HPA No. 2014-393 (In re. McMillan Park Reservoir Historic District)
- HPA Number: 2014-393
- Case Name: Application of Vision McMillan
- Building Name: McMillan Park Reservoir Historic District
- Location of Property: 2501 (2507) First St. NW
- Date of Order: 13-April-2015
- Subject Matter(s): Special Merit, Demolition
Summary of Decision:
The Applicant Vision McMillan Partners sought a demolition permit to remove elements of the century-old Sand Filtration Site on the McMillan Park Reservoir as part of a mixed-use redevelopment project. In 1987 the District of Columbia had acquired the site, which had been used as a water filtration plan since 1905, so that it could be redeveloped for residential and commercial uses. In order to build new residential and commercial buildings, the developers proposed to eliminate the open space aspect of the McMillan Sand Filtration Site and demolish nearly all of the underground filter cells--“significant examples of early twentieth-century engineering which possess a spectral beauty.”
The Mayor’s Agent may allow the demolition of an historic landmark or a contributing building in an historic district if the proposed project is “necessary in the public interest,” D.C. Code §6-1105(e)—which means it is either consistent with the purpose of the preservation law or a project of special merit. In a special merit case, the Mayor’s Agent must first decide whether the proposed project meets one the three criteria of special merit established in the Act: (i) exemplary architecture, (ii) specific features of land planning, or (iii) social or other benefits having a high priority for community services. D.C. Code §6-1102(10). If the project satisfies one of these three criteria, then the Mayor’s Agent must determine if the special merit project outweighs the harm to historic properties. If the balancing test suggests to the Mayor’s Agent that the project’s benefits exceed the historic value of the historic property, then the Mayor’s Agent must also find that the work is “necessary” to allow the special merit project.
The Mayor’s Agent found that the mixed-use redevelopment project constituted a project of special merit for reasons of specific features of land planning as well as community benefits. The Mayor’s Agent cited the “substantial amount of carefully planned public park open space” that “conveys the engineered character of the site and protects important views.” The Mayor’s Agent identified a number of aspects of the project that advanced goals of the Mid-City Element of the Comprehensive Plan: contiguous open space, restoring above ground historic elements, mixed-use development well adapted to the location, and affordable housing. The Mayor’s Agent also found that the McMillan redevelopment project, which combined affordable housing in excess of required minimums, public park open space, a walking museum, an outdoor amphitheater, and needed retail on the McMillan Slow Sand Filtration Site, provided “high priority community benefits.”
In balancing the project’s benefits with the preservation losses, the Mayor’s Agent noted that the preservation benefits of the project were “very impressive.” The project would recreate the long-abandoned Olmstead Walk, rehabilitate and adaptively reuse all of the site’s visible historic built resources, and open the site to the public for the first time since World War II. While the proposed project would cause serious loss to McMillan’s historic resources, the project’s increased public access, rehabilitation, and interpretation would promote preservation gains to the public. Thus, the Mayor’s Agent concluded: “While there is a net preservation loss, the account is narrowed by the promised benefits. When one then factors in the overall quality of the master plan, the provision of affordable housing beyond what is otherwise required, in a mixed income, mixed-density, and mixed-use context, the provision of needed retail, and the economic synergy of the medical offices, the special merit features of the project clearly outweigh the net preservation losses.”
Upon finding that demolition was necessary to complete the project, the Mayor’s Agent granted the demolition request.
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Frederick Douglass Community Improvement Council/Concerned Citizens of Anacostia v. District of Columbia Office of Planning., Historic Preservation Office District of Columbia. Court of Appeals (2015)