In a dangerous turn for St. Elizabeths Hospital, the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) voted today to approve the General Services Administration's (GSA) master plan for the six-million-gross-square-foot Department of Homeland Security headquarters consolidation. It is a conditional approval: the National Park Service must turn over parkland for the access road and planning for the East Campus portion must be completed. GSA must also submit a funding request for the rehabilitation phases of the project before new construction can begin - although realistically, that funding may not be secured.
National Trust for Historic Preservation President Richard Moe testified on behalf of the organization that the master plan was premature and posed extraordinary harm to St. Elizabeths. Instead, he and others advocated a mixed-use, low-impact development with a federal anchor tenant that would preserve the site and benefit the neighborhood. Representatives from the Brookings Institution, the D.C. Preservation League, Alexander Company, and the National Coalition to Save Our Mall also testified in opposition to the consolidation proposal. Peter May, who represents the National Park Service on the NCPC, delivered a moving statement on behalf of the Department of the Interior in opposition to the plan.
In the end, the approval of the St. Elizabeths master plan sets a terrible precedent for America's National Historic Landmarks. These exceptional places are accorded special protection under federal law. In the case of St. Elizabeths, those protections were overlooked in favor of real estate considerations. Such a precedent could jeopardize our most important historic places.
- Nell Ziehl
Nell Ziehl is a program officer for the Southern Field Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.