Inside an 800-square-foot shop, D.C.-based social entrepreneur Ahmad Ashkar is using his Mom's falafel recipe to raise money for refugees.
The 25-acre field with rows of strange brick silos on North Capitol Street has long intrigued passersby. Is it home to a super secret bunker? An alien landing ground? Missile silos? It’s actually a historic water filtration plant that was in use until 1985. After decades of wrangling, the District has big plans for developing the site. The final mix of park, offices and shops is being decided on now, and neighbors, preservationists and developers are all weighing in.
- Jeff Miller Director, Real Estate Development, Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development
- Ronnie Edwards Chair of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 5-C.
- Tony Norman Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner 1-C; Chair of the McMillan Park Committee
- Jair Lynch President and CEO, Jair Lynch Development Partners
McMillan Sand Filtration Site Conceptual Plans
Summary of the proposed project to develop the McMillan Sand Filtration Site. Courtesy of the Government of the District of Columbia, Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning & Economic Development.
Alternative McMillan Sand Filtration Site Uses
A proposed use of the McMillan Sand Filtration Site includes transforming it into an urban farm or an urban beach. Courtesy of Prof. Miriam Gusevich, The Catholic University of America.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. The 25-acre field with rows of strange brick silos on North Capitol Street has long intrigued those who passed by. Is it a secret bunker, an old coal plant, a giant septic tank? In fact, the McMillan Sand Filtration Plant was built at the turn of the last century to clean the city's drinking water, and it was in use until the mid-'80s. It was also a park where families could stroll or picnic or even sleep under the stars on hot nights.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIIt was open to the public until World War II. Since then, figuring out what to do with this historic site has been a favorite project of architecture students, city planners, neighbors, developers, and, like any big development project, it's been contentious from the start. After decades of wrangling, D.C. has a plan in hand for developing the site. The final mix of park, offices and shops is being decided on right now, and joining us to discuss it is Jeff Miller. He is the director of real estate development in the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development. Jeff Miller, thank you for joining us.
MR. JEFF MILLERGood morning. Thank you for having me.
NNAMDIAlso with us is Jair Lynch. He is the principal with Jair Lynch Development Partners, one of the developers on the Vision McMillan Partners Team. Jair, good to see you again.
MR. JAIR LYNCHGood seeing you, Kojo.
NNAMDIIn studio with us also is Ronnie Edwards, chair of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 5C. Ronnie Edwards, thank you for joining us.
MR. RONNIE EDWARDSThank you. Glad to be here.
NNAMDIIt's a conversation I suspect a lot of people want to join. How you can do that is by calling 800-433-8850. What do you think the McMillan site should become? 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com, or send us a tweet, @kojoshow. Ronnie, you are the ANC for this neighborhood. Can you situate for those of our listeners who may not be familiar with the area exactly where is the McMillan site?
EDWARDSOh, you know, McMillan site is in Northeast Washington, just west of North Capitol Street.
NNAMDIWhich makes it northwest, doesn't it, if it's just west of North Capitol Street?
EDWARDSYou're actually right. OK.
EDWARDSIt's on the western side of North Capitol Street between Michigan Avenue, and, I guess, that would be down on the lower end of...
NNAMDIMichigan Avenue bounds it on one end. Fourth Street bounds it on another, and Channing bounds it on the other end.
EDWARDSChanning Street on the other end. That's correct.
NNAMDIActually, I used to work when WHUR Radio was on Fourth Street, directly across the street from the McMillan site, which is why I know it so well. But the site, the plant has a very interesting history going back to when it was built at the turn of the last century. Can each of you talk about what it actually was? Starting with you, Jair.
LYNCHWell, Kojo, this is a site that was part of the City Beautiful program to actually bring an industrial use to Washington, D.C. to clean the city's water. And so when you look at the lake, which is like a reservoir, to the west of First Street, you are looking at what was the drinking water for the city.
LYNCHWhen you look to the east of First Street between East and North Capitol Street, you are looking at where the machines, so to speak, worked. This was an industrial site in which they used sand to clean the water. And the combination of those two components on the east and west side of First Street is what everyone knows now as McMillan.
NNAMDIIt's my understanding that it was still used as a water filtration plant until 1985, correct, or somewhere around there? Jeff, the District bought this property in 1987, and there's been wrangling over what to do with it ever since then. But now, it seems there's a plan, after 25 years. Tell us about Vision McMillan Partners and how this plan came about.
MILLERCertainly, just going back to the '80s when we -- when the city purchased the property, the city purchased it from the federal government, and it was given a choice of whether it would purchase it for $8 million and change to do redevelopment on the site or purchase it for a dollar to put a park there. And it was the city's desire back in the '80s to do a redevelopment of the project to do -- to bring economic development to that part of the city. And subsequent to that, there's been multiple efforts to redevelop the site.
