Sunday, December 4, 2016

McMillan Park - A Finer Vision for Pro-People Development & Major Court Decision

I felt deep concern over DC's plans to help destroy the only pre-WWII park open to African Americans.  The NO-Bid developer our taxes have subsidized for the past 7 years want to destroy most of the 20+ acres underground and build an inner city Tysons Corner above.  I concluded that politicians must have received a lot of financial support to do something so foolish, but that one solution is to interest a different group of developers in making use of all this underground space scheduled for destruction.  Fortunately the DC Court of Appeals has ruled unanimously that alternative designs must be considered.  [See the letter to Friends of McMillan Park posted in this article.]

The Administration should want to receive long term benefits of taxes generated by employing people, sales and use fees, and long leases as they are doing with the Old Post Office Building (Trump Hotel) for 60 years.  Instead the MAYOR intends to sell OUR park to VMP for $17million when it is valued at $100million.  Surely we could find a better way to use this space that would open it to all DC residents and visitors, and also generate income to the city.

Then I saw the picture reproduced on page 3 below in the Sept. 2001 Wine Enthusiast Magazine whose lead article was "Ultimate Wine Cellar Dining".  The ceiling of that restaurant looked almost identical to the ceiling of McMillan's underground space.  Bingo, a new idea was born and I prepared the document below.  Unfortunately it did not transfer with clarity from Libre Office, so I will write out what is hard to see for your easier reading.  Please add your Comments for ideas that are not listed here.


     For seven years we in DC have paid $1million a year to subsidize a NO-BID developer named Vision McMillan Park (VMP) to plan destruction of this historic site to turn it into another Tyson's Corner.  Community action, pleading to our DC Council and other efforts have failed to stop this juggernaut.  Our prepaid DC government wants development at all cost, so we now need to consider better development that will provide the tax revenues they demand.  [This was written before the Court ruled unanimously on our case and said we must come up with something better than VMP's plan.]
     Since one strong argument against the current plan is that the intersection of North Capitol St. and Michigan Ave. is already a rush hour traffic nightmare, a better plan should focus on off peak hours.  The plan suggested here responds to those concerns.  Why not have Wolf Trap and Glen Echo type events here?  To enhance them and provide added revenue, why not have a mix of high and lower end restaurants, wine cellars and rathskellers in the underground spaces with their 15 foot ceilings.  DC already has thriving custom brewery businesses, and Virginia and Maryland can offer more and fine vintages from wineries.
     Custom foods like mushrooms, culinary herbs, and other specialties could be grown underground to supply them, and ceilings painted in spectacular art can attract visitors and paying customers while providing a venue for our artists.

Page 2:  Two restaurants in the article, The Westin Salishan in Oregon, and the Sardine Factory in Monterey, California, are described here in detail.  The top and bottom of the page reads:
     DC must have a score of restauranteurs, custom brewery owners and others who would be excited by this concept.  Now we must go out and find them, so they can add their voices to the fight to keep McMillan Park close to its original form and for uses that will be unique and attractive to visitors and residents.
     Let us contact and encourage such bold entrepreneurs to take part in creating a real vision for McMillan Park that will not resemble Tyson's Corner and its nightmare traffic and inhuman scale, a vision that very few in DC would desire.

Page 3:  Under this photo of the Federalist Restaurant/XV Beacon Hotel, Boston, MA, I wrote:
     This photo, which so resembles what could be built in McMillan's underground spaces, inspired this "Finer Vision."  G. Lee Aikin (DCSGP), December 2016.

Page 4:  Here is one view of the 20+ acres of underground space that could be developed without harm to the above ground park.  The VMP plan is to destroy most of it.  The ceilings are 15' high and the distance between columns is about 22'.  There is a total of nearly 1,000,000 square feet just waiting for imaginative use.  Below that photo are suggested uses for both below and above ground.  I will list them under page 4 and will be adding to them as new comments and ideas are suggested or found.

