Greater Greater Washington

Morgan Boulevard Metro is the best site for the FBI

Prince George's County has several Metro stations that could accommodate a new FBI headquarters. But to get the FBI, Prince George's County needs to pick a site quickly. The ideal site is the Morgan Boulevard Metro station.


Photo by tape on Flickr.

In a prior post, I argued that the Morgan Boulevard station is an ideal site for a new regional hospital that the county, state, and the University of Maryland Medical System plan to build in the next few years.

The station is within a mile of the Capital Beltway and has 56 acres of undeveloped land next to itenough room to build an urban, walkable hospital campus and a host of other TOD projects.

While the FBI campus's security requirements and size would not make it a likely candidate for those 56 acres adjacent to the Metro station, another large area across Central Avenue (MD-214) would work perfectly.


Morgan Boulevard Metro. Image from Google Maps.

The yellow-shaded area, directly across Central Avenue from the station, is more than large enough to accommodate the FBI headquarters. The dark purple area, adjacent to the FBI, is ideal for the hospital, while mixed-use offices could occupy the lighter purple areas and mixed-use residential in the brown area. The county could create a pedestrian path with a Main Street character, lined with storefronts, from the station to Central Avenue where employees cross to get to the FBI.

Because it's across a major arterial from the station, the restrictive security constructs would not pose a problem with developing quality mixed-use TOD at the Metro station. Yet, because it is within ½ mile of the Metro station, it would be easily accessible to the thousands of federal employees who would be working at the FBI. Moreover, many of those same employees would have to pass through the station's core commercial area twice a day, thereby creating a natural patron base for any business located there.

Currently, the Morgan Boulevard Station's secondary area is populated with scattered automobile-oriented industrial uses. However, the county could quickly assemble and redevelop that land into a large-acre parcel suitable for the FBI headquarters facility. The existing industrial uses can be easily relocated to one of the many other nearby industrial office parks with vacant space. If there's one thing the county has plenty of (other than developable land around Metro stations), it's vacant industrial space.

Prince George's officials should make a compelling case to the GSA as to why a location like Morgan Boulevard would be a win-win for the federal government as well as the county and state governments, and specifically why it would be better than the GSA-owned property at Franconia-Springfield Metro Station in Fairfax County. Here are a few suggestions:

Morgan Boulevard is closer to DC. It is 9.5 miles from the DC core, while Franconia-Springfield is 15 miles from downtown. It is also inside the Beltway, while being equally as accessible via Metro's Blue Line.

It is one of the least-utilized Metro stations. In fact, in 2007, Morgan Boulevard had the fewest weekday riders of any Metro station. Unlike the Franconia-Springfield Station, a busy transit terminus in already-overcrowded Fairfax County, Morgan Boulevard could easily accommodate the influx of thousands of additional riders a day.

Ample roadway capacity already exists. Unlike the Beltway area around Franconia-Springfield, the roadways around Morgan Boulevard are able to accommodate the workers who would choose to drive to work. The same multiple paths that allow many thousands of fans to drive to FedEx Field for Redskins games would also accommodate the substantially fewer number of federal workers that would be driving to the new FBI headquarters during the work week. And the use of the same reversible lane technologies employed on game day should assist with traffic flow during the work week.

It would bring more parity to the region. From a policy standpoint, bringing the FBI headquarters to Morgan Boulevard would allow the federal government to better equalize the regional distribution of federal employment sites. Prince George's supplies more than a quarter of the region's federal workforce and is entitled to a fairer allocation of the job sites.

The area is comparatively less well-off economically. Unlike wealthy Fairfax County, the surrounding inner-Beltway community near this station is one that could more greatly benefit from urban revitalization, thus allowing the federal investment to accomplish multiple goals.

These are the type of specific, fact-based arguments and actions (among others) that will make a worthy case to the GSA for why it should bring the FBI headquarters to Prince George's County.

Make a specific site recommendation. Give specific justifications. Articulate a sensible TOD and neighborhood revitalization strategy. Provide quick, responsible, and decisive action by local officials.

Prince George's County deserves to attract the FBI headquarters and other large federal government offices. If it wants to do so, though, it needs to step up its game dramatically.

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Bradley Heard is an attorney and citizen activist who resides in the Capitol Heights area of Prince George's County. A native of Virginia Beach, Virginia, Brad spent most of his adult life in Atlanta, Georgia before moving to Prince George's County in 2007. Brad hopes to encourage high-quality, walkable and bikeable development in the inner Beltway region of Prince George's County. 

