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New Plans for the McMillan Sand Filtration Redevelopment

by Shilpi Paul

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Courtesy of VMP.

In preparation for an upcoming hearing before the Historic Preservation Review Board, Vision McMillan Partners (VMP) has revamped their designs for the redevelopment of the McMillan Sand Filtration site.

In July, the HPRB presented the developers with a lengthy list of critiques. The overarching request was for a simplified and more unified design that further highlighted the historic elements (check out the specific critiques here.)

In response, VMP has come back with an altered plan.

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Rowhouses.

Generally, the office complex, grocery and multifamily building, and rowhouses, which are all being designed by different architects, are now more cohesive. They are within the same color palette — white and dark charcoal, with wooden accents — and are all oriented in the same, rectangular direction with square angles (earlier plans had a diagonally-oriented structure and some sharper angles).

The rowhouses are now organized in smaller, vertical clusters, rather than horizontal blocks, and are also within the white and charcoal palette. Each home has an individual entrance, but appears to be a part of a single, larger building.

The buildings have also been pulled back from the perimeter, to allow for a enhanced Olmstead walk. In the North Service Court area, the buildings have been pulled back from the silos.

The community center, which received praise from the HPRB at the last hearing, appears to be largely unchanged.

VMP hopes to go before the HPRB on the 24th to hear comments on the newest plans, and will be visiting various neighborhood groups over the next month. You can see their plans here. More renderings below.

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Medical office buildings.
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An aerial view of the new plan.
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The multifamily and grocery building.
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This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/new_plans_for_the_mcmillan_sand_filtration_redevelopment/7661

29 Comments

  1. JOHN HINES said at 4:23 pm on Monday October 7, 2013:

    Boy, this is looking really ugly.

  1. Daniel Goldon Wolkoff said at 4:32 pm on Monday October 7, 2013:

    The park is there, and only institutional racism of DC officials kept it closed since 1986. We must restore the park. Have a system of trails, green spaces and open air. McMillan must be for the people, and “World Class” recreation/education/cultural/arts park.
    Solve the flooding naturally and by re-developing the Washington Hospital Center Complex where it is needed and the source of the storm water runoff.
    These designers are failing, fumbling, revising because they are not capable of redesigning an Olmsted Park into a mega development. Could you repaint the Mona Lisa? We must force the hacks in the DC council to preserve the valuable park we must oppose “surplussing” the racketeering “give-away” and the $319 million subsidy, to these failed designers, and stop forcing this contrived wrong project down our throats. The mayor and city council are distorting the very plan of our city and leaving us no open space, no parks, and their preference for serving the well off white people in upper NW needs to stop. Correct the imbalance in parks, stop the destructive super-urbanization and get rid of the whole group of hacks and prosecute the mayor for massive electoral fraud! Go to
    http://www.friendsofmcmillan.org and join the fight!It is your park, your land, your future, and for your kids to live in a decent place.

  1. Anonypants said at 6:17 pm on Monday October 7, 2013:

    Oh clam up, Wolkoff. It’s not a freaking park. It’s a defunct public works project. If left empty as you propose, it will be a perfect site for drug dealing and other mischief.

  1. Anonypants said at 6:20 pm on Monday October 7, 2013:

    Also - note the map of signatures on the “Friends of McMillan” site. First, there aren’t very many of them. Second, they’re mostly from other parts of the city FAR from the site. Third, there’s a noticeable crater around the actual site. The neighbors want this, so please stop with your tantrums.

  1. Sherman Circle said at 6:24 pm on Monday October 7, 2013:

    I am 100% in favor of development and just as fond of creative design. This is not creative, its just a mess, especially the rendering of the first building. It looks like the FBI building’s long lost cousin.

    Let’s try this again folks. Try to plan something that will stand the test of time, not the next five years.

  1. Phil H. said at 10:37 pm on Monday October 7, 2013:

    It’s not very aesthetically appealing, and frankly needs a redesign.  Anonypants is right—McMillan isn’t currently a park at all.  It’s an eyesore which should be redone to attract young families and professionals into the District.  Wolkoff sounds a little extreme in his rant.  Enough with the victimization already, and consider drinking decaf.

