Base Plan Undercuts Sprawl Battle

By David Cho
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 15, 2005

The Pentagon's plan to move tens of thousands of jobs from Metro-accessible urban centers to campuses outside the Capital Beltway will exacerbate the region's traffic, destabilize the real estate market and flood already crowded schools, local planners and elected leaders say.

What's more, officials across the region say the proposal runs counter to more than a decade of development planning that has been designed to slow sprawl and focus jobs and housing near mass transit centers inside the Beltway.

"No rezoning has ever had the impact that this one decision will have on our community . . . and it is a step backward from a transit-oriented point of view," said Gerald E. Connolly (D), the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors chairman, noting that the proposed changes would redirect thousands of employees out of Metro trains and into their cars.

Connolly was referring specifically to the Defense Department plan to move more than 18,000 jobs to Fort Belvoir in burgeoning southern Fairfax, but other jurisdictions face similar challenges. About 5,400 jobs could be moved to Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County and 3,013 to the Marine Corps base at Quantico in Prince William County.

While Bethesda is poised to add nearly 1,900 jobs near the Metro with the expansion of the military hospital there, most of the jobs would move from urban centers with easy access to rail, such as Crystal City and Rosslyn in Arlington County, to locations miles away from commuter lines.

"This single decision by an isolated federal agency contradicts all the vision and planning and progress of the region over the past decade . . . in terms of 'smart growth,' " said Jay Fisette (D), board chairman in Arlington County, which he said is losing 20,000 jobs, 10 percent of its commercial workforce.

Under the plan announced Friday, the Pentagon would close about 180 bases and installations nationwide to save nearly $49 billion over 20 years. Personnel also are slated to be relocated, mainly out of urban areas where older buildings do not meet new security requirements put in place since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center.

If the Defense Department's plan is adopted as proposed, the largest test would come in Northern Virginia.

Thousands of workers, most of them in Arlington and Alexandria, who rely on transit to get to their jobs would have to drive to Fort Belvoir. The sprawling base is served by a few congested roads in southern Fairfax. Thousands of families could relocate and move their children into area schools.

Connolly said his most immediate concern is that traffic could become impassable around the post. Other officials noted that there also would be secondary effects on taxes, real estate values, the local economy and schools.

"It's incumbent on the Pentagon and the federal government to provide resources to help localities absorb the impacts that they are creating with these changes," Connolly said.

On Friday, Connolly, Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) and other elected officials began to talk seriously about extending rail to Fort Belvoir and petitioning the federal government to foot the bill.

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