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The McMillan Sand Filtration Plant site is a 25-acre plot of land north of Bloomingdale. In the mid 1980s, the plant closed, leaving the city to determine how to redevelop the land. In December, Vision McMillan Partners, a group of developers, unveiled plans to transform the parcel into a mixed-use community with housing, retail, office space, and park land. Since that time, rumors, conspiracy theories, and chatter about the project have sparked huge debates about the project.
CONSPIRACY THEORY NO. 2: Developers have “plants” in the audience.
Last Saturday’s meeting started with a presentation by EYA representative Aakash Thakkar and Jair Lynch, whose company is part of the development team. After the usual rounds of diagrams, photos, plans, and explications, the meeting opened to community inquiries.
Following some back-and-forths, a slender, blond woman in a red V-neck sweater stepped up to a centrally located mic. She then loosened the mic from its holder and, with the wire dangling behind her, turned away from the developers and faced the other half of the room. Her name was Robin Buck, and she had a message to deliver: “This is called a community meeting but this is clearly a developer-led meeting. The developers are presenting the information, and then they are allowing us to speak.”
In other words: Buck felt the place was planted with people favorable to developers. And she’s not alone. An ANC commissioner wrote this note to another commissioner, which ended up being passed around to several constituents:
“Talk about setting up the questions and discussions in a way to maximize a particular response: that has been the format of the meetings I attended. The meetings are also liberally salted with plants who will advocate the developer’s line. That was clearly how the April meeting was set up with Washington Hospital Center people and developer staff people evenly spread among the [actual] community members.”
The developers don’t refute the allegation, at least in the case of an April 2008 meeting. According to EYA President Bob Youngentob, that first meeting was set up to gather community input from small groups of residents. Developer reps, yes, were planted there to “facilitate” discussions, he says, and they acknowledged who they were.
To counter the strategy, Buck has been doing some “facilitating” of her own.
She attended Tuesday’s residents gathering and hosted a similar get-together the following day. In January, she attended one meeting with the McMillan Advisory Group, a longstanding group of civic association and ANC leaders who meet with the developers on a monthly basis. “People got their permission to speak from the developer. There were three or four Jair Lynch people strategically placed around the room, and they gave the marching orders from the moment we got in,” says Buck.
On Saturday, Buck held a couple of clipboards in her free hand. She asked people to sign them, so they could be contacted for “alternative meetings.”