“Burdensome” is how Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille describes the September move of thousands of federal workers to the City’s West End. Euille, who said that City staff are partly to blame for the selection of the Mark Center site, also characterized the move as a “transportation nightmare.”
“One would like to think that having 6,400 potential new jobs come to your city is a good thing, but the headaches and the angst, the frustration, time consuming, all of that, you have to question if it’s been worth it,” said Euille, who spoke with Patch on Monday from his office at City Hall. ”No, it’s not worth it.”
Scores of elected officials, including Republican Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and (D-8th), want a delay as the Sept. 15 move-in deadline steadily approaches. Moran has introduced legislation in the Fiscal Year 2012 National Defense Authorization Act that would push the deadline back a year.
“Any delay is helpful. It affords you an opportunity to take a sigh of relief, a break, a breather to say, ‘OK, where are we?' ” Euille said. “A year delay enables [the Army] to slow this train down, to rethink, to work for a smoother transition, a lesser impact and allow things to be addressed on a case-by-case, day-by-day, week-by-week basis as challenges evolve...”
The Mark Center site, situated along I-395 at Seminary Road, is three miles from the nearest Metro station, but was the Army’s least expensive option. “I think it’s a mistake that all of us - the Council, City Manager and senior staff - all have to admit to,” said Euille. “If we had more time, we would have reflected more on the impacts, the consequences. And the fact remains: in your wildest dreams, no one would have ever thought that the Mark Center site would be selected over a half-dozen other sites that the Department of Defense had to choose from. All of those other sites had transit and Metro station stops and shuttles, and so, one would just think: Why did they do it?”
The Army considered three properties in the final stage of the site selection process: the General Services Administration site in Springfield, and the Victory Center and Mark Center properties in Alexandria. In August 2008, a month before the Army made its final decision, Alexandria City staff signed a letter stating that a move to the Mark Center or Victory Center sites would result in “No Significant Impact” on the environment or traffic surrounding the area.
Euille said the letter most likely influenced the Army’s decision. “It probably did, obviously in some regard,” he said. “What that letter failed to mention, and I haven’t seen it in a while, was that it made no reference to transit.”
The Army failed to make accurate transportation impact studies on the Mark Center area, according to released last month. “I think they came to realize that they made a very bad mistake in selecting this site, and to make amends, [the Army said] ‘OK, let’s now work with the City to address transportation,’ ” Euille said.
The Alexandria City Council did not negotiate with the Army during the site selection. “Council pretty much yields to the advice of its professional staff - the planning staff, the transportation folks – that’s what you pay them to do, to do these analyses and provide you with their best judgment,” Euille said. “It’s not like you approach the property owners and say: ‘Hey, we’re thinking about talking to the military about making our site available for BRAC [Base Realignment and Closure]. What do you think?’ What happens is that these folks come in and it’s like we’ve got 10 days to complete our [site request] package to submit [to the DoD].”
Economic Development Potential
The Mark Center move could spark the long-needed development of Landmark Mall. “People at the BRAC site will hopefully not go to Pentagon City or elsewhere to shop, but [rather] look at Landmark Mall as a very convenient place for them because it’s so close,” Euille said.
The BRAC influx of federal workers makes up for thousands of lost Defense-related jobs.
“The positive side was that we would have an opportunity to replace them with either another non-DoD federal agency and/or other private sectors or other businesses,” Euille said. “Had we known that DoD was going to really be hellbent on the [Mark Center] site we would have probably just done everything and said everything to the Duke Realty folks, the owners of that site.”
Tied Legal Hands?
Alexandria had 60 days from the moment the Army selected Mark Center to seek legal action, but is not actively doing so. “We are not looking at legal action, but if Congress is successful in making any amendments as part of the Defense Authorization Bill, our legal folks believe that this will trigger a new period of time to file appeals,” Euille said. “But right now, we are not going down the road of doing any legal maneuvers. Fairfax County and Arlington have reached the same conclusion that that 60-day window has passed, so why do something you know you can’t win?
“But, there may be a window of opportunity to consider some legal action...should Congressman Moran be successful with some of these legislative amendments to… cap the parking at 1,000, which means that you can’t have more than 1,000 or 1,500 folks in the building at that time because you don’t have the parking.”
Last week, the Alexandria City Council approved a daytime parking district for residents affected by incoming BRAC traffic. “We’re addressing the challenges, in terms of the short-term and long-term solutions, the traffic enforcement officers there during … rush hours in the mornings and evenings to prevent blocking the box and keep the traffic flowing,” Euille said. “It may be tweaking it block by block, or neighborhood by neighborhood, or area by area, but you’ll find a sweet point where there’s a balance, and you’ve done everything you can do and it is what it is, and that’s it.”