List of potential uses for the 20+ acres of underground space with 15' ceilings:
    * Unique wine cellar and rathskeller type dining and wining establishments
    * Brew pubs and possible small brewing capabilities
    * Underground farming of specialty herbs,mushroom, other foods for above businesses 
    * Underground fish culture [can provide nutrients for vegetable growth]
    * Ceiling space and columns used for murals and public art (our own Sistine Chapel?)
    * Other stores, social, and artistic spaces, as well as open area for public activities
    * You supply your ideas:  Place them as Comments at bottom of this blog post.

Above ground ideas not envisioned by the so-called VMP "Visionaries":
    * Wolf Trap, Glen Echo and Torpedo Factory type events and activities
    * Community gardens, including ones for busing in seniors and people from Wards 7 & 8
    * Solar installations to power below and above ground needs.
    * A jogging track and other small group sports spaces
    * You supply your ideas:  Place them as Comments at bottom of this blog post.

Major activities should be oriented to non rush hour times to avoid the terrible gridlock VMP's plan will invariably cause at this already difficult intersection.

A number of interesting McMillan photos are included in an article printed in this magazine for the Architectural profession.

The preceding material is oriented toward the concept of wining and dining establishments.  I developed this idea in the summer of 2016 while running for political office.  The rigorous exercise of fundraising made me aware of how important it is to have competing economic interests involved in any major DC project.  G. Lee Aikin, DCSGP

    We now continue with the complementary concept of providing food and gourmet specialties for such establishments and the general public.  The McMillan Coalition for Sustainable Agriculture (MCSA) is an unincorporated non profit organization under the laws of Washington, DC, and members are not developers.  This organization was formed in 2013 to provide a competing vision compared to the high-density development plans under consideration at that time.
    As active supporters of a people's park, MCSA testified and provided technical input to the DC Zoning Commission's multiple hearings and finally was part of the legal proceedings that reversed the PUD and the city's plans to destroy the park.  The DC Court of Appeals' Dec. 2016 decision determined that the high-density plans proposed by the DC government and the developers should be vacated and better ideas sought.
    The court specifically stated the VMP plan did not reach a level of “Special Merit,” required to destroy the historic park and the 25 acres of green space. This unanimous ruling by a distinguished panel of DC Appeals Court Judges Vacates and Remands decisions of both the City’s Office of Planning, and The Mayor’s Agent, effectively nullifying the DC Zoning Commission’s PUD (ZC -13 and ZC-14) and the entire plan put forward by VMP (Vision McMillan Partners) and the DC government. As of today, We are back to ground Zero.

To move forward, MCSA proposes a Project Theme: Food - The Soul of the City.  Our city is noted for it's elegant restaurants and the spread of ethnic cuisine, all fueled by the diverse, multi-cultural plurality of America's Capital City.  Contrast this with the the dismal array of food deserts that exist in many of our communities and neighborhoods.  MCSA sees an unprecedented opportunity to apply green tech solutions to real urban problems.  We can do this by designing a functional park that applies green technology to local food production, trains workers for real jobs with a future, engages returned citizens, teaches nutrition and STEM curricula to our children, and serves as a national demonstration project that draws tourists and urban planners from across the USA as well as from other countries.

