Where's The Community In BRAC?

Where's The Community In BRAC?

The real human impact of BRAC could climb to 30,000.

Local and state representatives remained frustrated at their third meeting with the Base Realignment and Closure Board of Advisors June 22 to discuss strategies dealing with the approaching tidal wave of personnel heading for Fort Belvoir as a result the BRAC report.

The group met with members of Fairfax and Prince William counties Boards of Supervisors. As with the two previous meetings, the end result was less than satisfying for the local and state government representatives.

"They, the military and their consultants, seem to be putting all the essential questions for moving 22,000 plus personnel onto the base into the category of long range planning. It should be in short range planning," said Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald Hyland.

"One of the key things they keep talking about is a sustainable strategy. But, [the Army's planners] don't seem to understand that they have to wed any development strategy to a transportation infrastructure and a commitment to fund it," said Lee District Supervisor Dana Kauffman.

Both Hyland and Kauffman pointed out during the three hour meeting that the Virginia General Assembly, in conjunction with the Commonwealth Transportation Board, has announced that the State's six year fund plan for highway construction had been cut in half. "Congress has also said no to additional monies," Kauffman noted.

Hyland and Kauffman's frustrations were buttressed by another member of the Board of Advisors (BOA), Virginia Secretary of Transportation Pierce Homer. "The likelihood of Metro rail coming to the Fort Belvoir area in the foreseeable future is not on the radar screen. Everything comes back to I-95 and the Fairfax County Parkway," he told the 40-plus attendees assembled in the conference room of Fort Belvoir's Headquarters Building.

"Colonel, I would urge you to run a serious traffic model. It should be a very professional model involving both the counties and VDOT. Additional surveys are not what you need. You need to look at an actual traffic model, surveys or not," Homer said bluntly to Col. Brian Lauritzen, Fort Belvoir Installation Commander, who serves as chair of BOA.

"When the BRAC announcement was first made, we [the local elected leaders] were very serious about asking people who might be relocating here where they would be coming from, where they intended to live if they relocated, and what would be the impact on the school population," Hyland said.

"That data seemed to us to be a necessary and vital initial step. We need that hard data and we need to do this as soon as possible," he insisted.

Hyland also pointed out that it is not only the military and civilian employees who are coming to Belvoir but also a host of defense contractors and other support personnel. "I think we are looking at not 22,000 people but rather something closer to 30,000 people or more when you add in all the other support personnel," he said.

"At the present time, they [military and their consultants] only have one half the information they need via zip codes. They should have all their people surveyed by now," Hyland said.

THE EMPHASIS of this meeting was a two-hour-plus powerpoint presentation by Belvoir's New Vision Planners primarily focused on what was being considered for the base. There was very little emphasis on BRAC's impact on the surrounding communities.

Planners presented three basic strategies for the placement of personnel and facilities. Each considered a different configuration for a future Fort Belvoir.

* Town Center. Development of new buildings and facilities would be concentrated on North and South post locations adjacent to Route 1.

* City Center. Development to be concentrated at the Engineer Proving Grounds. It would utilize land currently held by General Services Administration at Springfield.

* Campus Approach. Development would be dispersed to different sites including North and South post, Davidson Airfield or Engineer Proving Grounds, and the GSA site.

"We've had extraordinary meetings with the Department of Defense and the Army. The object is to create a world class base," said Ken Kost, of Post, Buckley, Schuh & Jernigan, Inc., one of the leaders of the New Vision Planners.

Doug Voigt of Skidmore, Owens & Merrill, the other lead consulting firm, then went over every detail of their planning process to date which echoed what had been presented at the recent community information meeting held at the Springfield Hilton. However, he did announce two important new factors under consideration.

One was the potential construction and use of large parking garages that would concentrate parking in a central area on base and be served by shuttle buses as is done at the Pentagon. The other new item was the potential relocation of Fort Belvoir's main gate.

From its present location across from the athletic field on Route 1, now known as Pence gate, it would be relocated to the intersection of Route 1 and the Fairfax County Parkway. This also triggered the suggestion to consider a new location for the proposed U.S. Army Museum.

Since the museum was first discussed as being established at Fort Belvoir, Hyland, Kauffman, the Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation and others have pushed for it to be located next to Pence Gate to entice tourists to spend additional time in southeast Fairfax County.

Partially because of the new museum's draw, Marriott, Hilton and other hotel groups have expressed interest in developing properties adjacent to the Pence Gate site. If it were to move to a new location it could prove a negative impact on those plans.

It was also suggested by Cord Sterling, a member of BOA and aide to Sen. John Warner, that the museum might be located at the Engineer Proving Grounds. This did not sit well with Hyland or Kauffman.

"Our preferred site for the museum has been and remains next to the present main gate. One of the major challenges we face is competing with Washington, D.C., for tourists. We are trying to get them to spend at least one or two days in this area," Hyland explained.

"By combining the Army Museum with the other historic sites we have in the area, we become a destination. If the museum is on I-95, tourists may stop there but then they'll just go right on into D.C. If it’s at the EPG many tourists won't even know it's there," he said.

"Part of our endeavor is to balance the BRAC requirements and the museum. We have to analyze if the preferred site of the museum is still the preferred site given the impact of BRAC," Lauritzen said.

This lead back to a discussion of BRAC's impact on the entire transportation element with particular emphasis on traffic gridlock. "I would strongly encourage you to analyze what is the most reasonable way to bring your workforce to the base in the near future. Work backwards from the ultimate destination," Homer told Lauritzen.

"The Secretary has said there will be no additional highway money available through 2012. Your deadline to meet BRAC is 2011. It needs to be mission critical that the roads get built — particularly the parkway connection," said BOA member Gerald Connolly, chair, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

"You could develop the best plans in the world but if you can't get here it is all for naught. Richmond Highway presently carries over one million vehicles a year. It's not just another road," Connolly said. "Transportation has to be the first priority," Kauffman added.

"The Army is looking at this through the prism of mission accomplishment, as they should be. We [elected officials] are looking at it through the prism of transportation. Transportation considerations and solutions will be the chief determinants of which strategy the community will be able to support," Connolly said.

The initial report of the New Vision Planners is to go to the Office of The U.S. Army on July 6. Local and state leaders approached this meeting with the hope they would get a first glance at that report. It did not happen.

"We believe a decision will be made about what the scenario will be shortly after July 6, " Lauritzen said. He suggested that the next meeting be approximately 90 days from the June 22 session or mid to late September. This met with resistance from Hyland and others.

"Once the decision is made we should be meeting sooner not later. We will have a lot that needs to be discussed," Hyland said.

Regardless of which strategy is decided upon, BRAC will require Fort Belvoir to add 7.5 million square feet of office space and provide another 7.5 million square feet of parking space, according to Voigt. That does not consider additional community impacts in the categories of office space, living space or transportation needs.

The next meeting of BOA will be August 2.