The National Capital Planning Commission Thursday approved a master plan for the development of the Southeast Federal Center -- a major proposal by the General Services Administration to put up to 30,000 government workers into the property just west of the Washington Navy Yard.
No firm plans have been drawn up for future construction on the 60.5-acre property, but the Navy has been lobbying GSA to develop the property as a new "mini-Pentagon."
The commission also approved a design for a new 585-car paved parking lot on the property, a new entrance for the center at M and Third streets SE, and sidewalk landscaping. In addition, a GSA-commissioned architectural firm, DesignTech East, has developed sketches showing how a future promanade would be landscaped along Tingley Street, the main east-west thoroughfare on the GSA property.
The commission endorsed a new business zone that would allow intensified office and commercial uses adjacent to a proposed Green Line Metro stop at First and M streets SE, and a new "Industrial Character Zone" that would incorporate "adaptive reuses for historic and architecturally important structures" within the center.
In accordance with GSA's plan, the planning commission approved a "waterfront zone" that would provide a new "river drive" road and pedestrian promenade, and a new "urban square" flanked by federal office buildings filled with ground-level retail outlets.
The number of federal employes at the center could reach 20,000 by the end of the century and up to 30,000 after that if "it is subsequently demonstrated that environmental, transportation and other factors permit it," the commission said in a staff report.
Currently there are 4,600 employes working in the complex, primarily for the Defense Department, GSA and Library of Congress.
GSA has been pushing for the center since the 1970s, and most recently revived it with a major architectural study completed in 1983. But then-GSA administrator Gerald P. Carmen said the center was too costly at a time of tight budgets.
Earlier this year, GSA officials dusted off the document and resubmitted it to William F. Sullivan, GSA's new Public Buildings Service Commissioner, and Dwight A. Ink, the new acting administrator. In addition, administrator-designate Terence C. Golden has toured the site and told staffers on the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee that he is impressed with the project and would like it to move ahead.
"All we're looking at at this point is moving an entrance, doing a little landscaping along a new divided roadway and some paving," said Jack Finberg, GSA's deputy regional Public Buildings Commissioner. "It seems that we're on the right track at this point."
Eventually, GSA wants up to 11 million square feet of buildings, including 8.4 million square feet of office space, 200,000 square feet of retail space, and 2.2 million square feet of parking.
The only major concern raised by the planning commission staff focused on how future development of the site could be accommodated by the Blue Plains sewage treatment facility, which is already near capacity. The staff said plans for the federal center should be timed to coincide with an expansion of Blue Plains, or alternative sewage treatment methods should be developed.
GSA has asked Congress to fund a total of 14 major asbestos removal projects, including work in some of the government's largest buildings. None of the projects is in the Washington area.
A GSA report on the subject, sent to Sen. Robert T. Stafford (R-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, contains some interesting language. Referring to several projects, GSA's acting administrator, Dwight A. Ink, states: "The work proposed is necessary to provide occupants a safe and healthful working environment."
For a $15.7 million project in the Buffalo Federal Building, GSA says it needs to "replace all asbestos fireproofing because it is friable and poses a health hazard."
"Friable simply means easily 'crumbable'," explained William R. Lawson, an assistant commissioner at GSA's the office of design and construction who heads the agency's asbestos control program. "It's a dangerous condition." Asked if occupants of the Buffalo building were in greater danger than those in some of the other projects listed in the report to the Senate, Lawson said, "No, not really. It's generic language."
Is the report to Stafford, accurate in asserting that some buildings have a significant problem but not others? "It's accurate," said Lawson.
Is the report an exaggeration which is designed to coax Congress into funding the projects without have an accurate description? "It the report doesn't mean anything," Lawson insisted. "I'd recommend to the committee staff that they not read these things literally because they are all priority projects which need to be done."
Other buildings cited include: L. Mendel Rivers Federal Building, Charleston, S.C., and the Jacksonville, Fla., Federal Building. Projects there will involve the "removal of friable asbestos fireproofing material from building structural components; disposal of asbestos waste; clean-up and decontamination of all areas after removal and air monitoring and industrial hygiene services while the work is in progress." Peter W. Rodino Jr. Federal Building, Newark. "The proposed project will replace all asbestos fireproofing because it is friable and poses a potential health hazard. This material was sprayed on all structural steel beams and metal corrugated decking during construction (in 1968). The work proposed is necessary to provide occupants with a safe and healthful working environment." Jacob K. Javits Federal Building, New York. GSA proposes removing all asbestos from occupiable and support areas and replacement with non-asbestos fireproofing.
Wolfgang Zoellner, GSA assistant commissioner for buildings management, said the agency wasn't misleading Congress or the public by embellishing or softening the language in the reports.
"The verbiage doesn't bother me because we know the extent of the problems and which are worse than others," Zoellner said. "We wouldn't be submitting these projects if we didn't think the work was necessary. They (Congress) don't need this degree of detail."
An aide to Ink said that the "only way to achieve program improvements -- be it asbestos or anything -- is to be open and honest with Congress. This is not an example of that. The Public Buildings Service has a problem in that they do not check their work carefully. We will look into it and if it appears that Congress has been misled about the degree of dangers associated with any project, we will send them another, more accurate report."
The Interior Department has added the old Pension Building, at 440 G St. NW, to the rolls of the National Register for Historic Places . . . Legislation has been introduced in the House which would require GSA to abide by all local zoning and building codes. GSA officials say they generally do that now, except where the local codes are poorly drawn.