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County Moves Forward With Plans to Retain DARPA

Gov. Kaine reiterates $10 million pledge to help relocate agency, which the county would like to place in the Ballston bus yard.

Gov. Timothy Kaine promised last week to provide Arlington with $10 million in state funding to help relocate within the county a defense research agency affected by the Base Realignment and Closure process.

Last year the federal BRAC Commission rejected a Department of Defense recommendation and allowed Arlington to retain two valuable research facilities — the Office of Naval Research and the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency — that supply 1,700 jobs and employ some of the county’s most highly-skilled workers.

But the Defense Department has stated that DARPA must move from its current location along Fairfax Drive in Virginia Square to satisfy new building security requirements.

The county is in negotiations with a developer to place the agency on the Ballston bus yard property once WMATA vacates the site in 2008, officials said.

Last year Gov. Mark Warner gave county officials a verbal commitment to assist Arlington in finding and partially financing a new location for the agency. Kaine reaffirmed that agreement last week, though he has yet to decide whether to formally include the $10 million grant in his budget recommendations this month for the General Assembly.

"I am committed to doing whatever I can to keep DARPA here in Arlington," Kaine said in an interview after meeting with County Board members on Nov. 27 as part of his daylong tour of Northern Virginia.

OVER THE COURSE of the next decade an estimated 17,000 defense workers and private contractors will leave leased office space in Ballston, Crystal City, Pentagon City and Rosslyn, and transfer to Fort Belvoir in southeastern Fairfax County, Fort Meade outside Baltimore and other military bases across the country.

Arlington will lose nearly 8 percent of its total workforce and almost 4.2 million square-feet of office space, including 30 percent of room in Crysal City, will be vacated.

Though the loss of so many jobs will have a significant impact on the local economy, Arlington officials were thrilled that they were able to retain the highly-prized research agencies. Dozens of military contractors are located in Arlington in order to be close to DARPA and ONR. Officials feared that if those two agencies left the county, many contractors would follow.

The agencies, which are clustered together in Ballston and Virginia Square, were reluctant to leave Arlington for Ft. Belvoir for fear of losing staff members, officials said.

"What you have is the nation’s premier research organizations all within several blocks of each other," said Terry Holzheimer, Director of the Arlington Economic Development office. "There is a lot of synergy there now."

In order to persuade the Defense Department to keep the agencies in Arlington, county officials pledged they would find a way to move them to more secure locations.

The Defense Department’s building standards for newly leased space, first implemented last fall, are meant to bolster security and better protect employees from terrorist attacks.

Under the criteria, leased defense spaces must be in buildings set back up to 148 feet from the street. Public access to underground parking facilities must also be restricted and lower levels need to be "hardened" to protect against a truck bomb attack. The setback requirement only applies if the Defense Department occupies more than a quarter of the square footage of a building.

Recently, more than $12 million was spent on additional security to strengthen the building containing the Office of Naval Research in Ballston. Though additional security precautions may need to be taken in the future, the Defense Department has said that ONR can stay in its current location, said Hunter Moore, a planner for Arlington’s economic development office.

DARPA, on the other hand, needs to relocate to a site further set back from the road.

AFTER AN EXTENSIVE SEARCH for an adequate piece of property, county officials have settled on the Ballston bus yard as the best location for DARPA.

"It is still very early in the process, but we are acting as though we will be successful in relocating DARPA to the bus yard site," Holzheimer said.

WMATA will be vacating the property in 2008, when it moves its buses to a new, massive facility in Fairfax County that will house a variety of transportation vehicles. A developer is working to consolidate several smaller parcels just south of the bus yard, including county property, a restaurant and gas station.

"The location is just ideal," said County Board member Jay Fisette. "It’s an undeveloped parcel and provides a large block of land within which you could design a structure" that meets the Defense Department’s stringent security standards.

DARPA must leave its current building by 2011, when the new security standards for leased space come into force, said Jan Walker, a DARPA spokeswoman.

County officials are engaged in preliminary negotiations with DARPA about moving to the bus yard property, which is located a block away from ONR’s building.

"DARPA is working with us on the design needs of relocating to that site," Fisette said.

DARPA officials declined to comment about ongoing negotiations for a new site for the facility.

According to initial plans, the DARPA building would be located in the middle of the bus yard site, in order to meet the Defense Department standards. At the north end of the property, adjacent to Wilson Boulevard, developers are considering constructing one office and one residential tower, Moore said.

The county is also exploring swapping a small parcel of land it owns on the site for one owned by WMATA to the east of the bus yards. The county would then either build a park or work with a nonprofit to develop an apartment building with affordable units, Moore added.

A key component to making the deal work is securing the $10 million from the state, officials said. Approximately $250,000 will soon be needed for design work on the DARPA building, Holzheimer, added.

County officials are lobbying the governor to include the specific funding for the project — rather than just codifying the agreement — in his budget recommendations, which will be released in mid-December.

"Getting the money now is much better than getting an explicit commitment for the money later," said County Board Vice Chair Paul Ferguson.