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Allegations of Racial Discrimination by the McMillan Park Site Developers for its Low-Income Housing Aired Before Appeals Court

Accompanying images can be viewed on page 1 of the February 2018 issue pdf

By William G. Schulz*

Another lawsuit against the DC Zoning Commission regarding the stalled and highly controversial historic McMillan Park Reservoir development is moving forward in the DC Court of Appeals — this one making an explosive charge of racial discrimination against low-income, elderly African-Americans.

The Court, on January 24th, heard oral arguments in the case, which was filed back in September 2016 by ANC 5E-07 Commissioner Bertha Holliday. Holliday says that Advisory Neighborhood Commissions in DC are barred from filing lawsuits against the zoning commission so she filed her suit as an individual, alleging that racial discrimination is embedded in the zoning commission’s approved design for the project, as presented by developer Vision McMillan Partners (VMP).

She says the developer — a triumvirate of the principal firms Trammel Crowe, Jair Lynch Real Estate Partners, and EYA — has configured placement of low-income housing units required by city law such that those units are separate from other housing units in the planned development, including separate building entrances and common areas.

The planned housing now the subject of litigation is known as “Parcel 4” and it would be located near the intersection of Michigan Avenue, NW and North Capitol Street in the northeast portion of the McMillan site that is part of the Bloomingdale neighborhood. The entire 25-acre site spans the Bloomingdale, LeDroit Park and Stronghold neighborhoods in Northwest.

A motion to dismiss Holliday’s suit, filed by VMP’s lawyers in October 2016, was rejected by the court. Contact with VMP was not possible given its long-standing policy of not speaking with the news media, including The InTowner; DC zoning commissioners are prohibited from commenting on zoning matters under litigation.

Holliday has also released a video on YouTube video further explaining her lawsuit.

A psychologist by training, Holliday is also an officer of the Bloomingdale Civic Association and an independent consultant on matters of diversity assessment, planning, implementation, and evaluation. She has been a supporter of Friends of McMillan Park, whose opposition to VMP’s development plans included a suit against the Zoning Commission, which resulted in an indefinite stay of construction issued by the DC Court of Appeals in December 2016.

The stay on construction is still in effect and will be at least until the Mayor’s Agent for Historic Preservation — an independent, expert evaluator hired by the city to decide such matters — makes a finding on whether the appeals court’s five-point remand of original zoning commission decisions for the McMillan site has been satisfactorily addressed.

In an email sent to The InTowner, Holliday explained her conclusion that parcels of the McMillan site dedicated to new housing discriminate by race:

“According to the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development, approximately 90% of DC residents in HUD administered programs are African American. Consequently, when a developer proposes a single building in which seniors with incomes of 50% to 60% AMI are physically separated from market-rate tenants (through use of separate entrances, lobbies, elevators, living units, and roof-top mechanical ventilation systems), one can reasonably predict that [such a] building will be not only socially-economically segregated, but also racially segregated. This is the case of the proposed Parcel 4 building at the McMillan development in Bloomingdale.”

The zoning commission approved the building plans, Holliday says, despite the commission’s failure to consider the building’s compliance with federal and DC fair housing and anti-discrimination regulations.

“There are a few other buildings in DC that have been built or are under construction with similar segregated/separated configurations that were NOT legally challenged,” Holliday writes in her email. She says that if her suit, ultimately, is unsuccessful, “it is likely that such configuration, which serves to reduce development costs and profit the developer, will become the new template for senior housing in DC. This will be a step back towards DC’s past of racial housing covenants and discriminatory mortgage lending, appraisal and realtor practices, and redlining in service of housing segregation and its related myth-making.”

*Associate Editor William G. Schulz, a resident of Dupont Circle since the 1980s, has been a journalist specializing in science and investigative reporting for over 30 years.

Copyright © 2018 InTowner Publishing Corp. & William G. Schulz. All rights reserved.