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In this week’s issue, we ran an abridged version of a letter to the editor from Tony Norman regarding my story from a few weeks ago about the development of the McMillan Sand Filtration Site. In the letter—reprinted in full after the jump—Norman questions the quality and integrity of my reporting, which I felt deserved something of a response.

After re-evaluating the piece, I’ll concede one factual inaccuracy: Norman is a member of the McMillan Advisory Group, not the chair. That’s been corrected. On the $60 million that I reported the city has pledged to the developers, subject to the new administration’s approval, that’s directly from the project manager’s mouth.

The other issues Norman raises are matters of editorial judgment. I had a very limited amount of space to cover a lot of issues and history, and wanted to spend more of it on the new plan than rehash the failures of the past, presenting as fair a picture as possible of how the community was processing this new proposal. I talked to many people whose voices did not end up in the final product, absorbed many documents that were not referenced or summarized. For better or worse, that’s how newspaper journalism works.

As far as bias: In my previous writings, I’ve made it pretty clear that I think residential density is important for both commercial viability and neighborhood vibrance. I also think tall buildings are one way to achieve that, while preserving as much park space as possible. That being said, though, I in no way marginalized those who were concerned with either the process or the development team’s final product. Norman says that if I had done “basic research,” I would have learned that none of the area ANCs or civic associations support the new plan—but none of them have taken a formal position on it yet.

This is an incredibly complicated issue, and neighbors are right to be concerned about how it will affect the character of their community and the quality of their daily lives, as well as the integrity of the historic site. My column may not be the best forum to explore all of those issues in the kind of depth they deserve; those conversations need to take place in the community itself. Rest assured, however, that I will continue to follow McMillan, and am open to talking with anyone who’d like to be heard.

You can email me at ldepillis@washingtoncitypaper.com, or call my direct line at 202-650-6928.

Respectfully,

Lydia

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

To the Editor:

I am gravely concerned about the quality of the journalism in some of the paper’s coverage of community issues, more specifically the story last week on the McMillan site by Ms. Lydia DePillis. There were blatant inaccuracies, inappropriate editorial comments and lack of basic journalistic research.

The city has not pledged $60 million to the site. The city has not committed any money to the site as of today. This is wishful thinking on the developers part (she did not check her facts).

She mistakenly identified me as the Chair of the community advisory group set up in 2007. The group she refers to is the McMillan Advisory Group (MAG) community representatives of the surrounding civic groups and ANC, which were not consulted in this “new plan”. Actually the spokesperson, not chair, is Kenyan McDuffie, whom she interviewed and he expressed his reservations about the project, yet she failed to even mention him.

She fails to mention the group I represent, the McMillan Park Committee and residents that live in the immediate neighborhood are the ones that did the things she credits me for.

She says the neighborhood is unfamiliar with how development works by requesting the final studies.  This is totally incorrect.   First of all the city did not complete the “summaries” not “studies” until 6 months ago.  The community requested the city/developers mitigate the negative impact of the traffic and the flooding issues, which the city has refused to address.  It is Ms. DePillis that is not familiar with how development works, these issues must be resolved on the front end not the back end of the project.

She goes on to comment about the development representatives “none of them white” she says. I fail to understand this off base inappropriate comment.  All the major development firms on the team are white (she went there) EYA and Trammell Crow. Jair Lynch is simply the minority face with a less than 10 % interest and the other non-white persons she names are merely employees.

If she had done basic research she would have learn that not one civic organization or ANC in the surrounding community supports this “New Plan.”

If she had objectively researched the issue, she would have discovered the reasons the community opposed the previous and present plans are because of the following : massive density (1.8 million sq ft. of development, 10 story buildings); lack of  a preservation plan for the historic site; lack of adequate contiguous park and green space; insufficient traffic study or plan to mitigate the serious traffic issues; insufficient storm water and sewer study or plan to mitigate the impact the project will contribute to area flooding; lack of community amenities package and a large public subsidy to sustain the development team ($60 to 100 million “requested”).  Documents were forwarded to her to support the above community’s positions, she either did not read it or did not understand it.

Reporting on a story is more than just reviewing the developer’s press release, one should adequately research the issues, interview all sides of the topic and report objectively on the issues. Tying to personalize a story by making it two dimensional only dumb downs the issues. The community today and your readers are much more sophisticated than that.

TONY NORMAN
Chairman of the McMillan Park Committee
Commissioner-elect 1B10  (which represents part of the historic site)