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FBI considered moving headquarters to Prince George's, court papers reveal

By Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 16, 2010; C01

Court filings in a lawsuit over stalled plans to build a mixed-used development in Greenbelt reveal that the FBI might at one time have considered moving to Prince George's County.

In papers filed by Greenbelt Ventures in its lawsuit against the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, the development company says that Garth Beall, the managing member of Metroland Developers, had been "secretly meeting with WMATA and the FBI analyzing a potential use of the WMATA property for the FBI's relocation."

Greenbelt Ventures officials say the development company had an agreement with Metroland Developers and Metro to build on the land.

A relocation of the FBI headquarters "would mean that all of the property would be occupied by the FBI," the lawsuit says.

The revelation about possible plans for the FBI relocation is buried in a 118-page response to a motion by Metro to dismiss the lawsuit. The Greenbelt News Review reported last month on the lawsuit and the FBI's possible relocation to Greenbelt.

FBI spokesman Bill Carter said Friday that there had been preliminary discussions "before the economy tanked" to move the headquarters from the aging J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building on Pennsylvania Avenue NW. Many sites were under consideration, he said, but he did not know whether Greenbelt was among them.

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) was "very much involved" in pushing for a relocation to Maryland, Carter said.

"I'm not aware of Greenbelt," he said. "National Harbor was one of the areas."

Carter said the talks surrounding a move have not advanced since the economic downturn, and he would not identify any other possible relocation sites.

"I'm not aware of imminent plans to relocate the FBI at this time," he said. "Nothing has been decided."

Jon Peterson, senior vice president and owner of Peterson Cos., the developer of National Harbor, said a bid was submitted for FBI office space. The proposal was for 100,000 to 200,000 square feet of office space, not for the entire headquarters, Peterson said.

Rachel MacKnight, a Mikulski spokeswoman, said the senator is aware that the FBI's headquarters does not meet the agency's safety and security needs.

"The building is literally crumbling around them and cannot support the high-tech needs of the bureau," she said. "Employees are also located in over 16 annex offices in the area, which reduces their effectiveness. So the senator asked GAO [the Government Accountability Office] to review the Hoover building and the FBI's other locations, and assess the benefits of a consolidated headquarters. The GAO is working on this analysis."

An FBI move to Prince George's would be a boost to the county, which county officials say has not gotten its fair share of federal leases and office space.

For years, Prince George's officials have argued that the county has fewer government leases than other jurisdictions in the Washington region, even though it has more available land and offers lower rents.

The National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education and the University of Maryland Real Estate Development Program found in a 2007 study that even though Prince George's has 33 percent of the region's land area and 23 percent of the population, it has attracted only 4 percent of the federal leasing dollars spent in the region.

Greenbelt Ventures, the development company that is suing Metro, planned to build Greenbelt Station Towne Centre, which would include hundreds of residential units, 800,000 square feet of retail, 1 million square feet of office space, a hotel and a conference center.

The proposed development is 240 acres, divided into two sections. The southern portion of the property, where residential development is planned, is privately owned by Daniel I. Colton and the estate of A.H. Smith Sr. Two years ago, the FBI launched an investigation of the project, raiding two government officials' offices, a former council member's home and a fire official's office.

Greenbelt Ventures was interested in the northern portion of the property, 78 acres of Metro-owned property that abuts Greenbelt Station. In December 2000, Metroland Developers agreed to pay Metro $6.4 million for the property. Under the joint development agreement, Metroland Developers would build parking at the station. In 2006, Greenbelt Ventures, which includes Annapolis-based developer Walter Petrie, entered into a membership interest purchase and sale agreement with Metroland to assume control of the development. The deal, which had to be approved by Metro, was for $40 million.

After months of delay and requests to change the original agreement made with Metroland, Metro declined to give the go-ahead. Greenbelt Ventures is suing Metro for breach of contract, saying the agency "deliberately misled and deceived" the development company by not signing off on the project.

"Even though we believed that it was promised, it didn't happen," said David Sheehan, a Baltimore-based attorney who represents Greenbelt Ventures. "[Metro] has taken a project that has tremendous promise . . . one that was catapulted from success, to one of the worst."

Metro spokeswoman Angela Gates said the agency does not comment on ongoing litigation.

In Metro's motion to dismiss the lawsuit, the agency says Greenbelt Ventures has no grounds to sue because Metro's joint development agreement was with Metroland. The agency says that Metroland asked that the membership interest purchase agreement with Greenbelt Ventures be terminated.

Petrie wrote a letter to Beall arguing that the agreement is still in effect.

"Your failure to tell us about the FBI opportunity, your failure to include us in any discussions or meetings at the FBI or WMATA . . . seriously undermines the legitimacy of your pronouncement that the Agreement is terminated," Petrie wrote in a January letter to Beall.

Beall did not return calls seeking comment.

Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.

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