MILLERThe most recent was in 2007 when the project, which was originally controlled by a group called the RLA brought the project to the public -- or took the project out to the public through a request for proposal process. At which point, a group led by Eakin Youngentob won the rights to work with the city on the redevelopment. And Eakin Youngentob, it teamed with the Jair Lynch Companies and also Trammel Crow to fully build out the project.
NNAMDIAnd so that's who now constitutes the Vision McMillan Partners Team?
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call if you'd like to join the conversation. What do you think this area needs most -- shops, apartments, green space? 800-433-8850. The plan at this point is still fairly vague. They talk about design goals and principles. We have a link at our website, kojoshow.org, to the envision McMillan website. But can you describe the plans for the site?
MILLERCertainly. The project itself takes into account all of those uses you just described, both office space, community uses, green space and retail and housing. And it's about -- right now, we are discussing about 2 million square feet, which includes about 800,000 square feet of office. We think medical office to help complement the Washington Hospital Center across the street, about 600 units of workforce housing and seniors housing and about 75,000 square feet of retail, including a space that we've reserved for a grocery store.
NNAMDIHow has the District involved the community in this process? First, I'd like to hear from you and then from Ronnie Edwards.
MILLERSure. So this project has been discussed with the community since the original 2007 conversations with the VMP folks, and there's been over 85 meetings with the community to not only take in ideas and desires but also to share with them the direction that the project is headed. And as we head into our planned unit development submission process, which is a -- basically a zoning process with the Office of Planning, we are continuing those interactions with the community.
NNAMDIFrom you, now, Ronnie Edwards, how is -- what is your view of the level of community involvement and input?
EDWARDSWell, I think that the community has had sufficient opportunities to be involved in the process. Our views, I think, have been considered somewhat as this whole development phase has undergone -- been undertaken. And I think that it's represented in somewhat in the plans that have been produced by the city. I've attended numerous meetings all the way back to the early '80s and up to now as being chair of the ANC.
NNAMDIJeff, it also seems that neighborhood residents feel that, although the planners did seek community input, as Ronnie has pointed out, some felt that that input is not necessarily reflected in the plans. What say you?
MILLEROh, I understand that concern. And I think that whenever you do a planning process, there are folks who are going to want a different and more, you know, bigger spaces or less density. However, I think that this plan that we are -- we've been describing to the community is an excellent balance between the density, the scale of the community and what we are proposing, as well as significant amounts of green space, which we heard from the community was important to them. So I think that we've done our best to provide balance to a rather complex -- a complex conversation and development process.
NNAMDIIndeed, Jair Lynch, that balance is always a difficult one to strike between what residents of a community feel they want at that site and what a jurisdiction or a city feel needs to be at that site.
LYNCHIt is a delicate balance, and we feel that starting with a bold vision that talks about respecting and embracing the preservation of the aboveground structures -- the structures that people see when they drive down the street, it looks like silos coming out of the ground. It looks like sand bins by North Capitol Street.
LYNCHThe goal is to preserve the integrity of those service courts. The goal is to preserve the integrity of those silos and to also let people see what they weren't able to see. The site west of First Street was not accessible to the public. The site east of First Street was -- I'm sorry -- west of First Street was accessible, closer to the water.
LYNCHThat is still controlled by the federal government. The goal is to have that preservation come through in every component of the project, as well as the -- to create these very, very emotional connections to the open space and the way in which people can interact with the site because they've been yearning to get on the site since -- for -- since 2000 -- I'm sorry -- since World War II. And so providing access to the site between First Street and North Capitol is very integral into the plan.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones, here is Phil in Brookland. Phil, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PHILHi, Kojo. I'm worried about something, and this is a technical issue. It's not a matter of opinions, and I don't think the public has enough good information to decide that this development is safe. All of above there on the higher land going up toward Fort Taunton, there's an immense amount of development already approved at the Washington Hospital Center, the new VA hospital, the old armed forces retirement home. We already have a flooding problem in Bloomingdale, and flooding down that corridor has even affected the Mall.
PHILI mean, we flooded out the bottom of the National Archives not too long ago. I don't think that they have any way of handling the water problems that are being created there and that the results will be disastrous. And every time we raise the issue, we're told that the city is planning this and that and the next thing. But even those plans involving the underground tunnels to hold excess stormwater seem to be being put off and put off and put off. We're going to have a problem today, and the only real solution that's being proposed is decades away.
NNAMDIWhat do you see as an appropriate solution to what you characterize as the water problem?
PHILWell, I don't think it's a developable site if you pay attention to the context, given current circumstances, and I'd rather -- I'd much rather see that money spent on Rhode Island Avenue, on George Avenue, on our traditional borders.
NNAMDIHe doesn't think it's a developable site, Jair Lynch. Have you looked at this water problem? Not being familiar with the issue, I -- from a technical standpoint, I can't comment.