  1. Catfish said at 12:03 am on Tuesday October 8, 2013:

    This is heartbreakingly bad planning and design.  This is a good development team but it really needs to step back and try and get this right.

  1. Todd said at 5:35 am on Tuesday October 8, 2013:

    Well, the first word that comes to mind is “Vindictive.” Here is the result of a design process where the development team has dropped all pretensions of creating a quality human space and now just wants revenge on the community that has given them so much trouble over the years. Each time I console myself with “at least they can’t possibly come up with a worse look/feel that than giant slag heap of a building” and Voila! they break all of my expectations!! They are a truly talented design team!

    How do i HATE thy concept, well let me count the ways:

    1) “Sanitorium Chic” is what i would call the look feel of this rowhouse and office development except for that i’ve seen mental wards with more charm (st. elizabeths for example). When the HPRB said to harmonize the concept, i think they meant to the “greatest common denominator” and not to “least common demoninator.”

    2) I don’t know about you but what i heard from HPRB was that there should be LESS road and not more of it. Less grid and not more of it. Less asphalt and not more of it. Good thing is that with this much added hardtop in our community it should raise the ambient temperature by 10 degrees get rid of all that pesky snow that plagues us once per decade.

    3)On the office buildings: I love how that “band design” references DC’s over populated prisons and really brings the feeling of incarceration into the public realm. I think you can see this EXACT same concept on K street at Farragut West .... And it really has aged gracefully there hasn’t it???

    4) That grocery store/multi family unit looks like a visual punishment.. Looks like brutalism collided with a Chipotle.

    5) I noticed also that you left that great green dumpster on top of the community center. Nice touch.

    Folks, try this fun experiment: put the words “Public Housing” into the Google search engine and then hit “images” and scroll down and you can find a building that matches nearly EVERY one of VMGs proposed designs in that photo montage. I’M NOT KIDDInG…this is the calibre of what VMG is shooting for.

    Time to take this out of the hands of this clearly incompetent design team and go with some expert

  1. adam said at 10:14 am on Tuesday October 8, 2013:

    This is precisely why planning by bureaucracy doesn’t work.  Their first plan was pretty good.  Maybe not perfect, but it was good.  This one is horrendous.  Now they’ll be trading plans and comments with the HRPB, ANC, zoning committee, etc. for years while nothing gets built.

  1. Common Denominator said at 11:13 am on Tuesday October 8, 2013:

    1   Move park to middle section (The site may not be a ‘park’ right now but is publicly owned land)
    2   North section apartment building, grocery store medical offices – Improve architecture.  VMP architecture just looks bad
    3   Townhouses in south section with maybe a midrise condo / apartment at the Southeast corner

    Mix the VMP plan with this http://friendsofmcmillan.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/McMillan-Park-CCS.jpg 

    “ It’s an eyesore which should be redone to attract young families and professionals into the District.”  I disagree with this statement. It is in poor condition, if restored it could be beautiful, however,  to get it restored there will need be reasonable development integrated into the site.  The site should be developed for DC residents, current DC residents.  The people who live in the neighborhood now whether they have lived there 5 years or 50 years should be the first consideration in developing this city owned land.

  1. Stronghold Resident said at 11:16 am on Tuesday October 8, 2013:

    This design seems to conform to the stated goals of the HPRB: they wanted more cohesiveness, more of the walkway surrounding the site and increased set-backs. That’s what the team gave them. Does it look great? Well, no, the renderings do not look great (of course aesthetics are subjective). The shapes of the buildings make much more sense, but the multifamily and grocery building facades could use a reworking.

    Based on the past few hearings it seems like the HPRB will probably call the design team out on the “black and white” theme they’ve come up with. One failing of this design is that it drastically separates the surrounding neighborhoods from the McMillan development: it would be nice to see some brick in there, or at least something that does not make the site seem so incongruous. However, the organization of the buildings is better than the last design iteration, so that seems like a positive step.

    Overall, it needs some tweaks, but getting closer.

