Peter May, National Park Service Official, Goes Before Neighbors on “Swamp Fox” Controversy
Residents Unhappy About Proposed Statue in Marion (Turtle) Park
by Larry Janezich
Tuesday night, the National Park Service (NPS) held a “scoping meeting” to consider the siting for a memorial for Francis Marion (the “Swamp Fox”). The meeting, convened in order to obtain public input on the project, was held at Northeast Library, far afield from the neighborhood where the proposed memorial is to be placed. Nonetheless, some 20 residents attended the meeting.
In 2008, Congress authorized a memorial for South Carolinian Francis Marion, Colonel in the American Revolutionary Army and General in the South Carolina Militia. The National Park Service is charged with locating a site for the memorial and approving a design, and Peter May, as the National Park Service official overseeing National Park Service Parks on Capitol Hill was present to explain the process. (Recently, City Paper ran a lengthy front page profile of May, who it calls “the most powerful man shaping D.C.’s growth you’ve never heard of.”) May, by virtue of his NPS position, also sits on DC’s Zoning Commission and the Board of Zoning Adjustment.
When NPS officials appeared before the ANC last month to outline the proposal to place a statue of Marion in Marion Park on South Carolina Avenue, they received a chilly reception from commissioners for lack of communication with the ANC, as well as strong criticism from nearby residents (see CHC posting here: http://bit.ly/Xr3Fcy ).
At Tuesday night’s meeting, a preliminary presentation from NPS personnel was followed by a presentation by project sponsor John McCabe, who argues Marion deserves a memorial based upon his exceptional service during Revolutionary War.
May then took the floor to explain that the way the NPS site selection process was structured, and noted that the purpose of the meeting was not to have a general discussion but to solicit written commentary which would be facilitated by breaking the group up into “workshops” where residents could interact with NPS staffers standing by to take questions on each of the six potential sites for the memorial. May said that the comments would be collected and considered – both hard copies from those at the meeting as well as comments on the NPS’s project website.
Despite disclaimers that the process was an open one and that no decision had been made, the process seemed heavily tilted in favor of the only one of the six sites that the NPS has direct control over: Marion Park. Correction:
The National Capitol Planning Commission (NCPC) National Capital Memorial Advisory Commission or NCMAC indicated a preference for Marion Park, although Peter May, as Chair of the Commission, stated that they would be sending the memorial sponsor – Mr. McCabe of the Francis Marion Memorial Project – a letter advising them to keep at least one non-Marion Park project in the mix as they went through the environmental analysis. The Commission has an advisory role in the siting and design of memorials, but it is not a decision-making body.
The National Capital Planning Commission – which is a decision making body – will take a formal approval vote later in the process after the December 4 meeting. The final decision will be made by the Secretary of the Interior after consideration of the recommendation of the NPS. May cited instances where the NPS has had to go to a second site to place a memorial. He also noted that the Congress’ authorization is limited (it expires May 8, 2015) and the project might have to be re-authorized. “There have been memorials authorized that have never been built,” he added.
The six sites being considered by the NPS for siting the memorial are: Garfield Park West, Garfield Park East, Marion Park, Metro Plaza Park, the triangle park at South Carolina and C Street, and the park at the intersection of South Carolina, Independence and Massachusetts Avenue. NPS planners said they have spoken to Barracks Row Main Street to see if there is an opportunity to place the memorial in conjunction with the redesign of the Plaza Park, but were told there was not.
The project anticipates a statue of Marion less than 1.5x life-sized, situated on a pedestal 40-42 inches high. The design concept is preliminary, and a scoping meeting for the design of the memorial itself will be scheduled in January or February of 2015.
Though May said the purpose of the meeting was to elicit written responses from the community, he agreed to takes some general comments from the neighbors. Some of the concerns expressed involved the short notice neighbors were given of the meeting; whether a memorial less obtrusive than a statue is being considered; the question of whether it was appropriate to honor Marion (a slave owner) across from a church designed by DC’s first African-American architect and built by freedmen; the lack of representation in Congress which gives residents no voice in authorizing the memorial; and the lack of evaluation of the project in terms of the park being a staging area for law enforcement officials during emergencies.
Perhaps owing to the controversy the project has engendered, a second scoping meeting of site location will be held on December 3, 6:30pm – 8:30pm, this one at the more convenient Southeast Library. According to the NPS website, the period for comments ends December 3, though a date of December 10 was given at Tuesday night’s meeting. The public can provide comments at the second scoping meeting on December 3 (6:30 to 8:30pm at the Southeast Library) or online at http://bit.ly/1wGFDIQ
The link to the City Paper article on Peter May is here: http://bit.ly/1u0tRYD