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A Welcome Ruling by DC’s Appeals Court Puts to Rest DC Officials’ Views that Residents Are Wrong

Late in the afternoon of December 8th — just around the time we were about to start tapping he keys for this month’s commentary, we got word that a three-judge panel of the DC Court of Appeals issued a ruling blocking further work on North Capitol Street’s highly controversial McMillan Park development plan.

Of course, with this breaking news we naturally put aside continuing with the topic we had decided on, given that we have been reporting on the McMillan project for the past three years.

Now, just one day after Mayor Bowser and a gaggle of honchos from the development teams gathered for a kind of “groundbreaking” celebration, seemingly arrogantly brushing off the possibility that the court might actually side with the petitioners, Friends of McMillan Park (FOMP), the mayor got her comeuppance. Just a little more than 24 hours later, the developers got stopped cold in their tracks — and for good reason, as the following conclusion by the court states:

“FOMP also challenges both Mayor’s Agent orders, arguing that the Mayor’s Agent incorrectly determined that the project has ‘special merit’ incorrectly found that the project’s special merit outweighs the historic preservation losses that the project would entail, and failed to examine reasonable alternatives to the project. We vacate the Commission’s order and both Mayor’s Agent orders and remand the cases for further proceedings.”

Further, in his opinion Judge Roy W. McCleese ruled that the impact on property values and negative impacts on area residents had not been accorded the study required by law.

What impresses and gratifies us about this decision by the court is that these eminently learned judges — all of whom distinguished themselves at leading law schools (NYU, UVA, Cornell) and afterwards — recognized what the city’s lawyers and senior government functionaries, including then Mayor Gray, refused to do: that just maybe the more than 5,200 citizens who signed a petition back in 2013 opposing the plan had legitimate concerns. (A year later, the number of signatures had increased by another 1,300 to 6,500!)

As we quoted a statement issued by FOMC in this space back in August 2013, “DC Mayor Vincent C. Gray seems unaware of the widespread opposition to his plan to overdevelop the McMillan Park Sand Filtration Site and turn it into a suburban-like shopping center reminiscent of Tyson’s Corner. Specifically, last Friday [August 2nd], in response to a listener question on The Kojo Nnamdi Show (The Politics Hour), the Mayor said: ‘I’ve followed McMillan and I haven’t seen thousands of people who have indicated a resistance to [the plan], or overwhelmingly come forward saying we want to see parks at McMillan.’

“This statement ignores the widely publicized petition against the Gray Administration’s plan to destroy McMillan Park, a local and national historic landmark.

And, on top of all this, as we reported in our March 2015 commentary in this space on what we characterized as sleazy dealings between the city and the developers, public funds had been to a public relations firm for the purpose of developing a strategy to the project’s opponents discredit DC citizens who were opposing the planned development — specifically by claiming that the FOMC had been, as the PR firm outlined to Mayor Bowser’s office, “hijacked by non-local, special interests and is spreading misinformation [that, contrary to actual fact,] the site was never a park.” More about that uniformed (no doubt on purpose) contention and the apparent continuing “pay for play”

As one ANC commissioner from the neighborhood recently told our reporter, “The fix has been in for a long time.” Further, as reported in our October 2016 update on this seemingly never-ending saga, “Many members of FOMP — including many who do not live anywhere near the Bloomingdale, LeDroit Park, and Stronghold neighborhoods — say an ‘unholy alliance’ of city officials and deep-pocketed developers are simply itching to get shovels turning to change the park’s ‘greenery into greenbacks.’

Clearly, Mayor Bowser proved that assertion just the day before the court’s ruling with her ill-timed — and now, what should be embarrassing — debacle of a photo-op. We hope that as a result of what will now delay this project until the developers fully comply with the court’s order a brighter and more searching light be directed at the inexcusable way in which DC officials have helped the developers run roughshod over the taxpayers.


Reader Comments

This is a remarkably comprehensive story covering the extreme irony of the Mayor’s groundbreaking ceremony for McMillan, not 24 hours before the DC Court of Appeals rendered its stern decision that there are severe flaws with how the District approached its zoning and preservation decisions.

But the editorial also provides a bit of the political context, noting that for years the city has been saying this is a “done deal” and asked that the good people of Washington please get out of the way. The DC Court of Appeals is the first institution outside the Wilson Building to take a look at this project, and its response was perhaps a shock the the Mayor.

But it shouldn’t have been, given the surveys and petitions and testimony concerning this project for years. We in the Friends of McMillan Park have for years been seeking — and still seek — an open design competition (in the form of a Request for Proposals) to compare plans for revitalization of our park consistent with the Comprehensive Plan recommendations, the historic designation of the site, and thoughtful community opinion.

While we may be no closer to achieving that goal, the current plan before the city that would preclude all that, is stopped for the moment.

[Submitted by Bloomingdale neighborhood resident Kirby Vining, Treasurer, Friends of McMillan Park.]


As always, I commend you and your fine newspaper for the tntrepid and curageous opposition to the largest land grab since Manhattan Island. There are, however a few points, we believe, worthy of noting.

(1) The three issues addressed by the Superior Court were not simply “remanded” as stated; remand means make correction and rephrase, meaning not only remanded but also vacated” — essentially meaning not to use the argument again but to start over, vacate being a more restrictive nagetive.

(2) The decision by the appelate judge panel was unanimous, making a reconsideration of the verdict unlikely.

(3) Finally, you referenced only FOM in your editorial.  In fact there were 3 equal appelants:  FOM; DC For Reasonable Development; McMillan Coalition for Sustainable Agriculture which is planning to develop and present an alternative adaptive use proposal that will, unlike the VMP monstrosity,  be in total compliance with the federal covenants. Each of the three filed briefs on the topic and points from all three were addressed by the Judges both in court and in the final ruling.

[Submitted by Bloomingdale neighborhood resident Jerome Peloquin & President of the Family Fish Farms Network, Inc.]