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Seems like a pretty reasonable plan.

by NikolasM on Feb 14, 2012 12:43 pm • linkreport

The old Dickerson Farm (RIP) would be a good size for the FBI - http://is.gd/dwGXkX

by PGCist on Feb 14, 2012 12:52 pm • linkreport

Springfield is closer to Quantico and other FBI offices.

Springfield is a reverse commute for most Metro riders and commuters.

Due to the Springfield Interchange improvements, Springfield can accommodate commuters from several directions including a HOV lane with an exit/entrance near the site.

The area is comparatively less well-off economically. Unlike wealthier areas of Fairfax County, the surrounding Central Springfield community near this station is one that could greatly benefit from urban revitalization, thus allowing the federal investment to accomplish multiple goals.

by selxic on Feb 14, 2012 1:00 pm • linkreport

I think the Springfield site offers better connectivity with respect to roads. But, the Morgan Blvd. metro is a great site.

by Vik on Feb 14, 2012 1:04 pm • linkreport

Selxic has good points all around. VRE platform is also adjacent to the Metro station. I still am curious where most FBI employees already live. I suspect the majority would have a shorter commute to Springfield than to PG.

by spookiness on Feb 14, 2012 1:06 pm • linkreport

I really don't see anyone ever being able to eminent-domain that many commercial businesses, not in a million years. It will have to be a greenfield, brownfield, or greyfield redevelopment.

by Marc on Feb 14, 2012 1:22 pm • linkreport

Springfield IS less well off than other parts of FFX cty. OTOH, springfield, as part of FFX county, benefits from FFX county's affluence, in terms of quality of education, other services, etc, etc. PG not only has less affluent areas, but faces financial challenges as a County.

I'm not sure that regional equity will be a big driver for the FBI though.

Anyway, I think Brads plan is well thought out. He is right that PG would do well to be putting forward a particular site, with the strongest arguments possible, and I don't know of a PG site better than what he suggests.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 14, 2012 1:24 pm • linkreport

The sooner PG has a plan together, the sooner the FBI can move and DC can hopefully redevelop the current FBI HQ. I have more doubts about this location than others in PG though. The ideas here go against many of the ideas and plans PG has for the areas around the Metro. This portion of PG seems like it's a favorite of the writer and may be limiting his outlook on other potential sites.

by selxic on Feb 14, 2012 1:47 pm • linkreport

I think this plan is a good one. While the FBI itself may not care about regional equity, the two Senators from Maryland surely do. As for where FBI employees are located, while the directors and higher-ups may live in Fairfax, I don't think I'm off by saying that the majority of the FBI HQ staff is administrative, and of those a good portion probably live in Prince George's. The relative proximity to other FBI offices probably matters relatively little since the HQ isn't really handling field work. The only thing that would matter for the higher-ups is their ability to get to downtown meetings.

As an underutilized Metro station, Morgan Blvd definitely has more capacity than Franconia-Springfield. From a transit perspective, VRE is really the only benefit of the Fairfax site.

by Adam L on Feb 14, 2012 1:48 pm • linkreport

I think that it is a clever idea to use the RFK transportation infrastructure to support a facility on weekdays.

Aside from that, however, I don't see how this is really better than the other obvious choices. If we are going down the road of clearing out existing industrial uses, then the Aardwick-Aardmore area near the New Carrollton Metro station seems better situated. Otherwise, there seems to be more vacant land near the Green Line stations.

Prince Georges County needs to focus on 1 or at most 2 locations for TOD. New Carrollton is clearly one of those sites, given the confluence of Amtrak, Metro, Marc, and the Purple Line. Putting a major federal installation on the outskirts of the New Carollton transit district would probably help jump start that process.

The arguments for Greenbelt have been well-argued. Branch Avenue seems to be one of the County's top 2 or 3 preferred sites for TOD. To put forth Morgan Boulevard as the site for the FBI logically would require the county to either decide that Branch Avenue is not such a high priority after all, or that the county prefers to continue its traditional shotgun approach in which everything is a priority. The former might not be a bad idea--I just don't know. The latter would not be a good sign.

by Jim Titus on Feb 14, 2012 1:49 pm • linkreport

@selxic: All well-stated. Just to make an additional point - I don't think capacity would be as MUCH of an issue at the Franconia-Springfield Station precisely BECAUSE it's a terminus (for now...I hold out hope that that will change). So...capacity at the garages won't change much, and the only increase in use would be with reverse commuters. It might cause extra wear on the infrastructure, but that's all I can see at the moment.