  1. xmal said at 12:13 pm on Tuesday October 8, 2013:

    Second the Stronghold Res comment above: the rowhouses are looking good, I think due to their classical inspiration—-symmetrical design with a bottom, middle, and top and various levels of detail. The office and multi-family buildings could use some of that inspiration . . .

  1. david said at 1:02 pm on Tuesday October 8, 2013:

    Whoa! I was about to say.  The 3rd pic looked like a hospital or something; I was thinking it was residential, but it would be a medical building as stated on the photo.

  1. Fred said at 6:00 am on Wednesday October 9, 2013:

    Wow.  This is really really bad.  I saw the previous iterations and was thinking that there would be some noticable improvement.  This seems like a noticable reduction in quality.

    This is probably the result of “group think.” They have too many cooks in the kitchen on this one.  They just need one or two good designers…but they are trying to please everyone.  And in the end they please no one…probalbly not even themselves.  This design has a sort of “Aw, F*ck it” quality to it.

  1. Chuck said at 9:23 pm on Wednesday October 9, 2013:

    Problems continue to persist in our architectural community where our creativity is stifled and our schedules are excellerated to the point where we are constantly settling for bad sketchup models and short sighted design decisions. Our profession has suffered long enough. We are called the Architectural Justice League,  join me for change…

  1. TVC said at 5:54 am on Thursday October 10, 2013:

    I feel bad for these guys.  They seem lost.  But they also don’t seem to be paying attention.  Rather than taking time to really develop a vision for this incredible space (which they ostensibly did thru a bevy of community meetings), their designs show such a level of fickleness….a desire simply to push this thru HPRB.  This one is the worst by far.  I can’t imagine how bad this is going to look just a decade after it’s built.  Best case, it will just become another soulless corner of Washington.  Their neo-brutalist style suggests a reference to the Washington Hospital center (one of the larger architectural mistakes in past years)....when they should be nodding to the incredible victorian, federal and arts/crafts architecture of the surrounding communities.  Instead they flee in the opposite direction?  Sad really.  I hope the HPRB doesn’t approve this in this current state.

  1. Jan said at 5:59 am on Thursday October 10, 2013:

    YIKES! ...and ...ICK!

  1. Carolyn A. Johnson said at 8:55 pm on Monday October 28, 2013:

    It reminds me of warehouses.  Don’t like all of the outdoor entrances.  I am concerned.  Can’t tell what if anything the developers are paying for the land and why a 319 million subsidy is needed.  I know that the city will receive more property taxes but the developers will make a killing.  I am not happy with this.  I also would like to see more greenery around the area.

  1. PleasantPlainer said at 9:44 pm on Monday October 28, 2013:

    That is simply and utterly AWFUL design! It is in synch with nothing, nor does it evoke anything in the historic, existing park. These architects need to spend more time at the site, and in the neighborhood. Those medical buildings should go across the street in the medical center. Put the hospital parking lots underground and build the offices. And, improve public transit at the entire hospital site before building at that scale at McMillan. Traffic is building in the neighborhood as GA Ave multi-families come on line, and the Brookland development…

  1. Joel said at 11:23 am on Tuesday October 29, 2013:

    HBRP and the developers have made this an unmitigated architectural disaster.  The site plan has evolved and Improved thru the revisions.  The ARCHITECTURE has, like others said, gotten dumbed down to the lowest and ugliest common denominator.  If you want to preserve/create a historic residential neighbor hood, the design styles should be HARMONIOUS but NOT IDENTICAL.  For god’s sake it looks alike a really bad design from a ‘60s urban renewal program.  Who’s really in love with SW any more?  Come on HPRB, break down the scale of the blocks don’t essentially demand the creation of “superblocks” replicated many times over.  The office building is bad 1970s K Street.  Let a good architect come up with a brilliant contemporary design.  Create design guidelines for the townhouses and break down the scale to “urban lot sizes”.  What is presented here is a stunning example of how design by government review does not produce anything worthwhile.

