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DEVELOPMENT OR NOT?

City mulls McMillan Reservoir’s future

(Published January 10, 2000)

By EMORY JULIAN MILLS

Staff Writer

City planning officials are gearing up to begin a round of public sessions in early February that they hope will finally determine the fate of the long-dormant McMillan Reservoir site along North Capitol Street in Northwest Washington.

While residents of adjacent neighborhoods have long debated whether the huge tract should be developed for housing or retail use or simply turned into a historic park, interested observers expect the city’s forthcoming request for development proposals to put dollar signs in the eyes of local developers.

Stephen Raiche of the D.C. Historic Preservation and Review Board predicted at a recent planning meeting that there will be a lot of pressure to develop the site and encouraged area residents to make their views heard early.

"Twenty-five acres of open space is a tasty treat for development," he said.

The first of five Saturday workshops is scheduled for Feb. 12.

City Planning Director Andrew Altman, still trying to bring resolution to a simmering development controversy over the riot-scarred 14th Street NW corridor in Columbia Heights, has vowed that the process for community input on McMillan’s future will be fair and open.

"McMillan is a very important public site that is publicly owned," Altman said. "The planning process is certainly a way to balance a number of interests."

The D.C. Office of Planning on Jan. 6 convened the second of two meetings of a technical advisory group to introduce the group’s members to the planning process involving the McMillan Sand Filtration Site at the intersection of North Capitol Street and Michigan Avenue NW and to discuss the schedule of the process.

Altman said the community discussions are being held at the request of Councilman Vincent Orange, D-Ward 5, who asked that people living within a one-mile radius of the site be allowed to give input before the city issues a request for proposals to develop the site. A planning office map of the site identifies the neighborhoods that would be most affected by the development as Edgewood, Eckington, Park View, Bloomingdale and LeDroit Park.

According to a mission statement from the Office of Planning, the technical advisory group is not a decision-making body. The group is responsible for keeping community groups and organization members who missed workshops informed with up-to-date information about the process. Other responsibilities include communicating with the public and city agencies that may be involved with the site to ensure that the results of the process are disseminated and understood, getting information into the community workshop process that may have been missed or misunderstood during the workshops, and providing technical and community planning process insight to the Office of Planning.

About 20 people attended the meeting and signed affidavits that as members of the technical advisory group, they would not take part in any activity involving decision-making on the project.

Altman said the group is composed of advisory neighborhood commissioners in the surrounding area, as well as appointees of council members Charlene Jarvis, D-Ward 4, Jim Graham D-Ward 1, and Orange. While the McMillan site is located in Ward 5, it borders Wards 1 and 4.

The process, as outlined, includes five community workshops designed to identify goals, opportunities, constraints, land use options and sight design issues, as well as historic preservation and open space concerns. The process also would identify potential issues involving housing, retail and commercial activities, and how the site might impact institutions already in the area -- their employees, customers, students and people who might travel to the site from outside the area.

The planning office intends to conduct an architectural and engineering study to update a June 1990 study and present it at the first workshop, said Charles Zucker of the Office of Planning.

"This site is a very tricky site," said Zucker.

He said that although the workshops would take place a week apart, no definite timetable has been set for the entire process because the city has not completed the architectural study.

The Feb. 12 workshop is expected to include an overview of previous revitalization proposals from the last 10 years and discussion of opportunities, constraints, ward goals and issues, and larger issues affecting the area. The second workshop would entail discussions of historic preservation, open space, and neighborhood character. During the third workshop, participants would review their goals and sketch options. The fourth workshop would be a final review of all results. The fifth workshop would focus on discussion of the city’s request for development proposals.

Copyright 2000, The Common Denominator