ANC On Track to Withdraw Support for Swamp Fox Memorial in Marion Park

Marion Park, on E Street, SE, between 4th and 5th Streets, SE.  In the background is the First District MPD Headquarters

Marion Park, on E Street, SE, between 4th and 5th Streets, SE. In the background is the First District MPD Headquarters

ANC On Track to Withdraw Support for Swamp Fox Memorial in Marion Park

by Larry Janezich

Tuesday night, about a dozen neighbors of Marion Park appeared before ANC6B’s Planning and Zoning Committee to continue their protest against locating a proposed memorial to Revolutionary War General Francis Marion in Marion Park.

​B​y the end of the meeting, the ANC appeared ready to withdraw its support for placing the memorial in the park – known as “Turtle Park” by the neighbors.

Last September, when approached by the National Park Service (NPS) to voice a preference for siting of the memorial, ​the ANC voted 4 – 3 with 2 abstentions in favor of locating ​it ​​in Marion Park, though commissioners complained at the time about the N​PS​’s presumptuous process and lack of consultation.  That vote was conveyed to the National Park Service in a letter detailing a list of attached conditions related to consultation with the neighbors of the park.  ​Neighbors at that meeting complained that they had been blindsided, with virtually no notice that the park was being considered as the location of a memorial which they said was not only inappropriate for the park, but which would interfere with the public’s recreational use of it. See previous CHC post here: http://bit.ly/1wzFEQs

As of now, according to NPS’s Glenn DeMarr, who attended Tuesday night’s meeting, the project is on hold – the seven year Congressional authorization is set to expire on May 8, thus not allowing enough time to complete site approval or funding.  The South Carolina sponsor of the memorial has so far garnered only $50,000 of the $1 – ​​$2 million in contributions which must be raised during the authorization period.  According the DeMarr, the South Carolina Congressional delegation has introduced a bill to extend the authorization for an additional three years.  Nothing can happen until the authorization is extended, but sources indicated that passage of the bill is likely.

Neighbors opposed to the project said that last​ September​’s​ ANC vote was being represented as community approval of siting the project in Marion Park, and that the conditions attached to that support were being dis​regarded​.  They said that the first thing that city representatives want to know when opponents seek their aid in opposing the memorial’s siting is “Where does the ANC stand on this​?​” and that as long as the letter is out there it will be cited as ANC support for locating the memorial in Marion Park.

The committee might have recommended rescinding the letter Tuesday night, but former ANC6B Chair and current Vice Chair Brian Flahaven said he was opposed to withdrawing a written recommendation of a previous ANC.  Flahaven said he agreed that the NPS had misconstrued the ANC vote as community support for locating the memorial in Marion Park and hoped that next week the full ANC would find a way to withdraw its support for the memorial without rescinding the letter.

Only seven members of the ten member ANC were present Tuesday night, plus one resident commissioner.  When the vote came on language offered by Commissioner Hoskins rescinding the letter, it failed on a 4 – 4 vote, with Commissioner’s Samolyk, Hoskins, Krepp, and resident commissioner Chris Alexander voting for rescinding.  Commissioners Flahaven, Hagadorn, Burger and Oldenburg opposed.  Commissioners Loots, Chao, and Jayaraman were absent.

A vote on language offered by Hoskins to simply oppose any further action on the Marion Memorial also failed on an identical 4-4 vote.

Given the strength of the opposition among neighbors it seems virtually certain that the ANC will vote to oppose any further action on siting the Marion Memorial in Marion Park.  Whether that will have an impact on the final outcome, or whether the NPS will prevail in its seeming preference for siting the Swamp Fox memorial in Marion Park, thus continuing its long record of riding roughshod over the wishes of DC residents remains to be seen.

DeMarrs had no comment after the meeting other than to reiterate the project is on hold and nothing will happen until Congress reauthorizes it.

12 Comments

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12 responses to “ANC On Track to Withdraw Support for Swamp Fox Memorial in Marion Park

  1. Elissa Feldman

    Thanks for your (always) excellent reporting on the interaction between neighbors and the P&Z. We encourage the ANC to follow through.

  2. Nancy Geyer

    A very lucid account — thank you. I, too, strongly encourage the ANC to follow through.

  3. Craig D'Ooge

    Do they want to change the name of the street the park sits across too?

  4. fresh air

    Thank you for the reporting. It is good that the ANC (who represent the residents) took the time to hear from their constituents. I too, strongly encourage the ANC to listen to the residents and follow through.

    It was an unfortunate sequence of events that led the NPS to interpret the ANC vote as representing the community. I am confident the ANC will set the record straight with the NPS.

  5. And Capitol Hill continues to try to “out-Berkeley” Berkeley. This is a NATIONAL Park in a NATIONAL city, located on South Carolina Avenue, named after the man (from SC) credited by the US Army as fathering the US Army Rangers. It was quite pleasing to be at one of the Zoning Commission meetings (at the Building Museum), and see how member after member — each one — thought the statue was a fine, if not innocuous idea, and that it made the most sense to place it in Marion Park. Every. One. Of. Them.

    At that meeting, not a single commissioner objected to the statue, and only one, a representative of the Mayor (gently) pointed out to the statue’s advocates that it might seem weird if someone tried to put a statue of Frederick Douglass in Charleston, SC (which, by the way, isn’t a fair analogy, unless there was a PARK already in Charleston called “Frederick Douglass Park”). Regardless, the Mayoral rep noted that statues like these were part of the “DNA” of the city. One commissioner actually mentioned that there was an aspect of NIMBYism to the neighborhood objections. She was right.

