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McMillan Reservoir plans already meeting friction

(Published August 9, 1999)

By OSCAR ABEYTA

Staff Writer

A third attempt to develop the 25-acre McMillan Reservoir site near Michigan Avenue and North Capitol Street is getting off to a shaky start. Area residents have already begun to question the need for development on the site and the organization chosen to explore options for the land.

Two previous attempts to bring commercial development to the site have failed. The first attempt resulted in a lawsuit brought against the city by a neighborhood group called the McMillan Park Committee. The committee managed to get the site designated as a historic landmark and derailed plans by the city to develop the land.

Last February, the city council shot down another request for proposals to develop the site and sent it back to the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) so the agency could rewrite it.

North Capitol Neighborhood Development Inc. (NCND) was selected by DHCD to host a community "charrette" to help outline community preferences for development on the site. NCND will receive up to $75,000 to run the charrette, which will be used to write the new request for proposals. The charrette would bring together area residents, designers, housing experts and engineers to shape a plan for what development is desired and possible for the site.

Tony Norman, chairman of the McMillan Park Committee, said he sees a conflict of interest in allowing the North Capitol group to participate in the charrette since it could also bid on any future developments there.

"We want it to be a fair and open process, and we’re concerned that this group has a vested interest in the site," Norman said. "They’re setting the parameters of the RFP (request for proposals) and then they want to turn around and become a bidder."

He submitted a letter to Advisory Neighborhood Commission 5C asking them not to support the charrette unless NCND recuses itself from bidding on any development proposals.

"We would look to ultimately have some role in the development of the site, without a doubt," NCND president Arthur Dade said.

Dade said the organization has already done some preliminary work to organize the charrette and is hoping to set up a community advisory panel quickly in order to start the process within the next month. He said public forums will take place in mid- to late-October.

McMillan Reservoir is one of the largest undeveloped tracts in the District. Because the land is currently not zoned and has historic landmark status, any development proposed for the site would have many hurdles to jump in order to get approval. Developers would have to get approval from the Historic Preservation Review Board, the D.C. Zoning Commission, the National Capital Planning Commission and probably the Fine Arts Commission as well.

The District bought the land from the federal government in 1987 and has been trying to find a way to get it developed ever since. It used to be the largest slow filter water treatment plant in the country, operating from 1905 to 1981.

The city council last year altered the District’s comprehensive plan to change the designation of the site from open space to moderate-density, mixed-use development.

Copyright 1999, The Common Denominator