  1. Rick said at 1:51 pm on Tuesday October 29, 2013:

    As a Bloomingdale-lover, this is an utter disaster for the neighborhood. I am all for development, but not cheap development without thoughtful consideration of the broader impact.

    @PleasantPlainer… You are spot on. Traffic flow, parking and public transit access should be the first and foremost issue solved. There is no Metro stop within a mile, the bus routes are awful and there is no good artery into/out of the area.

    Let’s not forget about the huge water/sewer system problems Bloomingdale has faced.  Even with the system updates in progress, this development (upstream from the current work) could potentially cause further problems.

    I wish the design team would leverage Michael Harris (developer of Symphony Park) or someone with similar taste to at least make the townhomes look nice.  We all know that commercial RE developers in DC can’t deliver on anything remotely good, so the office/retail space is a lost cause. Let’s try and keep the residential phase aesthetically appealing…

    At this point, I believe the horse has been beaten thoroughly to a pulp.

  1. Edith Cooper Lawrence said at 10:57 am on Wednesday October 30, 2013:

    I would like to have two rinks: the first one for roller skaters and the second one for ice skaters.

    (202) 265-8605
    61 Randolph Place, NW
    Washington, DC 20001-1123

  1. Cecily said at 1:32 pm on Tuesday April 29, 2014:

    This design reminiscent of post-war architecture in Russia does not reflect the needs and wishes of the community. It is hideous and bombastic. With the Children’s Hospital laying off employees, I fail to understand why the designers feel the need to create two huge (and ugly) blocks of medical office buildings a la Crystal City. Local residents are interested in affordable housing, a grocery store AND a solution to the already large flooding and traffic problems, as well as a skating rink, playing fields, a revival of the Victorian pavilion for music concerts, community gardens and lots of green space. The residents of DC need more places to enjoy a healthy outdoor lifestyle, a combination of athletic and cultural events, space that will absorb some of the negative influences of global warming, not 20 more acres of concrete. Wards 1 and 5 are already park-deserts. According to the SustainableDC plan DC must increase its park and open green space, not reduce it. It would be a shame to exacerbate the already-existing problems with this environmentally unfriendly and unwanted proposal. It is time the government listened to the people.

  1. Sarah said at 11:31 am on Thursday May 1, 2014:

    I was originally sympathetic to the Friends of McMillan group until I realized the sheer level of misinformation on their website. This was never a park, and it was not designed by the Olmstead brothers (leaving aside the misleading photos from unrelated Olmstead parks posted on their website). It was not intended to be the “central park” of DC—that was a misquote from a report that also discussed Rock Creek Park. It is, and always has been, a public works project that neighbors occasionally diverted for civic uses (playing baseball, sleeping, holding events, etc). It is going to remain closed without development: the “underground caverns” are made of un-reinforced concrete that is a death trap waiting to happen. The developers have bent over backwards to incorporate community input and preserve historic structures on the site. Other plans I have seen from citizen’s groups are ridiculous (really, an underground farm?). I am personally very excited to bring my children to the new development to visit the recreation center, play in the fountain, walk the history tour,climb the brick tower, and visit the underground cisterns, all things not available to the community now. I hope the Friends of McMillan group is not successful in crushing a project that has been a long time in coming.

  1. Ben Willman said at 12:37 pm on Thursday May 1, 2014:

    I’d like to see something much smaller and more human scale. Nothing about the large, cement facade is attractive at all. It should be more open, with the green space as a focus. Its irrelevant what its original intent was, it is undeveloped space and all options are on the table. A large, family friendly park is sorely needed in this part of the city. I live there.

    The townhomes do not look appealing, they look like a large condo building.

    Seeing the O Street market just go up in the past 2 years and being disappointed at how little it engages the local street (3 of four long block sides are devoid of any retail - can you imagine?) I have little trust in the design wisdom of developers. The architecture shown above is very uninspiring. As Winston Churchill said “We define our buildings and thereafter they define us”.

  1. Mel Peffers said at 9:11 pm on Thursday May 1, 2014:

    If Seattle can take a gasification plant and turn it into a park, McMillan can be a park, or at least a better public-private development that actually nurtures and grows into a destination green space. P.S. Not afraid to share my name. I live just blocks away from this green gem that could really shine as a DC space - this plan is not it.