LYNCHWell, I actually live in the Shaw community and have suffered from flooding that's happened there over the last 10 years. The last time when we were flooded was about 2002. It is a concern for me as a resident. It is a concern for me as an owner of buildings that will be there. It is a concern for all the residents of the Bloomingdale and LeDroit neighborhood.
LYNCHAnd, collectively, we seek the opportunity to work with the D.C. Water Department to figure out how to not only take care of the site that does not have any stormwater management system now but also advocate for the long term improvements that the caller was referencing.
NNAMDIPhil, thank you very much for your call. Ronnie, open space is a big concern for the people living near the McMillan site. Clearly, there's not just one opinion about that. But it would appear that having a park is a major priority, right?
EDWARDSYes. Having a park -- and not so much a park but green space, I mean, that's been one of the questions, I mean, in terms of what do we do with the green space and what you want there, and, clearly, from a community's perspective, we're looking for -- to be able to maximize the green spaces there.
EDWARDSAnd then, of course, we want some facilities that will benefit the community that is immediately surrounding the area, but -- and, again, that's one of the issues that we're working with the city now on, in terms of trying to make sure that we get our fair share as it relates to green space and facilities, amenities to the community.
NNAMDIJair, what kind of park and recreation space exists in the current plan?
LYNCHCurrently, there's over eight acres of public open space, and that's about 20 -- about third of the site. It is very varied. It is of quality. There is one open space that is up at North Capitol and Michigan Avenue. There's a large central park. There are healing gardens at the north side on Michigan Avenue, all centered around this idea of creating this emotional connection to the site and having that connected to the history of the site.
LYNCHAnd so we hired Warren Byrd, who has won many awards around the country, has actually developed the number one park in the country with Citygarden in St. Louis. If you have a chance, please Google it and look at it. It is absolutely fabulous in terms of the way in which that he was able to sculpt the spaces with not only art, but also landscape and a pavilion and a place for people to gather. And we aspire to bring something of great quality, just like that.
NNAMDIAnother point before we go to a break, Ronnie, is that most people in the community are in favor, it would appear, of developing the site, and they don't only want park and green space, but tell us about a few of the other amenities that people would like to see there.
EDWARDSYeah, well, one of the things we want is a recreation center, a very nice recreation center and a nice swimming pool and those things. And then mostly, we want a grocery store open, and...
EDWARDSSupermarket, yes, and, you know, the things that can be beneficial to our kids as well as our seniors.
NNAMDIWhat are the plans there for housing, Jeff?
MILLERThe project itself has a scaling dynamic where most of -- or the most significant amount of the density on the project is on the north side off of Michigan Ave., and then it slowly scales down from that to multi-family housing, which is, you know, four- and five-story kinds of housing, and then down to a townhouse scale right across from Channing. So it reflects the existing historic developments that are across the street.
NNAMDIGot a lot of people on the phone who'd like to join the conversation. If you'd now like to join it, you'd probably have to go to our website, kojoshow.org, and ask a question or make a comment there, or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also shoot us a tweet, @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWe're talking for plans for the McMillan site here in Washington, D.C. that, I guess, is characterized by the intersection of North Capitol Street and Michigan Avenue Northwest, but is also bordered by Channing Street and Fourth Street Northwest. We're talking with Jair Lynch. He is principal with the Jair Lynch Development Partners, one of the developers of the Vision McMillan Partners team.
NNAMDIRonnie Edwards is chair of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 5C. And Jeff Miller is the director of real estate development in the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development. We are inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. And joining us now by phone is Tony Norman. He is the Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for 1C and chair of the McMillan Park Committee. That's an organization that represents the neighborhoods around the McMillan site. Tony Norman, thank you for joining us.
MR. TONY NORMANThank you, Kojo. Glad to be on the show.
NNAMDIIt's my understanding that you have been below ground. Most of us have only seen above ground at that site. What does it look like below ground?
NORMANWell, it's fascinating. Most people that go down there, they get a very spiritual, religious experience. It gives you -- it's sort of like a church sort of arches below. There's 20 acres. But also, we've been -- the community -- when I say, we, the community's been working on this site for over 20 years. We are the group that had the site designated a historic landmark.
NNAMDIYeah, it was a...
NORMANAnd I think people ought to know that William Taft, president, designated this site a national park. It was landscaped by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., who also did -- his firm did Central Park and the Capitol grounds. So it shows you the significance that the city gave to this site when they were creating this particular site.
NORMANAnd I think -- if I may add, that the...
NORMAN...problem why the community strongly opposes this in the -- the surrounding community feel very passionate about the site, particularly the senior citizens because many of them played on the site when they were younger. That's what got me involved. The senior citizens asked me to help them preserve this site. I want to correct one thing that I think Jair Lynch made a mistake on. He said the east side was not open to the public. That is not true.