Recent advances in urban green technology create exciting potential to grow literally tons of wholesome green food, along with high quality protein from fish and seafood, efficiently and effectively in the thermally stable underground spaces of McMillan Park.  This combined system is called aquaponics.  
    We see the opportunity to create an exciting combination of the aesthetic and the practical in a single functional space. Expanding upon the food theme, this existing space is perfect for the growing trend favoring small boutique artisanal restaurants that are unique and are creating dishes with local food. Wineries, local brewing, and artisanal cheeses can all be included in a permanent and tasteful concept design and produced underground as well.
    The loss of Green Space is a major issue for DC. Functional green space is an asset to the city and the community. It is not necessary to pave over every inch of land within our city in order to achieve a balanced budget. Historically green space is known to be a major part of a city's infrastructure and a financial asset. Moreover, restaurants can provide significant municipal revenues through long term leases, food and entertainment fees, taxes on business profits, and the individual income taxes of DC resident employees.
    We are quickly erasing all green space throughout the city on behalf of developers, and particularly in Ward 5.  Compared with the rest of the city, Ward 5 is virtually without decent parks.  The feeble attempt to placate citizen opposition with their laughable mini-park highlights the growth machine's need to exploit maximum density development.  Furthermore as a large park space that belongs to DC, it should become our Central Park, which the federally owned Mall and Rock Creek Park can never be.
    Rather than support the citizens, our DC government is both complicit and compliant with this high density philosophy.  There have been multiple attempts to obliterate McMillan Park and turn it into an extension of tasteless urban sprawl.  The People have rejected them all, yet our DC government continues on their short-sighted path, ignoring the will of the people and common sense.
    Now, that must change.  While much of the Park's topography has been erased by years of neglect, the Park's location and proximity to Bloomingdale and other thriving areas of the city make it a potential magnet for young families, children, and young people seeking recreational opportunities and open space in the heart of a major urban environment.

MCSA's Adaptable Reuse Plan seeks to address those needs.
    The great Olmsted himself envisioned and designed it as a "People's Park," to be open and accessible, not the exclusive province of the affluent and the privileged.  And given the theme and content of our proposals--for Tourists.
    To be clear, please understand we are NOT considering the surface of the park in this document.  We are addressing the 20 acres (almost 900,000 square feet) of space 3 feet below the green surface of the park.  The term "caverns" comes to mind, although in fact the space is a cistern, now drained and dry, ready for adaptable reuse.  A related plan that includes the park surface will be prepared subsequently when we have a clearer picture of how legal issues raised by Federal covenants and regulations on historical site modification are resolved.   
    In order to achieve the dual  goals of creating a world-class people's park, and an economically  viable alternative to mindless overbuilding and gentrification, MCSA has decided to focus on the Park's hidden asset.  These "Caverns at McMillan" are unseen by Motorists fighting traffic and dodging Emergency Vehicles on North Capitol St. and Michigan Ave. during rush hours--a problem to be made far worse by overbuilding daytime offices and large numbers of market rate dwelling units with residents mostly working 9 to 5 schedules.
    Three feet below grade and covering 20 acres there lies a linked world of haunting subterranean "caverns" designed by master masons of the early 1900's.  The vaulted ceilings stand from 15' to 20' high and are marked with the parallel board lines of poured concrete, aged with a mellow gold patina, and evocative of ancient wine cellars and Underground Atlanta.  That 12 acre place was developed from space created when early railroad tracks were roofed over.  It rovides an instructive example of Adaptive Reuse of urban industrial space, although lack of diverse public offerings has hampered it's potential.  We should do this better with our more diverse concept.
    For 80 years these cisterns provided fresh drinking water to Presidents and common residents, black and white together.  They are beautiful and are an intrinsic asset of McMillan Park, and should be used creatively and not destroyed for greed and short-sighted planning goals.

G. Lee Aikin, DC Statehood Green Party (DCSGP) (
(My photos are from Wine Enthusiast Magazine,Sept. 2001)
Jerome Peloquin, McMillan Coalition for Sustainable Agriculture (MCSA)
1231 Randolph St., NE, Washington, DC 20017, (410) 227-0498

Additional material on aquaponics from G. Lee Aikin
This 8+ minute video shows how fish is being farmed indoors in Baltimore at Univ. of MD's Inst. of Marine & Environmental Technology.  They are growing salt water fish which is harder than producing fresh water fish like tilapia.  MCSA's combined system recirculating water between fish tank and hydroponic vegetation is highly efficient.  Fish waste feeds the plants and the plants clean the water.  Very little water is wasted.  McMillan's underground space helps regulate proper temperatures.

