At McMillan, Developers Need a Little Help From the Neighbors
With a budget gap yawning into the next few years, Mayor-elect Vince Gray has put developers on notice that not all of their big projects—Hill East, Walter Reed, the Southwest Waterfront, to name a few—will get the public funding they were expecting.
That puts them all in competition with each other to move to the front of the line. Community backing is one factor that could push them ahead, and developers on one of those projects—the McMillan sand filtration site—are working overtime to get neighbors on board.
On Saturday morning, the master planner and landscape architect on the 25-acre project will present a concept plan, after several meetings to gather community feedback. And this week, developers Jair Lynch, Aakash Thakkar of EYA, and Adam Weers of Trammell Crow have been meeting in small groups with interested residents to explain what they want to do, and ask for “advocacy” to make it happen.
In Monday’s evening session at the Big Bear Café, the developers made the case for their plan: It’ll be a world-class medical center to rival Johns Hopkins, complemented by a variety of types of housing, and neighborhood-serving retail—just the kind of project that should appeal to a Mayor who just ran on a platform of getting people back to work.
“We have the ability to be the superstar in the portfolio the District has,” said Weers, who will be developing the three medical office buildings (two will be occupied by Medstar and the Childrens National Medical Center, with one left over for smaller offices). “When you really get into the job creation of this project, it’s very, very unique.”
Though other projects are further along in the planning stages, the McMillan team is banking on winning over the long-skeptical community ahead of time, to make the multiple layers of development review go more smoothly.
“They might be two months ahead of us in the regulatory process,” said Lynch, of the Southwest Waterfront. “But if they have a protracted community process in the middle of it, they might be a 2014 groundbreaking.”
In addition to convincing city regulators that the funding is needed, the developers need the community’s help to land the kind of retail that will make the project work. Numbers-wise, McMillan isn’t a shoo-in: A survey done by North Capitol Main Streets found that there are 12,000 people within a half mile radius of the site, with a median income of $39,000, who collectively spend about $16 million a year in groceries, or $25 per person per week. In Georgetown, while there are fewer residents, that number is closer to $100.
McMillan isn’t just competing with District sites for that kind of retail—it’s also competing with locations in Virginia and Maryland that have caught on to the urbanist ethos (Lynch just recently started branching out himself).
Getting a grocery store to come under those conditions, Lynch warned the group, might take an effort on the level of the community mobilization to woo Whole Foods on P Street.
“It’s going to take advocacy,” he said. “Not just us going to Las Vegas.”
It quickly clicked in some peoples’ heads why Lynch, Thakkar, and Weers were spending so much time up front to interface with residents, making the case for density, creating a park that fit their expectations. They can’t make it happen without substantial community support.
“The value of you being here is getting us on your team,” one woman observed.
“That’s right,” Lynch answered.
Hey, I'm finally writing about this for the print issue! If you've got particular knowledge or insight into how the developers have functioned through this whole process, drop me a line: firstname.lastname@example.org.