NORMANThat was what's known as the Olmsted Walk. They couldn't go inside of the inner part of the site, but they could walk around it. There was an open walkway. It was fenced in after the war. So I just want to say that the problem we have with the present plan is not only is it too dense and too large, it simply does not respect the history of what this site is all about.
NNAMDIWhat would, in your view, be a plan that respects the history of the site?
NORMANWell, we submitted alternative plan. I think we have a couple architects that helped us. One of the things that we would show, there is a creek that runs under the site. Well, we would open that up. We would reduce the density of the site. You would have much more green space. You'll preserve much of the underground sales. And the key here is you would still keep the same -- basically the level of development, not as dense. But it still can financially sustain itself, and the city can get a -- gain a great deal of revenue.
NORMANSo the question is, do they want to make a great deal of profit or a little bit of profit and still meet the needs of the community? The problem here, another thing I want to correct, is that there was never really competitive bidding on this site. I mean, Jair Lynch made a mistake when he said they only selected that firm Vision for a different purpose, and that was a different organization. The city has yet to put the site up for public bid. That's part of the problem here.
NNAMDIWell, it is my understanding that there was competitive bidding and that there were six bids that were placed on that site. Why do you say there wasn't?
NORMANBecause those bids were not to do the vertical development that mean to build the buildings to actually develop the site. Basically, they were selected by the NCRC to really do studies, and the NCRC had visions themselves of being the master developer. So they weren't selected to be the master developer or the vertical developer. And I might add, the city is yet to select them.
NORMANThey're only technically (word?) the consultants on this project. The city is saying it's going to be the developer itself which we know is not going to happen. They're going to ultimately turn it over to these developers. But I don't want to...
NNAMDISo you are skeptical -- you are therefore, Tony, skeptical of the whole process itself, that the city taking the lead in developing this site. Why do you see that as an issue?
NORMANWell, the reason I say that's an issue because we know they're saying -- the city is saying it's going to be the developer. That's not going to be the case. They're going to eventually turn it over to Vision McMillan Partners and for a very low price. It's not going to even be competitive. And another reason is that...
NNAMDIBut that's not unprecedented. The city's developing St. Elizabeth's, for example, and Walter Reed is undergoing a similar process. Aren't these sites -- all three of those -- kind of unique requiring the city to take a different approach?
NORMANWell, no, that hasn't been done yet. They haven't done that yet. Those are still going through the process. This is the first project that they're going to say that they're going to be the developer. But let's be honest. They're not going -- the city is not going to be the developer on this project.
NORMANThey're going to turn it over to this development firm. And the reason they're doing this is because they want to take it through the Zoning Process and Historic Preservation Board, and the city is eating that cost. Normally, developer pays for the cost of Zoning and Historic Preservation Board. But now, we're going to eat that cost as taxpayers. Are the developers going to reimburse the city back for representing them before the Zoning Commission and Historic Preservation Board?
NORMANThat's part of the problem here. And another thing we have a problem with is -- and we've said this before of Jeff Miller, who's the person in charge. He works for the very developer that's on the project now, Trammell Crow. That's a conflict of interest. That's why these developers have a great sweetheart deal on this project. But I don't want to get too deep into saying this...
NNAMDIWell, in the final analysis -- because we don't have all day -- in the final analysis, Tony Norman, what would you like to see happen?
NORMANIn the final analysis, I think this is an opportunity for the city to do something great. To reduce -- this is something that national tourism can be drawn to this site. It was recommended by the National Capital Planning Commission to be a museum site to take some of the monuments off the Mall and put them there. So if you put museums, linked to development, which is what the community wants, parks, open space, you can do something great. You can do development.
NORMANCity can make a revenue. And everybody can be happy. You will get something like this if you had a true competitive bid. Another thing I want to say, that is the reason why there is not one community group that endorsed this plan. All of the civic associations -- Bloomingdale have opposed the present plan. Even Rodney Edwards' ANC refused to take a position. They haven't supported this plan yet.
NORMANOur ANC, 1D, voted strongly against it. Councilmember Mendelson wrote a letter saying that the present plan does not meet the requirements of the historic...
NNAMDIHe is no longer councilmember. He is Council Chairman Phil Mendelson at this point, and he will be our guest tomorrow on The Politics Hour. Thank for allowing me to get that little plug in. But, Tony Norman, thank you very much for joining us. Tony Norman is the Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for 1C and chair of the McMillan Park Committee which is an organization representing neighborhoods around the McMillan site. There are a lot of people who would like to get in on this conversation.
NNAMDIBut first, I'll start with you, Ronnie Edwards. You're chair of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 5C, and what we've heard Tony Norman saying is that, "The community opposes this plan." I have to say I get the impression that there are a wide variety of opinions in the community about this plan, and there is not, indeed, united opposition. But I could be wrong.