I have asked others about the economic potential for growing fish and plants.  One estimate was growing 50 metric tons of fish per month per well designed acre.  If only $1 a pound were received, that would be around $1.32million per year, around $4million for 3 acres.  Given the prices suggested here, $10million or more might be possible. Today Harris Teeter was selling tilapia for 5.95 a pound.  Since tiers of plant growing racks could be constructed above the fish tanks, that is another significant amount that could be earned.

The two main styles of combining fish and plants are called Media Bed Systems and Raft Bed Systems.  This link has a 7 minute video and 2 dozen linked articles to the right as well as other useful videos after the first one ends.  Aquaponics is a young technology, and there is much creative experimentation going on.  This view of "Vertical Farming/Vertical Gardens" most resembles a likely configuration for McMillan underground.  Perhaps the most valuable contribution for DC would be  the opportunity to hire young people and help them learn STEM subjects and good incomes.

There could still be plenty of space available for other uses such as emergency shelter for people stranded in the city by another snowmageddon or as a fallout shelter should President Trump and North Korea do their worst.  Existing food supplies from ongoing food related businesses would supplement emergency supplies.  For more conventional emergencies like severe snow or storms, or the needs of employees who work very early or late shifts, basic bunk bed dormitories and bathrooms could be set up with lockers.  Some would be used regularly by workers, and others as emergency reserve units.

If you wish to contact Council members and other key city officials to urge support of these and other ideas to be developed, below is a list of email addresses, mostly of Council members and their staff assistants:
     Email:  *,, 
*, Ward 1
*,, Ward 2
*, Ward 3
*, Ward 4
* (McMillan Park is in his Ward 5),
*, Ward 6
*,, Ward 7
*,, Ward 8
*, At Large
*, At Large
*, At Large
*, At Large
* (Council Chair), 
* (Attorney General), and 
     Please invite your friends to do the same.
Why was Mayor Bowser having a "groundbreaking" on Dec. 7, 2016?  [The following day, Dec. 8, the DC Court of Appeals said she and the developers could NOT do what they wanted.  Specifically they could not violate Covenants DC had signed with the Federal Dept. of the Interior.]  Suggested reasons by Friends of McMillan Park:

We learned late last week without notice that Mayor Bowser will hold a groundbreaking ceremony for the city's planned development of the McMillan site on Wednesday, December 7th at 11am (see announcement here).  [Surprise:  next day the Appeals Court decided in our favor!]  

So what's up with that?  The D.C. Court of Appeals has not yet handed down a decision on the case, and no building/demolition permits have been issued for the site, right? 
 That's correct.  The Friends of McMillan Park is the lead plaintiff in that challenge of the D.C. zoning and historic preservation decisions enabling the project, and we'd know right away if the court had handed down a decision.  It hasn't.  We think the decision may come in January 2017.  

So why is the Mayor doing this?  DMPED and the Office of the Mayor are not exactly on speaking terms with the Friends of McMillan Park, so they haven't confided in us what's behind all this.  But we suspect that what motivates the permit applications and this groundbreaking event is the fact that a number of key entitlements that the city awarded to enable the project are about to expire.  The zoning order that approved the first stage Planned Unit Development (PUD) for the site in November, 2014 (zoning order in case 13-14) and the land disposition and surplussing legislation from the D.C. Council dated December 2014, and perhaps other subsidiary documents, expire after two years from issuance, which is right about now.  So, we presume, these actions -- groundbreaking and permit application -- are formal gestures sufficient to make sure these entitlements don't expire.  Looking at this from the city's point of view, if the court were to rule in the city's favor (which we of course do not want nor expect), but the PUD and other key entitlements had expired, the city would have to redo all the expired entitlements supporting the project.  If you'd like to see the permits the city has applied for, visit the DCRA permits page and look for 2940 North Capitol Street, NW, the mythical address of this yet-unbuilt project. For those of you anxious to have a look tonight, DCRA has taken down the page for maintenance but it should be back up Monday. 

