Land Held in Trust For Old Soldiers

Sunday, March 5, 2006

The Armed Forces Retirement Home, one of the nation's oldest retirement communities for veterans, is crafting a master plan to address its chronic financial problems and to guide and control development on its Northwest campus for the next 25 years. Congress has authorized the home to use its most valuable asset, its land, to generate revenue.

Unfortunately, a small group of critics is misrepresenting the home's intentions, ignoring the needs of veterans and demanding that the home give up 24 of its acres for public use ["Growth Fight Invades Soldiers' Refuge; Retirement Home's Proposal Infuriates D.C. Neighbors," Metro, Feb. 21].

Despite the overheated rhetoric of some of these critics, the home has no intention of building skyscrapers or strip malls, or of paving over the campus. The plan focuses development on the edges of the campus to keep the green core untouched. It requires developers to respect green buffers and set aside acres of open space. It keeps a federal buffer around the campus, which includes a national historic monument -- the so-called Lincoln Cottage that Abraham Lincoln used as a summer White House.

The density of the new development will amount to only a fraction of the density just across the street at the Washington Hospital Center. The height of the new buildings will be less than the height of existing buildings on campus and neighboring hospital buildings. The home intends to lease the land, not sell it, to maintain control.

In response to public calls for more open space, the home has added bicycle and foot paths and pocket parks, and it has focused initial development efforts in a section of campus most distant from the residential neighborhood. It also put on hold two development zones bordered by Park Place and Rock Creek Church Road adjacent to a residential neighborhood. The plan calls for construction of housing in those zones similar to that across the street from the campus.

But some neighbors are demanding that the home give up this acreage for their use. They complain about the erosion of open space and cite the 1902 McMillan Plan as a template for preservation in Washington. They ignore the fact that construction of their own homes and the amenities for their neighborhood contributed to this erosion of open space.

The Armed Forces Retirement Home campus once stretched across more than 500 acres. Nearly half that land was lost to construction of hospitals, educational and religious facilities, and city roads, all of which benefit this area of Washington. The traffic triangles in which neighborhood children play were once part of the home.

The critics who are eager to seize the veterans' land for a public park ignore a 25-acre parcel just a few blocks away at the McMillan Reservoir. This parcel has languished since the city purchased it from the federal government nearly 20 years ago. To take away any more land from veterans who already have given so much is unconscionable. This land was purchased with booty obtained by Gen. Winfield Scott during the Mexican War in the mid-19th century; it was designated for the housing of elderly and disabled veterans. This institution has been maintained by the payroll deductions of active-duty members of the military for generations.

This is not just another piece of federal land. The federal government has held this land in trust for veterans for more than 150 years, and we have an obligation to make sure it is used for their benefit.

-- Timothy Cox

is chief operating officer of

the Armed Forces Retirement Home.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company