EDWARDSYeah. I mean, you're right. From a community perspective, I think, by and large, the community -- I think even through surveys of late that have been taken would demonstrate that a majority of the residents in the community would like to see some type of development on that site. The question is, how much? And that is where we have been working with the city and the developer to try to reach a medium where everybody is satisfied.
EDWARDSI want to take this opportunity also to commend Tony Norman and the rest of the community for their efforts to date in terms of where we are. I think we are -- where we are now exactly because of their persistence in terms of wanting to make sure that we preserve the quality of this historical site, and so that the plans that have been put forth by the city, while they may not be exactly what the community is looking for, they have come a long ways, I think, toward trying to make sure that they address some of the concerns that the community has raised.
EDWARDSAnd so -- and while our ANC, as he indicated, did not come out and fully support this plan, we did support the direction that is being taken here. And we're working with the city to try to make sure that we get more green space and that we get more amenities as -- in terms of benefit in the community.
NNAMDIRonnie Edwards is the chair of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 5C. Jeff Miller is the director of real estate development in the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development. Two questions for you, Jeff, a general one and a specific one. I'll start with the specific one. Tony Norman accuses you of actually working for the developer. Are you employed by the developer?
MILLERBeg your pardon. No, I'm not. I'm employed by the District of Columbia, and I'm a fiduciary for the mayor and the District of Columbia. And that's...
NNAMDIHave you at one point worked for this developer?
MILLERI've worked for many developers as a private sector person. And you probably can't throw a rock in this town without hitting someone with whom I've had some association with. And I'm bringing in that private sector background to this job. I think it was -- is important to the mayor and important for the citizens of the District obviously.
NNAMDIThe implication is that you are favoring a developer for whom you work. If you were -- if you have, in fact, worked for several private developers in the city, what possible reason would you have to favor this one?
MILLERI have no reason to favor this one. And we have been talking with the members of the VMP group, but we -- certainly, there is no sweetheart deal that is in the making.
NNAMDIDeveloping big projects will always create opposition. You care to comment on any of the general opposition that Tony Norman indicated about concerns of community members, for instance?
MILLERI think we are very sensitive to the concerns of the community. And that's why we've held multiple salons out in the community in the last two months, multiple meetings on Saturdays over the last several months to not only to show the community the direction we're heading but also to, again, solicit input. We're also in the middle of a conversation with them regarding community benefits and additional benefits to the community that are specific to this area.
MILLERBut I want to stress, too, that the most important part of this project to the mayor and the District of Columbia are the number of jobs that we're going to be able to create, the possibilities for workforce training, especially as it relates to health care, and then also the tax revenue that this project will eventually kick off over the next 30 years.
NNAMDIJair Lynch, one of the concerns that Tony Norman had was the role that the city is playing in helping to shepherd this project. True -- is it realistic to think of a project of this side or size or -- I mentioned Walter Reed. I also mentioned -- whatever the project I mentioned -- is it -- St. Elizabeth's - is it realistic to think that a project of this site can go through without some -- without the city doing something here?
LYNCHWell, I think, Kojo, you were dead on into start to cite some of the transformational projects that are happening around the city on District land. For many years, the District has been developing single sites with single buildings. And so in those cases, you often had the developer do a majority of the work. In this case, you have such significant public space, streets and infrastructure, as well as several goals that the District has in terms of neighborhood serving retail, job creation.
LYNCHAll of those things force the developer and the District to work hand-in-glove to be able to produce a fabulous plan that will be beneficial to the neighborhood. One of the things that we're very mindful of is not to overwhelm this site. So it has 2 million visitors from a variety of uses that are non-compatible with a mostly residential neighborhood.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones, where several people await us. We'll start with Paula in Mount Rainier, Md. Paula, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PAULAHi there. My first time calling, and I love your show. It's not a coincidence, since last Friday I met someone in the bank, (word?), talk about hydroponics. And then yesterday a security alarm guy was coming by, and he talked about hydroponics. And I'm working on my farm in North Carolina to start hydroponics. And I think that would be a wonderful idea. I represent H&H Contracting. We were talking about taking the abandoned buildings and do food, you know, layers and layers of hydroponics to support local farmers.
PAULAI think you -- there was a show yesterday that --a fellow in Baltimore. And I think that's a wonderful idea supporting local farmers. And it would be a win-win for everyone: A watershed, trade school to teach children how to grow food, the senior -- and deliver the food, to teach them how to give, to deliver the food to senior citizens. And, like the fellow said earlier, like a sanctuary.
PAULAIt's a spiritual emphasis in the whole community. Food, you know, like the tree of life, Earth, seeds, sun, water and exercise. And I think the hydroponics is a wonderful idea without soil being depleted and the chemtrails messing up the soil and...
NNAMDIOK. Thank you very much, Paula. I'll put this one to Jeff Miller. Jeff Miller.