Though this isn't a bad plan. If the county is willing to think things through like this it would work.

by Ser Amantio di Nicolao on Feb 14, 2012 2:11 pm • linkreport

Not that I don't support putting the FBI near a metro, but I jsut don't see how the headquarters is giong to drive any development. The FBI hires people based on qualifications nots where they live. Just becuase it may be in PG county doesn't mean there will be more jobs for PG county residents. I also don't see FBI employees eating or shopping much in the surrounding communites. The headquarters will come with a cafateria and other amenitites, most of the meployees will use them

by nathaniel on Feb 14, 2012 2:54 pm • linkreport

@Adam L

I don't think VRE is the only benefit of the Springfield site. Metro is still there. Even if there is less capacity there, the most of which going in the opposite direction, having the metro close by is still a benefit. You're also close to HOV/HOT lanes on 395 and 495.

by Vik on Feb 14, 2012 2:57 pm • linkreport

@ Marc:

The government’s eminent domain power is fairly substantial, as the U.S. Supreme Court recently reaffirmed in the Kelo v. City of New London case. Maryland high court opinions, both before and after Kelo, likewise affirm the power of the government to take property for economic development purposes. So either the GSA or Prince George’s County could easily acquire those properties.

Tactically, if it came to having to use eminent domain to move the businesses, it may be quicker to have the GSA bring the eminent domain action in federal court, and then have the County reimburse them for the fair market value of the condemned properties, as determined by the federal court. Maryland state court eminent domain procedure, from what I know of it (which isn’t a lot), seems a bit more complicated, but no less certain as to the result (i.e., the government gets the property, and the property owners get paid “just compensation” for their property being taken).

But honestly, I don’t think it would come to that. There’s so much available industrial space around that the county could probably easily persuade the current owners/tenants to move without eminent domain—particularly if they offer some sort of relocation incentive, which the owners wouldn’t be as likely to get in an actual court proceeding. There’s equivalent industrial space literally a mile or two down the road from that location.

by Bradley Heard on Feb 14, 2012 3:03 pm • linkreport

@nathaniel

I tend to agree with you. Especially, if it's a sprawling campus. I think minimal development would be spurred. If people want to move closer to the campus or if there are businesses that would benefit by being closer to the FBI, that would yield some benefits.

But, if the FBI campus comes with a Subway, McDonalds, Manchu Wok, SBarro, Dunkin' Donuts, Starbucks, cafeteria, etc. than I doubt many people will opt to leave campus on a regular basis.

by Vik on Feb 14, 2012 3:12 pm • linkreport

@Bradley

I don't see how Kelo is relevant. If you're talking about the government taking land for a government facility, then the economic development aspects of Kelo (which were about the government using eminent domain to take land for a private development - not a public one) are moot.

The problem with eminent domain isn't in justifying the taking, it's in the schedule risk and cost risk it imposes. For this reason, governments of all kinds prefer to buy a lot straight up if they can, and use eminent domain only as a last resort.

The other problem is more practical. If the FBI wants 55 acres, trying to assemble 55 acres worth of land from a hodgepodge of warehouse sites is likely more difficult than building on a site that's already assembled and under singular ownership.

by Alex B. on Feb 14, 2012 3:20 pm • linkreport

The arguments for Greenbelt have been well-argued. Branch Avenue seems to be one of the County's top 2 or 3 preferred sites for TOD. To put forth Morgan Boulevard as the site for the FBI logically would require the county to either decide that Branch Avenue is not such a high priority after all, or that the county prefers to continue its traditional shotgun approach in which everything is a priority.

Is it not OK for the county to have a portfolio of 5 or 6 sites that it would like to see developed in the near future? Seems like a rather good thing that PG wants to attract TOD to several locations across the county.

Development is not one-size-fits-all, especially when it comes to a high-profile tenant like the FBI. Although I definitely appreciate the point that PG needs to be pushing specifics while attempting to lure the FBI, I can also appreciate that they're working on multiple fronts to bring TOD to their jurisdiction.

by andrew on Feb 14, 2012 3:31 pm • linkreport

@ Alex:

GSA probably wouldn't need Kelo, since the federal government purpose is clerar: the FBI campus. Prince George's might need Kelo if it did the taking in anticipation of the FBI opportunity (or some other, possible future, large employment-generating use). That would be more of an economic development opportunity and not a direct government use for the county.

Nonetheless, I'll certainly agree with you that it's easier to build on a site you already own and don't need to assemble. That doesn't mean that Springfield is the better choice for the FBI campus, though.