So if that's the case, that this is not actually the beginning of demolition/construction on the project, why didn't DMPED and the Mayor say so in the event announcement?We wish we knew. The Washington Business Journal immediately picked up on the fact that this matter is not even out of court yet.  The city's announcement did not say that construction would begin right away, but it led a lot of people to assume that. The city has not been too open or transparent in this process, so at least they're consistent.   Other than extending the life of the entitlements and sowing widespread confusion, the city is doing nothing of substance with this groundbreaking ceremony that we know of.  Have a good time, RSVP for the event, and please extend to her honor the Mayor continued assurances of our highest consideration. 

Thank you for your continued interest and support, 

John Salatti, Kirby Vining, and Hugh Youngblood
Board of Directors, Friends of McMillan Park, Inc. 

----------------------- Links supplied by Kirby's 12/17/16 email:

Tour the magical spaces of McMillan Park in this lovely video in the PBS Digital Library. Please consider donating to our legal fund to stop the city’s plans to demolish our park.

District investigative journalist Jeffrey Anderson has done an   authoritative series of articles on many aspects of McMillan for the Capitol Community News:
See also the following from Street Sense and the New York Times:

The InTowner also has a wonderful series of articles: 

Detailed comments on the Court victory - same day as above list of links:

The Court of Appeals Ruled in Our Favor, but the War Goes On 

Dear Friend of McMillan Park, 

            We are still euphoric over the D.C. Court of Appeals' decision in our favor, issued just one week ago. That court decision frankly was more favorable to our side than we had dreamed. This court decision is the first time that there has been any official look at the city's plans outside of the Wilson Building. With the notable exception of the D.C. Auditor Kathleen Patterson, everyone else in the Wilson Building apparently sees no problem with the proposed development and thinks it's a great idea. 

This court decision vacates (cancels or nullifies, in ordinary language) the District's one zoning and two preservation orders that enable the proposed development.  We were hoping that the court would at least remand this case back to the city to revise specified aspects of the plan, so cancellation of the three entitlements is more than we'd hoped for. Without those three orders, nothing can be done on the site at this time.  Not legally, anyway. The court order obligates the District to rethink this whole project, and it actually recommended that something else entirely might be considered.  Although those words sound rather innocuous, this is pretty strong language in a court order. The court stated that all the things the city wants to do could be justified, but they have not been justified, and was so firm in that position that it cancelled the three orders.  

             We are not so naive as to think that the District is not right now looking closely at that order and trying to figure a way to push the project forward anyway. The Mayor has said as much in the few government statements her office has made. But this is a game changer, and just tweaking some details of the existing plans aren't sufficient. Alternative designs are REQUIRED, both by the District's preservation law and specific mention of that in the court decision. The court found the District's plans not in compliance with its own rules and regulations.  
              So we are gearing up for another fight.  But we don't yet know what the District plans to do, or how, or when.  Most likely the District will hold new hearings to try to justify some modified form of its plans. The District government would like to characterize us as interfering.  On the contrary, we would very much like to work WITH our government and see a request for proposals for an open bidding and design competition (never happened) that is consistent with the Comprehensive Plan's recommendations for the site, the historic designation of the site, and community opinions and wishes.  If our government would just work WITH existing rules and regulations, we'd be with them, helping. But they're not even close yet.  Not even close. High rise buildings and demolition of 80-90% of the site? Traffic?  Not even close. 

               We are planning a gathering sometime in January, a time to celebrate this wonderful judicial ruling and talk about the future, and of course we hope to raise some additional funds with our new credibility.  We will advise you when we have a time, date, and place for this event.  On the fundraising side, so many of you have been extremely generous, but at this moment we have covered only about one quarter of the costs accrued in the lengthy zoning, preservation, and court challenges. It is certain that there will be additional battles. 