MILLERNo, I appreciate the call. And I'm a big fan of urban farming myself, so I am sensitive to it. I don't know how to speak to the specifics of hydroponics. I will say, to the extent that these cells that we've been talking about provide some intrigue, they are interesting, but they are also dangerous. They are not made of structural concrete. They're not areas that we, right now, would feel comfortable being habitable or even explorable because of -- and, in fact, some of them have actually collapsed over the years.
MILLERAnd so while we are sensitive to the intrigue about the cells, as they are described, the city is putting tremendous amount of money into historic preservation of some of those cells, as well as the above-grade structures and into the park that we've been describing, all the green spaces. And so I think we're -- again, I want to go back to the theme of balance. I think we're doing the best we can to balance the development on the site with plenty of open space. And as Jair mentioned, we have about 35 percent of the site is actually open space at this point.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Paula. Here is Steve in Silver Spring, Md. Steve, your turn.
STEVEHi. I'm a recently retired D.C. employee. I'm also a fisherman, and I have been drooling over that pond ever since I've seen it. I know there's got to be some big (word?) fish, or you need to put some in there because, for one thing, that'll control mosquitoes. But -- and the other thing is a D.C. fishing license brings revenue into the city, and that's a good thing. But you may have to worry about the Canada geese.
STEVEYou're going to have to have a mortar to probably get rid of them. But anyway, I really, really truly hope that, in terms of the recreational things -- and for the senior citizens, by the way, if they don't know already, D.C. does not charge a fee for a license, for a senior citizen over 65.
NNAMDIJair Lynch, clearly people have been, as they would say, eyeing up this site for a variety of different purposes.
LYNCHAnd thank you. The caller is absolutely right that the pond, the reservoir, whatever you want to call it, the nickname is going to be wide in a variety in terms of what people think about it. But the reality is everything between First Street and Howard University is still owned by the federal government. That is where the original park was. That is where the water is. And we look to the community, and have looked to the community, to advocate of how to get access to the federal government component of the McMillan site.
LYNCHThe District only controls and is only looking to develop the items between First Street and North Capitol Street. But it is a strictly an amazing opportunity in Central Park. We talked about Olmsted earlier. Central Park, you can actually get very close to the reservoir. Here, the fence line is out at the street level at Michigan Avenue and Fourth Street.
LYNCHSo we have thrown our hands in the air to say the community is very, very excited, but have not been able to be able to convince the Army Corps of Engineers to bring that fence line in and give people access. We hope that this development and the pulling together of many of the affinity groups will actually be able to open up new conversations with the Army Corps.
NNAMDIWhich is the question I was clumsily trying to raise earlier. And that is the comparison to Walter Reed and St. Elizabeth's is that, in all of these cases, the feds own and still control a part of this land. Would any developer touch a hot button historic site like any of these without the city to help it navigate through the process?
LYNCHNo. I mean, you absolutely need to set the framework for a vision and a plan, and the city is responsible for doing that. And also entitlements, infrastructure, stormwater management, all of those things are very much integral into taking an old federal site and moving it into a place where jobs and tax revenue can be generated.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. If you have called, stay on the line. We'll try to get to your call. If you're trying to get through, go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. Also see some photos of what the McMillan site looks like right now. You can also send email to email@example.com or send us a tweet, @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWe're talking about redeveloping the McMillan site with Jeff Miller, director of real estate development in the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development. Ronnie Edwards is the chair of Advisory Commission 5C. And Jair Lynch is the principal with Jair Lynch Development Partners, one of the developers on the Vision McMillan Partners team. Jair, is the development team responsible for any repurposing of the underground cells at the site?
LYNCHWe feel that it's very much part of the vision to not only respect and highlight all of the above-ground features -- silos, service courts, doorways, all the way down to entrances -- but we also feel that it is a responsibility to incorporate in the development plan preservation, while securing it with structural foundations and structural support, preserving a component of the underground cells so people can understand the mechanical nature of this site and the fact that that's where the water was being filtered by the sand.
LYNCHSo we definitely have, in the plan, the opportunity to allow people to get underground and visually understand and see what those underground cells are like. But, as Jeff mentioned, many of those cells have already collapsed. They were un-reinforced. There have been significant deterioration.
LYNCHAnd therefore it is in our best judgment that a good balance is to preserve cells in two different locations: one in the Central Park and one in the retail commercial district that'll happen at the north service court, which will lead to all kinds of interesting opportunities in terms of repurposing that underground cell in terms of hydroponics or a cafe or something else. And we think that that's very exciting and could make the place special.
NNAMDIOn to the phones again. We start with Hugh Youngblood, who identifies himself as ANC 5C03 commissioner from the Bloomingdale community. Hugh, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MR. HUGH YOUNGBLOODHi, Kojo. Thank you for having me on the show, and thank you for getting this dialogue together. I'd like to start by refuting a couple of the points made by your guest. Mr. Lynch asserted that one of the finest parks in the city was designed by someone. But I think many of us in the community would respect Olmsted as -- that designed the most amazing parks in the U.S. And he designed McMillan Park that the city now proposes to destroy. Another point -- and stormwater...
