days at Stanford 20 years ago, when he participated in the redevelopment of parts of San Francisco after the Loma Prieta earthquake. Seeing the residents' difficulty reimagining those gaping holes, he said, was the closest comparison to what he's gone through with McMillan. And he seemed happy with how the restarted process was going.

What Warren Byrd drew.

"To me, this is what democratic design is about," he said, before offering a thought on why it hadn't worked the first time. "People weren't quite ready to give their ideas. They were ready to say no."

Meanwhile, the project's wiki site–complete with voice intros from Bell and ANC 5C chairwoman Anita Bonds–is now live. Log in with your e-mail and zip code to access all the relevant studies and information about the development and design teams, sound off on message boards, post photos, etc.

EEK's Matt Bell puts words into lines on paper. (Lydia DePillis)

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  • Nolan

    Nice post, Lydia!

    I'd just add that you're missing one of the major issues to the neighborhood: storm water management.

    This is a big problem in Bloomingdale. The historic Tiber Creek runs down through Bloomingdale and residents around Thomas Street NW/2nd Street NW (and a few blocks in every direction from there) get flooded almost any time there is any amount of rain in DC. This hasn't been discussed much in the meetings, but I know it's going to come up as this project moves forward.

    Interestingly, the storm water management study that I've seen says that the water management will actually improve AFTER development (presumably since the filtration site doesn't offer much in the way of impervious surfaces through the old filtration cells and the new development would have a way to manage rain water).

    Despite that report, it may be a tough sell to some folks in the neighborhood who deal with basically annual flooding that things are going to improve with more users of the over-taxed sewer system upstream from them. I have a feeling it will take a lot of convincing to get those folks on board.

  • phoebe

    With all due respect to Mr. Lynch, who seems to have his hand in a considerable amount of the gentrification taking place in the District, presumably a result of his close ties with the city administration, he is not accurate in saying that "People weren't quite ready to give their ideas. They were ready to say no."

    People have been giving their ideas since the Barry administration bought the property in 1987, and "the city" has refused to listen or to consider anything but dense development. They have chosen to put good money after bad in a variety of meetings that have yielded virtually nothing. Twenty plus years after this all started, we're back at the same place--more meetings, more consultants, (paid with taxpayer dollars) more deterioration of the site with still mediocre, at best, development schemes promulgated by the city. Those schemes are what people say no to, not to the many ideas that the city refuses to even consider. Mr. Lynch himself is aware of ideas that citizens have offered; he has just refused to consider them.

  • Jeff

    In order to get neighborhood amenities, like retail, social services, work-force housing, open space and transit, a significant amount of density is required. Everyone wants amenities, yet few want to sacrifice anything to get them. At the very least, this project should be a zero sum item in the city's operating budget. I would like to see it generate tax revenue and justify better transit and retail. Density with some public space is the only way to accomplish this these means.