    I think the main thing running against this memorial is time and money. The organizer appears unable to muster enough of either to help the statue go through (apparently, he did virtually nothing for years, and his website/FB pages are quite outdated). So if the statue fails, it will have everything to do with the organizer’s own inaction, and not because of a bunch of self-important local residents. And it for sure WON’T be because some ANC members didn’t support it. It amazes me that residents think they can call Peter May a liar, and delude themselves as to their own importance by virtue of their proximity to a park.

    By the way, in advance of some nonsense I heard previously, for the record, I am a Capitol Hill resident, and have been for over 10 years. But even if I lived in South Carolina, or California, or Maine, as a US citizen, I’m entitled to give an opinion on the statue’s placement in a National Park. I have heard one-too-many haughty residents of this city sniff that opinions on this statue only matter if (1) you’re a resident of DC, or (as one woman said) (2) that you have to live within SIGHT of the park to have your opinion matter. There’s a whole nation out there folks, and they’re not impressed by a Capitol Hill address.

  6. Kim Nead

    Tai Fung, there is nothing wrong with or self-important about community members expressing their opposition to the establishment of this memorial on National Park Service property (or with you expressing your opinion about it). Congress and the NPS have established a process for erecting a memorial on National Park Service land in the District of Columbia. That process requires opportunities for public participation through NEPA and Section 106 consultations. In addition, the National Capital Memorial Advisory Commission, the Commission of Fine Arts, and the National Capital Planning Commission – the three entities charged with consultative and approval roles under the Commemorative Works Act – all hold public meetings where public comment, either in writing or in person, is permitted and not uncommon. NPS and the memorial sponsor contacted the ANC and requested their approval of Marion Park as the site for the memorial; there’s no reason to belittle their role.

    The Commemorative Works Act requires the memorial sponsor to conduct an alternative site study and sets out certain decision criteria for memorial site selection by the Commission of Fine Arts, National Capital Planning Commission and the Secretary of the Interior. These include “to the maximum extent practicable, it protects open space, existing public use, and cultural and natural resources.” Under NEPA, the National Park Service looks at the proposed memorial’s impact on visitor use and experience, among other things. In the case of a small urban park like Marion Park, the current users, the many neighborhood residents who rely on Marion Park for passive and active recreation, are the park “visitors.”

    If you had attended the National Capital Planning Commission meeting on this in December, you would have heard from NCPC staff and commissioners that the decision to push new memorials out into the neighborhoods in order to relieve pressure on the National Mall creates real tensions. As the city grows, these small urban green spaces are under increased pressure and usage.

    This controversy over the placement of the Frances Marion Memorial in Marion Park is not as silly as you seem to think. There is a real public policy issue here: the constant, if understandable, pressure to erect new memorials in Washington, DC. Congress enacted the Commemorative Works Act to try to put some brakes on the proliferation of memorials in the city. However, this does not seem to be effective in adequately slowing the stream of commemorative projects looking for a home on one of Washington’s dwindling patches of green space. Congress needs to find a way to limit these commemorative projects, which pass fairly easily because who cares enough to vote against some memorial sponsored by your fellow legislator. It is like voting against National Ice Cream Day, unless one takes the larger view. Hence, we end up with things like the recently erected Ukrainian Famine Memorial.

    • Kim Nead

      Sorry, I should have said the “soon-to-be-completed” Ukrainian Famine Memorial. This is still in progress. And please don’t think I am minimizing the suffering endured by these people.

  7. Christine

    Knowing nothing of the design or placement, a statue of Marion in Marion Park seems like a no brainer. I actually had to look on a map to see which park was Marion Park (I live on the other side of Capitol Hill in NE). So long as the design isn’t ridiculously hideous or out of scale, having a landmark would give the park some character. People have a right to voice their opinion, but it does seem to me like people here will complain about anything and everything if it changes something. We are fortunate to live in a place where people actually care enough to want to put things in parks and where we have such an abundance of parks that it’s easy to forget the name of one. Though from the sound of the fundraising, I don’t think anyone needs to get too anxious just yet.

    • Craig D'Ooge

      Like your response Christine…what a town! So many out of work “activists” that they pile on to trivial pursuits. If only a tenth of their zeal would be brought to bear on the real problems like the city’s foster care program. They complain the NPS doesn’t give enough care and attention to parks, and yet oppose the very thing that would bring more maintenance and attention, with minimal disruption and footprint. Perhaps we can erect a statue to the Unknown Busybody instead! This isn’t just NIMBY, this is more like TMTOMH. (Too Much Time on My Hands)

      • Nancy Geyer

        Craig: I know quite a few people who oppose the statue, and I can assure you that they don’t have too much time on their hands; quite the contrary. They include people who work full time in endeavors such as affordable housing and public health, so your reference to the city’s foster care program (versus the statue) sets up a false dichotomy. A LOT of people (not everyone, of course, but many indeed) oppose the statue and for various reasons. To dismiss them with one broad brushstroke is absurd.

      • Craig D'Ooge

        And to paint them all with in the same color, “dark earnest.” Is equally absurd. I guess because you know a LOT of people with VARIOUS reasons, that’s good enough for you. Not me. It’s a STATUE for god’s sake, not a crack house. It’s all just “Who moved my cheese!” Maybe they need more assignments at their vital altruistic work if they have time to chase swamp foxes. Or did affordable housing and public health get taken care of while I wasn’t paying attention?

  8. Kim Nead

    NPS has told residents that having the memorial put in Marion Park would not lead to additional maintenance and attention. Several people asked.