NNAMDIWell, actually, it was his son, Frederick Olmsted, Jr., who designed McMillan.
YOUNGBLOODIt was Olmsted firm, yes, sir.
NNAMDIGo ahead, please.
YOUNGBLOODOK. So Mr. Lynch asserts there's currently no stormwater management features at McMillan Park, yet McMillan Park currently serves as the largest and oldest green roof on the planet, one popular form of sustainable stormwater management these days. Another thing is traffic. So the biggest thing concerning the Bloomingdale community is the downstream impacts of traffic on First Street and North Capitol.
YOUNGBLOODIf one were to add 2,000 new cars or houses or whatever these guys are proposing in the same amount of density up the north end of Bloomingdale, the traffic impact downstream to Bloomingdale will be absolutely out of control. And that's the number one political problem in the Bloomingdale community right now is traffic, parking. And that's kind of a fundamental problem with their proposal.
YOUNGBLOODThe site lacks any access to transportation infrastructure. There's no Metro. There's no streetcars. There's no -- even cross grid pattern of streets surrounding the site. It's bounded by one side by a cemetery, another side by Howard University, the north side by a hospital, and it's, like -- it's the absolute worst place to develop anything from a transportation perspective, so...
NNAMDIOK. Hugh Youngblood, there's someone else who wants to raise that issue. So allow me to go directly there to David in Washington, D.C. David, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DAVIDKojo, thank you for taking my call. I couldn't agree more with the speaker who just spoke. I'm an attending physician at Washington Hospital Center. The Metro stop that's closest to the hospital complex is at Catholic University, and that's all I'm going to say. Thank you.
NNAMDIDavid, you make it seem as if you're upset because this will affect you personally getting to work.
DAVIDI have an office downtown on L Street, and I drive over to the Hospital Center to go and teach the residents in the department I work at. And one day, because of the congestion, it took me an hour to get into the complex. There are four big hospitals over there and two big physician office buildings.
NNAMDIOK. Thank you very much for your call. Jair Lynch, how about traffic? Jeff Miller, how about traffic?
LYNCHWell, thank you for the calls. Traffic is a big concern for us as well because if you have traffic jams around your sites, around your parks, around your retail, you do not have a good development. Right now, there are over 14 different shuttle services that are coming out of the Washington Hospital Center and the four hospitals there. There are parking lots that are actually rented by the hospitals throughout the area. All of those things are trying to mitigate traffic.
LYNCHWe think that one of the best ways to mitigate traffic is actually have a place in which people can live and work close by and can walk to work and be part of a healthy lifestyle and a healthy living. We also know that the Office of Planning has, in their long-term strategic plan, a light-rail system, a streetcar system that would cut east-west from Columbia Heights to the Catholic metro. By actually having this plan go forward, we hope to accelerate those plans so they're not a decade out, and they could actually coincide with the overall build out of this over the next 10 years.
NNAMDIAnything to add to that, Jeff Miller?
MILLERYes. And, first of all, I want to thank Hugh Youngblood for calling in. I know he's very passionate about this issue. And we've spoken multiple times about it. The planned unit development process that we hope to commence in -- imminently will take into account -- or it will include agencies from all over the city, including the Department of the -- DDOT, I beg your pardon.
MILLERAnd DDOT will be focused specifically, not only on the permeability of the site and some of the cross-traffic that was described earlier and the network, but also it will be focused on how we improve the intersections at Michigan and North Capitol, how the traffic gets mitigated, the entrances into the site and left turn -- left-hand turns, all of those things. And we'll also take into account the broader development possibilities for the area. So the PUD process is really the vehicle by which the city gets to analyze in detail how the project functions with its -- within its environment.
NNAMDIRonnie Edwards, we talked earlier with the president of the Bloomingdale Civic Association, Teri Quinn, who said the community members have been and really engaged in this for quite a long time, and some have developed what she called McMillan fatigue -- been through this before. They won't believe anything until they see cranes actually go up. To what extent is there an appetite in the community for starting this whole process all over again?
EDWARDSWe're definitely not for that, I mean, not for starting all over again. We're for moving forward, but moving forward in a way that shows respect for the existing community and shows that the existing community -- not the new people that are coming in -- are going to be able to benefit from the things that are going in there. And so I'm -- again, I want to commend the city and the developer for the steps that it has taken so far.
EDWARDSI think what I'm hearing from Commissioner Youngblood and from others as we sort of listen here on this conversation is that what the community would like to see probably, as we are talking about the development of this site -- we'd like to see more talks about, you know, advancement of a light-rail system that Jair talked about earlier and putting that stuff up to the forefront so that the community is fully aware of how traffic is going to be mitigated and all of those kinds of concerns.
