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What is the Save McMillan Park Lawsuit All About?

Friends of McMillan Park and other historic preservation
organizations have joined in filing a legal appeal of the District of
Columbia Government’s zoning and preservation decisions that would
allow for demolition of 80 to 90% of the historic, below-grade vaults
and numerous other historic features combined with high-density
commercial development on the 25-acre, DC-owned portion of historic
landmark McMillan Park. The appeals also challenge the proposal to
subdivide the historic site into several parcels for sale to commercial
high-rise developers who aspire to turn McMillan Park into a suburban
office park reminiscent of Tysons Corner.
The Friends organization has been working with legal counsel
since 2014 before the case went before the DC Historic Preservation
Review Board, the Mayor’s Agent for Historic Preservation, and the
Zoning Commission under the assumption that these District
government agencies would approve this commercial development
proposal that has plagued our community since at least the Fenty
Administration. That assumption proved true.
After the Mayor’s Agent and Zoning Commission decisions for
McMillan became public in April 2015, we immediately began the
appeal process by filing petitions for review with the DC Court of
Appeals. The court accepted our preservation and zoning appeals and
consolidated them into one case. We filed our opening brief for the
case this past week. We currently have no date for the first appearance
in court on this matter although we expect that it may be some months
away.
Here are our main arguments, in plain language:
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High-density zoning for McMillan Park is inconsistent with the DC
Comprehensive Plan and the Future Land Use Map
recommendations of low-to-moderate density zoning.

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Because McMillan Park has been a DC Historic Landmark since 1991
(and also is listed in the National Register of Historic Places),
demolition of a significant portion of the site’s protected historic
resources is inconsistent with the protections afforded by the DC
Historic Landmark and Historic District Protection Act.

-

The Mayor’s Agent decision to permit demolition and subdivision of
this DC Historic Landmark did not consider alternatives that could
achieve the “special merit” objectives of the proposal, as required
by the Preservation Act.

-

The proposed development project does not satisfy the “high
standard” required of a project of “special merit” (required in order
to waive the statutory preservation restrictions) because the
majority of the development proposal, such as the commercial
medical office buildings has no demonstrated special merit.

McMillan Sand Filtration Site is a unique and irreplaceable landmark
that should be developed in a manner consistent with the site’s historic
character and within existing zoning guidelines. The project should also
align with the concerns and wishes of the surrounding community
expressed consistently for decades. As such, McMillan Park needs a
competitive, open bidding process or a Request for Proposals (RFP)
solicitation like the District government used for the St. Elizabeth’s,
Walter Reed, and Franklin School redevelopment projects. The McMillan
Park redevelopment deal before us today devolved long ago into the
current no-bid, sole-source plan that violates DC Government
procurement law. McMillan Park deserves an open design competition
like the one used for The High Line redevelopment project in New York
City.
What might the Court do if it agrees with us? We hope that the
Court of Appeals will grant our petitions to review and vacate the DC
Government’s zoning, demolition, and subdivision decisions. We hope
that this will happen and that a new ethical, community-driven
development process will begin — consistent with the District’s
existing rules, regulations, and laws, and with the wishes of the people
of the District of Columbia,
Sincerely,
John Salatti, Kirby Vining, and Hugh Youngblood
Board of Directors
Friends of McMillan Park