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Houses Unlikely on EPG

Army officials say houses on EPG not part of current plans.

The already controversial proposal to build an Army museum on the Engineer Proving Ground in Springfield got a little more contentious last week, when Supervisor Gerry Hyland (D-Mount Vernon) said a proposal to build 4,500 residential units had been submitted.

Don Carr, a representative of Fort Belvoir, said that the offering was part of an "unsolicited proposal" submitted by the Universal Studios, the same company that has theme parks in Florida and California, last year that also included what has been called a "theme park"-style museum, hotel and conference center.

"They put together an idea for the Army, the Army didn't ask for it," Carr said. "Essentially, what it said was, if you let us develop these different ways to create a funding stream, we'd like to build the museum at the EPG."

However, Carr insists that the Army is not interested in putting residential units on the EPG site, which will soon be home to 18,000 military and civilian employees as part of the BRAC changes to take place by Sept. 12, 2011.

"Houses at the EPG have nothing to do with the current EIS [Environmental Impact Study]. Nobody on the Army side is talking about this," Carr said.

RESULTS OF THE study should be released by the end of this year, so that by next summer, the Army will be able to issue its final master plan for the EPG and Fort Belvoir, Carr said.

"Right now, it's important to understand that nothing is a final decision and no one is talking about houses on the EPG," he said.

If, in the future, the Army did want to build some residential units, Carr said the same procedure required to build homes on the main Fort Belvoir site would be followed.

Dave Foster, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon, said he hadn't heard anything about residential development.

"We haven't heard anything other than the museum or if there were to be a hotel included there under the enhanced use lease," Foster said. "Even that's all still under discussion."

The enhanced use lease, according to the Enhanced Use Leasing Web site [http:eul.army.mil], states that Department of Defense installations have the "authority and incentive to obtain a broad range of financial and in-kind considerations for leasing opportunities." In addition, military bases can "enter into long-term leases, providing greater flexibility for facility use and reuse" and allows for "enhanced mission performance through cooperate efforts with private developers."

On the Web site's list of possible uses for enhanced use leasing, residential development is not listed.

Foster said in recent conversations with other Army officials, plans for the construction of the hotel and conference center are still being negotiated and determined.

Foster said he "seriously doubts" any residential units would be built on the EPG, but "I can't speak to that right now."

Supervisor Dana Kauffman (D-Lee) has been skeptical about putting the Army Museum on the EPG, preferring it be placed at Fort Belvoir's Pence Gate instead.

He is not in favor of residential units either.

"All I know is what I've read," Kauffman said. "I'm not too keen on the idea because time and again, the Springfield area residents have made it clear that what we need is more employment opportunities, not more homes."

Citing a recent round of Area Plans Review nominations, Kauffman said the plans that focused around residential proposals were rejected.

"I need to know more about it and have opportunity for more community input" before he can make a decision, Kauffman said.

One of the biggest challenges Kauffman faces with the influx of 18,000 workers to the EPG is how to keep the roads in the area driveable. "I don't know if this would help the problem or exacerbate it," he said.

Supervisor Elaine McConnell (R-Springfield) has a slightly different opinion.

"I would hope they'd put some kind of workforce housing there to keep people off our roads," McConnell said of the proposal. "There should be some affordable housing for the people who work there, like secretaries, who work at the EPG and might not make tremendously high incomes. It would help solve our traffic problem."