EDWARDSWe don't want to see the development go up, and then it's an afterthought. We want to make sure that it is a part of the overall planning process for getting the site up and running.
NNAMDIJeff, a number of alternative plans were submitted, including one of the request at the -- of the Office of Planning. It was developed by Stanley Hallet and Miriam Gusevich of Catholic University's architecture school, with the idea of exposing the underground arcade to create a large market area and an urban beach. Were ideas like that seriously considered?
MILLERI have to confess that that would be before my time and -- but I would have to say that, based on my understanding of that plan, while interesting, probably did not have the same amount of community benefit and District benefit in terms of both density and revenue to the city and other opportunities for workforce development. So I think that we've looked at a number of plans historically, and I think that -- I'm sure that some of the ideas of prior plans have been included in the discussions and in the final plan that we're discussing today.
NNAMDIWell, you also have Phil Mendelson who is now the chair of the D.C. Council. And this was mentioned earlier by Tony Norman. He's asked the Historic Preservation Board to reject the proposal. Has the Council had any input on this as far as you know?
MILLERWell, certainly we've been discussing this with the prior Ward 5 councilmember, as well as we have introduced -- and the new council five ward member has been...
MILLER...is not only a neighbor of this site but has been...
NNAMDILives right on North Capitol Street, he told us, yes.
MILLERThat's right. He is very interested in the site, and he's been kept up to speed on it. In fact, we each had a briefing with the deputy mayor this morning. But I think, also, the former chairman Kwame Brown has been focused on this as the leader of the economic development group. And we will be doing the same thing with Michael Brown, who's now the current economic development oversight chairman on the Council.
NNAMDIHere now is Grace in Bowie, Md. Grace, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
GRACEHi, Kojo. Just talking about development in Washington, D.C., as somebody who works in D.C., I haven't heard any rumblings -- or I'm just really shocked that the cement factory has been approved by the board, the D.C. board, to be built 500 feet near a residential facility in Washington, D.C. where 16 to 24-year-old -- a vocational facility where 16 to 24-year-olds live year round. And we here at the facility have tried our best to bring this issue to the fore, but it appears that somehow...
NNAMDIDoes this have anything to do with the McMillan site, Grace?
GRACEWell, this is the -- you guys talked about a smokestack, so I thought, you know, there was -- there's a cement factory that's been built here. But my point is I have a concern about the way in which development occurs without the consensus of the community. We've got -- right here in Ward 8, there's a lot of folks who live within one mile of this proposed cement factory, and nobody seems to be talking about it. So I just wanted to bring that up in case later on, Kojo, you want to look...
NNAMDIWell, yeah, that's one of the issues we may be looking at later on. Right now, we're looking at the McMillan site. But I do appreciate your broader point. And, Ronnie Edwards, how difficult is it to achieve consensus? I mean, we've heard various people say they speak for the community. I have said earlier that there seems to be a variety of opinion in the community. Is consensus realistic?
EDWARDSWhere everybody agree?
EDWARDSI think the best that you can get is I think where we are, where you can try to gauge the community and determine what the majority of the people would like. And we think we have clear information here that would indicate that a majority of people would like to see this site developed and that we just want to make sure that it is developed to the benefit of those of us that live here now.
NNAMDIRonnie Edwards, he is chair of Advisory Commission 5C. Thank you so much for joining us.
EDWARDSYou're welcome. I'm very glad to be here. It's a good show.
NNAMDIJair Lynch, he is the principal with Jair Lynch Development Partners, which is one of the developers on the Vision McMillan Partners team. Jair, thank you for joining us.
LYNCHThank you, Kojo. Since we talked about Ward 8, go see the new library that just opened at Bellevue. David Adjaye did a wonderful job. That's the kind of aspirational places that we want to create like at McMillan.
NNAMDIInternationally renowned architect. Jeff Miller is the director of real estate development in the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development. Jeff Miller, thank you for joining us.
MILLERIt was a pleasure. Thank you.
NNAMDIBefore we wrap up this conversation, we'd like to ask you for some help with programming. We're interested in exploring stories of International Washington, local stories that touch on global issues and immigrant communities. Are you a member of an international community in the Washington region? Is there an interesting international news story that's playing out in your local community? What churches, what bars or other cultural institutions serve to hold your international community together?
NNAMDIAre there interesting people or traditions you think we should be covering? Or, if not, have you passed by a local pick-up soccer game or cricket game or wandered the aisles of a supermarket and wondered how a specific immigrant community ended up converging in your neighborhood? Send us your local global story suggestions on our website, kojoshow.org. Click on the link at the top of the page and volunteer your story and expertise on WAMU's Public Insight Network. Again, go to kojoshow.org and click on the link at the top of the page. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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