               In the meantime, if you would like a copy of the court's decision, please contact the email address at the bottom of this message and we'd be delighted to get a copy to you as an email attachment (it's not very large).  And we're always looking for volunteer help with a variety of things that help us keep going, so please let us know if you're interested.

               Please spread the word of our success, even though FINALLY we are getting a bit of press coverage on who we are and what we have done.  
Thousands of persons like you have done something, minor or major, even if only to mention to a friend or neighbor that there's something wrong with what the city's doing at McMillan, and that has helped this effort succeed.  That is what this is about: a community focused on the revitalization of something of astonishing beauty. Keep it up!  Christmas has come early for those of us who want a beautiful McMillan Park in our future and you are angels, helping us bring our park back to life.  

John Salatti, Kirby Vining, and Hugh Youngblood

Board of Directors, Friends of McMillan Park, Inc. 

If you have any questions, please contact or call 202.213.2690.

Links from Daniel Wolkoff, Dec. 18, 2016

Daniel Goldon Wolkoff, McMillan Park links

Peoples Plan for McMillan Park 
Prof. Miriam Gusevich Catholic University of America with Collage City Studio You tube power point 
National Register of Historic Places McMillan nomination 
( /places/13000022.htm ) by DC Office of Historic Preservation architectural Historian Kim Williams. She describes a remarkably intact, fascinating, even charming engineering marvel slated for demolition in violation of federal law.
 Bowser and PR Firm Fontaine lied "it was never a park", The High Line in NY was never a park, it was an elevated Railroad. They had the foresight to save it, and a fabulous success for NY.

Bloomngdale elder Ms.Ella relates her childhood spent in the PARK, the children called McMillan "our beach".

To ram the development down our throats the DC govt. hired Jamie Fontaine PR firm to "neutralize opposition", a violation of the Constitutional right to "petition the govt. for redress of grievances". When exposed to Bowser, Mendelson , they have covered this up and Deputy Mayor Miller lied about his office paying for Fontaine! 
The community struggle to Save McMillan Park, preserving the ENTIRE "GREAT PLACE", Olmsted designed surface-park and existing 20 acres underground, creates the exciting potential for Sustainable large scale "indoor agriculture", numerous adaptive re-use that is allowed with Historic Preservation and building real careers, parks are economic development.
Different than Kojo and Roger K. Lewis  model.                        
DC Wolf Trap at McMillan outdoor concert stage with sunset vistas, Glen Echo arts/performance campus, Wine cellars,
City Bazaar, Breweries, performance space, public land for the public use, and ownership, start the Conservancy NOW!
                                     Pope Francis
"we have created new idols. The worship of the ancient Golden Calf
has returned in a new ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and
the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose"

How did Pope Francis know about "the Monstrosity on Michigan Avenue"?

DC administrations collude with VMP,their development partners to steal 25 acres of public recreational land, the biggest land theft since Manhattan!

Given that tourism is a major DC source of income, and given that government employment could suffer during a Trump administration, we should consider ways to enhance the tourism potential of McMillan Park.
     I recently watched a Japanese TV show about mushroom culture in Japan.  They have 21 species of mushrooms used there for culinary purposes.  We could have an underground store featuring international goods and foods. Unusual Japanese style mushrooms actually grown in the underground area could be a product sold there.  Perhaps we could approach the Japanese Embassy to see if this is a project that would interest them.  The same could be done with other embassies and food or cultural products like cheese and pasta.
     Having observed the popularity of watching products and food being made through a store window, I believe craft and food production showcases should be a popular addition.  Examples near 14th and U Sts., NW are the Cupcake Factory on U St., and another baked goods store on 14th south of U St.  Studio and craft space for artists and artisans could be provided at a low cost, with the opportunity to draw people by actually producing items before a window by the walkways.  The Torpedo Factory in Alexandria is a nearby place where this sort of activity has taken place.

If we have to build a big building, here is one of the better ideas I have seen for putting in a park.

     Please be sure to add any ideas you may have at the Comments below.