Vietnam Center Draws Tiff

Posted June 5, 2009 at 3:40pm

Plans for a proposed visitor center at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial led to a heated discussion among members of the National Park Service, community groups and the National Capital Planning Commission at a commission meeting last week.

In a lengthy process, the National Park Service has been pushing for a go-ahead to construct the underground center since Congress initially approved its construction and location in 2003.

That process didn’t move much at last week’s meeting when the commission decided, despite some vocal opposition from community groups, to encourage the National Park Service to continue the design process while attempting to meet all of its requirements and recommendations for the site. The commission refused to send the issue back to Congress, risking cancellation of the entire project, as some individuals and organizations would have liked.

Commission member Herbert F. Ames said that since he joined the commission in 2005, “This has been the longest process since I’ve been on the commission.— Ames appeared to be frustrated, along with other commission members and NPS representatives, that after years of negotiation, there is no endpoint in sight.

“This has been an incredibly complex design challenge,— architect Thomas Wong said. “It has been very difficult because of the design guidelines which are quite challenging to meet.— The planning commission has set forth 14 “expectations— and one additional requirement for the architect and his design team to adhere to if they want the OK to begin construction. Seven of these have been successfully met.

The “expectations— primarily address the aesthetic character and historic integrity of the center and surrounding landscape and monuments. Some commissioners voiced concerns about the center’s visibility from neighboring Constitution Avenue Northwest and Henry Bacon Drive. And although Wong insists they will comply with the “expectations— by removing certain architectural elements such as skylights in the underground center, commissioners and other attendees said they were still worried about its intrusion into the views of the Lincoln Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Jean Feldman of the advocacy group National Coalition to Save Our Mall, argued that the project should be sent back to Congress for re-evaluation. “The plans take away from the landscape and views of the Lincoln Memorial,— Feldman said. “It is highly unlikely that any design will meet all the guidelines.—