On and off for two decades, District residents and other curious parties have been free to tour the historic and atmospheric premises of the McMillan Sand Filtration Site, the fenced-off former water treatment facility at North Capitol Street and Michigan Avenue NW famous for its ethereal masonry towers and underground vaults.
In the past two years, community leaders from neighboring Bloomingdale have held a number of well-attended public tours of the site, in addition to giving access to smaller groups including art and architecture students. They’re awesome; I highly recommend taking one.
But now, as the site moves toward redevelopment, the public’s access is on hiatus.
Earlier this month, the D.C. government’s real estate director, Jeff Miller, e-mailed John Salatti, one of the Bloomingdale activists who have led the recent tours. Miller wrote that due to concerns about the “safety and stability of portions of the site,” the only access given to the site will be for “survey, stabilization work, or other development-related studies.” The locks were changed, making Salatti’s key useless.
That terse missive prompted Salatti to do two things. First, a set of tours originally planned for this past weekend was put on hold. Second, he tried to figure out what prompted the change in policy. Miller blamed the city’s Department of General Services, which in turn put the blame back on Miller. That incensed Salatti enough to issue a news release this weekend decrying the change.
Miller responded today in an e-mail to Salatti, writing that he supports the tours but a “safety assessment” of the site is needed. Once completed, he wrote, “we will then be able to determine how best to proceed with future tours on a case by case basis.”
So, long story short, it is unclear when, if ever, the public will be able to tour McMillan before the redevelopment plans proceed to construction — something that’s at least 18 months away.
Salatti still wants answers on why the status quo ante had to change. “It’s not that they’re about to bring the steam shovels in and tear the place apart,” he said. “They’re really being spare about what’s driving this.”
Jose Sousa, a spokesman for the city economic development office, suggested that it’s unusual and unwise to give private citizens like Salatti the keys to a 25-acre piece of city property without much supervision. “We have to basically regulate access to the site to maintain safety and security at that location,” he said.