A new day in military housing for the Washington region dawned Tuesday morning at Fort Belvoir. Just three years and three months after the initial meeting to put the project out-to-bid, enlisted personnel have taken up residence in townhouses that challenge the amenities and setting offered by any civilian suburban development.
Known as the Residential Community Initiative (RCI), it heralds an approach that brings into partnership private sector development and management with the U.S. Army's desire to create "the best housing any nation has ever provided" its enlisted military personnel.
"This is a great day to be an American. Just one year ago, on this very spot, we broke ground for these homes. Today we mark the transformation of a dream into reality," said Fort Belvoir Garrison Commander Col. T.W. Williams.
"This marks one of the proudest days of my command here. We raise the curtain on what is a showcase of quality homes at a flagship installation, the best homes possible, befitting America's best — our men and women in uniform and their families," Williams said.
Those thoughts were buttressed by Fort Belvoir Garrison Command Sergeant Major Andre Douglas. "What a great day to be a soldier and a family member. I am proud to be here today because these homes are no less than our enlisted personnel deserve," he said. "You build homes for the junior soldiers first."
KNOWN AS HERRYFORD Village, the 171 three-, four- and five-bedroom townhomes are the first of a planned replacement of nearly 1,700 Fort Belvoir homes. The total project also calls for the renovation of 170 historic homes within the base.
Complementing the homes themselves is a village structure that "focuses on children and families rather than the automobile," according to Cleve Johnson, managing director, Clark Realty Capital, one element of the Clark Pinnacle consortium that will define how Fort Belvoir soldiers and their families live.
"This is a neighborhood concept. Each neighborhood will have its own green, club house, and other amenities. There is even fiber optic cable beneath the surface that is state-of-the-art to bring the best technology into every home," he told the more than 200 military, political and business dignitaries assembled on the Herryford Common for the ribbon cutting ceremony.
"As a nation we spend about one half trillion dollars on our military. But all that money and equipment is not what defines our military. It is the character, heritage and motivation that's inside them," said U.S. Rep. James P. Moran (D-8).
"This speaks so much more powerfully than any words of the value we place on our fighting men and women. And we are very proud that this project will always be associated with Col. Williams and he will always be associated with Fort Belvoir," Moran said.
Williams is scheduled to leave his assignment as Fort Belvoir Garrison Commander this summer. He will be assuming the role of bringing RCI housing to military bases worldwide.
"RCI is the best quality of life program I have ever experienced in my 40-year career," said Geoffrey G. Prosch, acting assistant secretary, Department of The Army, Installations and Environment.
Fort Belvoir's RCI project is an investment of $700 million of private funding. "There is not one federal dollar in this initiative," Prosch said.
Upon RCI's completion, estimated to take approximately eight year from the initial groundbreaking, there will be 15 separate villages. The largest will contain an estimated 200 homes and the smallest 24 homes, according to Jason Merker, development associate, Clark Realty Capital.
"We expect there to be between three to six people living in each house depending on their size and configuration. The smallest village will be for senior enlisted personnel," Merker said.
Clark Realty serves as the general contractor while Pinnacle is the property management firm that operates each project upon completion, according to Merker. Herryford was built for personnel holding the rank of E1 through E5.
Tuesday's ribbon-cutting was in front of the three-bedroom home of Specialist E4 Awilda Rodriguez and her family. "Everybody deserves a place like this," she said. "It is so much better than anything I have ever experienced before."
"This is a big step up for all lower enlisted personnel. Everyone wants to live in a home like this. It meets all our needs," Rodriguez said.
ANOTHER NEW RESIDENT, Angela Moergeli, who husband Chase is a sergeant E5, described their new home as "awesome. This is real history. It is such a change for us."
They and their six children arrived at Fort Belvoir from Fort Riley, Kansas, within the past two months were they had "normal military housing," as Moergeli described it. "You get a real feeling of having a home and a neighborhood with this new development," she said.
Since commencement of the ground lease in December 2003, construction has begun in three "neighborhoods" and renovations are complete on one historically significant home. Herryford was completed two months ahead of schedule.
Award-winning architect Torti Gallas and Partners designed the Herryford two and three-story homes in a traditional colonial style. The three- to five-bedroom structure average 1,850 square feet and offer a variety of floor plans.
Amenities include Corian countertops, all modern appliances, nine-foot ceilings on the ground floor, a two-car detached garage with workbench and storage, two and three baths, separate dining rooms, and walk-in closets.
Each community is designed to be pedestrian and neighborhood friendly with walkways, a central green, community recreation center, and numerous children play areas. There will also be an adjacent retail center with apartments above for singles and couples without children.
As summarized by Stan Harrelson, president and chief executive officer, Pinnacle, to the assembled audience, "Inspiration guides vision. The best sound here is the sound of children playing."
IN ADDITION to the Fort Belvoir project, Clark Pinnacle has undertaken similar projects at a variety of other military installations including Fort Benning, Ga.; the Presidio of Monterey, Monterey Bay, Calif.; Marine Corps Base at Quantico, Va.; and the Naval Complex in San Diego, Calif.. When completed the partners will have constructed more than 18,000 military family homes.
Clark Pinnacle Family Communities LLC is a joint venture between Clark Realty Capital of Bethesda, Md., and Pinnacle of Seattle, Wash. Clark Realty Capital and affiliates will manage the design, development, construction, and asset management of the Fort Belvoir RCI. Pinnacle will provide management services to the completed villages.