So much for community input. Nearly every aspect of what community leaders had envisioned for Mount Vernon and Lee districts as a result of Fort Belvoir's planned growth due to the Base Realignment and Closure Report, including the long-sought Army Museum, is not part of the Army's "Preferred Site Plan."
Of the anticipated 22,000 additional personnel, military and civilian, coming from other locations, only 4,000 are now planned to end up on the main post. The rest, approximately 18,000, will be located at the Engineer Proving Grounds near Springfield, according to the "preferred" plan.
During a media roundtable at Fort Belvoir headquarters building last Friday, Installation Commander Col. Brian Lauritzen emphasized that the operative word in the just released Department of the Army recommendation report was "preferred."
"The preferred strategy is just that, a strategy. It is not a decision," Lauritzen emphasized in his opening remarks to the press corps assembled in the conference room. "This is not a hard plan. We've not closed the door on any ideas," he said.
"Now that we have this we can begin our community outreach in earnest. Now we can focus on specific items. Over the next year we will come to a decision," Lauritzen said.
"I'm really excited about going back to the Supervisors and have them say what their real priorities are. Take your best shot at this analysis," he said.
"We look forward to collaborating closely with our partners in Fairfax and Prince William counties, as well as the Commonwealth of Virginia. At this early stage of the process the Army has benefited enormously from the input we have received from local elected officials," Lauritzen said.
THAT APPRAISAL was questioned by both Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald Hyland and Lee District Supervisor Dana Kauffman who found the "Preferred Site Plan" anything but a flexible strategy. In their eyes it represented a disingenuous move on the part of the military that ignored both the hopes of their communities as well as many land use planning realities.
"The Army has clearly not listened to Fairfax County about the three proposals. It does not help us at all with the revitalization of Route 1 and they are proposing to put many facilities on the west side of the EPG which will also draw hotels and offices to the site which we have been proposing to keep as open space for many years," Hyland said.
Speaking to the preference to locate the proposed Army Museum, which is not part of BRAC and has nothing to do with national security, at the EPG, Hyland said, "Everyone except some decision maker at the Department of the Army has supported placing the museum at the site adjacent to Belvoir's Pence Gate. That someone at a higher level thinks he knows better than everyone else."
That “someone" was Keith Eastin, assistant secretary of the Army, Installations and Environment, who stated in the press release announcing the preferred site plan, "We have listened closely to the concerns of the community during this early phase of the process, and we expect our community outreach will only intensify in the months ahead."
Hyland's critique was echoed by Kauffman. "I still need to hear more from the Pentagon on how they can correlate a tourist attraction [the museum] with security concerns. It will draw hotels and a lot more to land we had identified for active/passive recreation," he said.
"You are looking at putting nearly twice the population of Falls Church on only 800 acres. That's double the population on approximately one half the land mass," Kauffman pointed out.
Kauffman also cited transportation/highway problems posed by the EPG preference. "Transportation improvements are all dependent on future congressional actions. We are about one half a billion dollars short," he said.
That shortfall was emphasized in a letter to Francis J. Harvey. Secretary of the Army, dated July 21, signed by both Virginia Republican U.S. Sens. George Allen and John Warner as well as U.S. Representatives Thomas M. Davis III (R-11) and James P. Moran (D-8).
In it they stated, "We were particularly concerned to learn from the Belvoir New Vision Planners that an astounding 75 percent of the estimated infrastructure costs identified by the Army as absolutely "required" to successfully implement the Fort Belvoir realignment are listed as "unfunded."
They further emphasized, "The Army proposal, absent significant new dollars, relies heavily on carpools and rideshares, which historically have enjoyed only limited success." They also urged Army decision makers to "consider the concerns of the local community."
Kauffman noted, "Northern Virginia distance is measured in time not miles. Funding for VDOT's six year program was recently cut by 40 percent. The state is telling us (local leaders) you can expect 40 percent less money over the next six years."
Lauritzen stressed at the press briefing that the money for the last link of the Fairfax County Parkway at EPG was there. But Kauffman pointed out that even if that segment were completed the combination of Belvoir personnel and tourists to the new museum would overwhelm the interchange, in his opinion.
Questioning the preferred site report's apparent lack of consideration for non-military concerns Hyland asked rhetorically, "Why do we have a Board of Advisors? Why did they bother to ask our opinion? Those opinions were not followed at all. This not the way the process is supposed to work."
"We have been appropriating approximately $250,000 each year in the Fairfax County budget for the last couple of years to the Army Historical Foundation to support the Museum. We did that because we never thought it wouldn't be located where we supported — at Pence Gate," Hyland said.
"If it's not at Pence Gate that contribution from the County needs to come back on the table. It needs to be reconsidered," he said.
IN LAYING OUT the Army's preferences for the base's realignment, Lauritzen cited four priorities: (1) Winning the global war on terror; (2) Re-stationing forces in Europe and Korea; (3) Reorganizing force structures; and (4) Doing things better and cheaper with the primary emphasis on better.
Lauritzen noted that by putting the majority of the realigned personnel at EPG it would offer him a better use of security strategy and personnel. "If we put the museum at the Pence Gate site we have to deal with historical restrictions dealing with Woodlawn, the Route 1 expansion, and we have no room to expand and bring in other businesses," he said.
However, based on negotiations underway over the past two years, Woodlawn Plantation is already considering a land swap for the placement of a Marriott Residence on its south side, Route 1 expansion planning has been underway for approximately three plus years with the "Centerline Study," and recent revitalization plans for the Route 1 corridor have focused on the potential increase of business/residential development resulting from BRAC. An additional 4,000 personnel increase on base will have little or no impact, according to county officials.
Moran and Davis issued a joint statement July 27, prior to the press roundtable, on a preferred land-use strategy for Fort Belvoir:
"We will continue to work together to find creative solutions to ease traffic congestion and other infrastructure concerns in and around Fort Belvior. We remain concerned that this flawed process did not — and still does not — account for the severe transportation impact of the BRAC transition to Belvoir and the surrounding area."
As of the "preferred site plan" release, the following incoming organizations would be located at EPG: National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and elements of the Washington Headquarters Service; as well as the National Museum of the U.S. Army, which is not a BRAC element.
To be located on base would be "an expanded DeWitt Army Community Hospital;" Enterprize Information Systems; plus a variety of smaller offices now occupying Department of Defense and Department of the Army leased space.
"All of the planning strategies we have examined have been driven in part by concerns over transportation, the environment, and infrastructure," Lauritzen said. However, EPG has little or no infrastructure and the entire process is dependent on the outcome of an Environmental Impact Statement now underway.
According to the Army, "The input is sufficient to begin the next phase" of that environmental impact study which will assess "the environmental impact of the alternatives submitted by the planners." A draft EIS is anticipated for public comment early next year, according to the Army.