Housing Complex

At McMillan, Developers Need a Little Help From the Neighbors

The consolidated comments from public workshops.

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: ldepillis@washingtoncitypaper.com.

  • samantha

    Leave Mc Millan alone . These plans only dilute the power of long time residents while lining the pockets of developers, overburdening the inftastructure and taking away valuable green space . This is an environmental cancer .

  • Indeed

    Has anyone else mistaken Jair Lynch for a twelve year old? The first time I saw him, I thought someone was playing a joke.

    Man, gymnastics is not good for you.

  • RT

    "Dilute the power of longtime residents" LOL

    You pimps and powermongers are too much. I don't live in that area of the city, but I can't wait to see the day that ugly industrial field ("greenspace" bwaahaha) gets ploughed under by earthmovers. It's inevitable, and nothing a bunch of anachronistic NIMBYs can do about it. Yeah, it may take these broke developers 10 years to do it, but someone will

  • Devoe

    Disagree Samantha - you have got to be kidding if you think Bloomingdale/Eckington residents get any value out of the supposed "green space" at McMillan - the time for development is now.

  • Nuclear Physicist/Brain Surgeon

    Jair Lynch fouls up everything he comes near. He never really develops anything, He insinuates himself into the process and then makes legitimate developers pay him a fee to go away. His whole scheme is a giant shake down scheme. Just like his DL sister Neal Albert he poses and postures and frets and whines but never really produces anything. He is a parasite.

  • Ellen

    The groundswell of support for Vince Gray in the mayoral race was substantially related to a widespread concern about the need to create jobs and economic benefit for all the citizens of the District. We have the basis for an amazing economic generator in the area around McMillan -- three universities, Washington Hospital Center, National Children's Medical Center, National Rehab Hospital, Howard University Hospital and the VA Medical Center. We also have large tracts of vacant land available at McMillan, Armed Forces Retirement Home and the 49 acres east of North Capitol now owned by Catholic University which were formerly part of AFRH, plus the fringe parking lot at Michigan and Irving. The medical/university facilities currently generate thousands of jobs, jobs with all levels of skill and education requirements. But they could be even stronger; we have several medical facilities which are severely space-constrained that not only provide patient care but are doing important research. The large amount of land available gives us the opportunity both to create jobs, and to create new housing, much of which could serve those employees to reduce the traffic impacts of new employment. The housing and jobs could help bolster the case for additional retail and services, and, if all this is done right, the new development could help turn what has been a traffic corridor into a livable, walkable neighborhood, with frequent Circulator or streetcar service linking it with the Brookland and Petworth Metro stations. A past study by the Office of Planning indicated that the underground infrastructure at the Sand Filtration site was so deteriorated that it wasn't even safe to use as playing fields, and the cost to restore it was enormous. I haven't seen the detailed plans for McMillan, but it seems to me that a plan which will use development on part of the site to help pay for stabilizing and fixing up some of the rest of the site for parkland and fields is a sound approach.

    @NS/BS - I totally disagere with the gratuitous swipe at Jair Lynch. Jair's company has numerous successful and excellent development projects it has completed. Jair himself and many of his partners/employees have donated time and money to numerous community activities. He does not deserve such a baseless and false attack.

  • OGNeighborC

    Samatha-- how are 25 acres of fenced off land valuable to anyone right now? When has anyone been allowed on that site? My neighborhood is stuffed to the gills with inaccessible "green" space-- McMillan, a cemetery, the Soldier's Home... who does it benefit, exactly? I'd like a usable park. And I don't mind if I get some walkable retail and job creation out of it-- thanks.

    NS/BS-- go back to school, son. baseless anonymous attacks are always classy!

  • ControlBored

    Lynch is a pretty smart developer and I'm always delighted when I see him attached to a project. If you know anything about the man, he loves to get input from the community, because he wants them to not only support the project, but share in a sense of ownership of the process. I can't say that for any other developer in this City.

    McMillian is nothing but an eyesore currently. Why not intelligently use the space to benefit the City and its residents.