  1. Eric said at 9:54 am on Monday May 5, 2014:

    McMillian Park was designated as a park in 1911. City maps today still identify it as McMillan Park – go look at a bus stop map and see. It was part of the “emerald necklace of parks” planned by the McMillan Commission intended to beautify the city. It was created in the industrial age as a working industrial park to filter the water underground and was designed by and is recognized as an Olmstead park. It was used for both park-like activities and to filter water for the city. It is listed on both the National and DC registers of historic places. The developers will try to tell you that it was never used as a park, that children would never play ball in the park because of the dangerous manhole covers. I used to play ball in the street and certainly would have played ball in McMillan Park. Next time you walk down a city street and sidewalks take a look at all of the manhole covers and see if they scare you away. They are everywhere.
    There are many structures from the ancient world built of unreinforced concrete that have survived and will continue to survive. Yes, parts of the underground caverns at McMillan have collapsed. These are the cells that were built on top of an underground stream and which the District did not maintain. Most of the caverns are in very good condition and according to District studies, are so strong they are capable of supporting multi-story buildings.
    To state that this park cannot be repurposed as a park with a festival marketplace in the underground caverns without the development of office towers and condos is ridiculous and is exactly what the developers would have you believe. If the District can build a new park on the old 11th Street bridge, they certainly can restore McMillan Park and turn it into something very special.

  1. Bernard Quarterman Jr said at 3:41 pm on Wednesday May 7, 2014:

    First, most Friends of McMillan Park members and others are opposed to the scale of this development, not to development in general. (Collage Studio plan).  Two million square feet of office and retail space, 13-story buildings, 500+ units of additional housing before you even get to the Community Center!  There is no way Michigan Avenue (four lanes), North Capitol Street (6 lanes divided) and First Street (2 lanes), and can support the traffic.  DDOT has already given the roads are WHS failing grades for the existing traffic.  Are we to believe that this scale of this development will improve it when thousands more are using these same roads everyday!?

        An honest assessment of the traffic alone would kill this proposal.  There is no way Michigan Avenue, which narrows to four lines as it approaches WHS can support the scale of traffic that this complex would produce.  For example, the VMP plan calls for a left turn into the site at the North end!  That alone could reduce the crosstown traffic to one lane.  Everyone who lives by the park knows it not feasible because whenever there is an accident, it reduces traffic to one lane on Michigan Avenue and it backs up traffic to 4th St NE!

        All you have to do is glance across the street at the Washington Hospital Center and note that almost everyone going there drives.  They have thousands of parking spaces, including a satellite parking site by the Basilica.  They have parking because their employees and patients drive!  They don’t catch the bus, walk or bike in significant numbers, they drive!  The Veterans’ Hospital recently built a new parking garage to increase its parking spaces.  Still, some employees and patients park in Stronghold and Bloomingdale, when they can to avoid paying to park at WHS.

        They will drive to and from McMillan as well! They will drive because it is more convenient.  They drive to take their kids from daycare and school before going to work; They drive because it faster than the bus or the Metro, which they do not live by and which this work site is not near.  They drive because they just got their hair “did” and don’t want to get it wet the rain!  They will drive. They will drive because there is NO affordable housing at the site and they can’t get to work on time any other way.  They will drive because they’re too old and feeble to catch the bus.  They will drive because it is the fastest way to get dad, or ma, or grandpa to the Health Center.  They will drive because it is the American way.  They will drive!

        Arguments to the contrary are disingenuous to the point of deceitfulness.  Let me put it another way!  If the developers of this site really believed that people would walk, bike, bus and Metro to and from this site, then they would not have stressed to the Zoning Board that they had plenty of parking spaces.  They wouldn’t need “plenty of parking spaces” because people are going to be walking, biking, busing and catching Metro to the site…right!?

  1. Oscar Beisert said at 6:20 pm on Thursday May 8, 2014:

    The new buildings are unattractive and out of scale. This is not an opinion.

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