There will be plenty of time--at least a couple of years--between the GSA's site selection decision and the site design, scoping, and construction phases. That lag time would be plenty of time to clear the warehouse district across from Morgan Boulevard and relocate the affected businesses. Happens all the time. WMATA didn't just build Metro where there were empty, nicely assembled fields. Sometimes they had to take property.

Unfortunately, because Prince George's hasn't thus far paid enough attention and assigned encough priority to Metro station development, it hasn't been able to quietly acquire and assemble prime real estate over time. The Redevelopment Authority, which was created to do exactly that kind of thing, has been allowed to languish and, in the prior administration, was knee-deep in corruption.

When the decision to build Morgan Boulevard Metro was made, the county should have immediately developed a comprehensive station plan for that area, including relocating the incompatible warehouse businesses. That's what government does when it has the right focus on Metro station development. Obviously, Prince George's hasn't historically had that focus -- which is why it needs to right the ship now.

Eminent domain exists for just this type of thing. But as I said before, in the end I don't think eminent domain will be necessary. The county's economic development team should identify alternate warehouse space and work with the affected business to move them. (That should happen, BTW, regardles of what happens with this FBI site, so that more appropriate development can occur there.) Most times just the threat of eminent domain is usually sufficient to make business behave rationally.

by Bradley Heard on Feb 14, 2012 4:30 pm • linkreport

Hmmmm. Has anyone considered East Campus? It already has high security federal facilities there and there are pads for more offices. It's within walking distance to the Metro and miles from 495.

by adelphi_sky on Feb 14, 2012 5:24 pm • linkreport

@ Jim: The sites adjacent to Branch Ave are more appropriate for true TOD, not an FBI fortress, which belongs in the secondary area. As for New Carrollton, the Ardwick-Ardmore warehouse district is another possibility, but not as good of one, IMO. Ardwick-Ardmore is a much bigger and better established warehouse district than the scattered warehouse uses across from Morgan Blvd. Plus its in a gulch between US-50 and the Beltway, which makes traversing the area somewhat awkward, especially on foot. It should remain a warehouse district.

@ Andrew: Agreed. The county needs station plans for all its Metro stations. Each station, of course, won't have the same TOD potential or be able to accommodate large-scale TOD projects, so some prioritization will be necessary. Landover, for example, may only be able to accommodate high-density residential with some neighborhood convenience retail. But that's a better plan than a sea of asphault at a Metro station.

by Bradley Heard on Feb 14, 2012 5:56 pm • linkreport

"The same multiple paths that allow many thousands of fans to drive to FedEx Field for Redskins games would also accommodate the substantially fewer number of federal workers that would be driving to the new FBI headquarters during the work week."

How would this approach work on those few weekdays per year when thousands upon thousands of people drive to the stadium during a weekday rush-hour commute for a Redskins game?

Add thousands of people leaving work at the FBI, trying to walk across traffic on Central Avenue to the Metro station, and a few thousand drivers commuting to/from the FBI station, and it would be horrendous. Traffic on that section of the beltway already backs up around the stadium any time there's a Redskins game. The additional few thousand car trips for the FBI and/or the hospital campus would simply make this that much worse.

That being said, it's only a few days per year this would be such an issue. I don't know that moving the FBI to Branch Ave. or Greenbelt would necessarily be better on these days either, but it's worth a thought IMO.

by Scott on Feb 14, 2012 6:13 pm • linkreport

Whenever a big gov't agency or large corporation seeks a new headquarters, I think of William Whyte's study in the 50's of companies leaving New York for the suburbs, which found that corporate headquarters usually relocated within eight miles of the president's house. Government agencies don't always work this way - for instance, MD is trying to encourage agencies to relocate to transit-accessible areas or areas in need of investment - but this thinking still plays a role.

I agree that it's desirable to have more jobs in Prince George's to reduce commute times, and Bradley, you've made a good case for Morgan Boulevard, but I wonder if the FBI would take this or any location in the county that seriously. (It certainly doesn't help that lately many Prince George's legislators have been more concerned about opposing gay marriage instead of, you know, important things like jobs and schools.)

by dan reed! on Feb 14, 2012 7:34 pm • linkreport

It sounds like a reasonable plan, if not for the site assembly which is a formidable hurdle for any jurisdiction. A site w/o that drawback would make more sense, esp. if toxic waste is an issue. The FBI will be a fortress and any hope for a lively development should focus on mixed use rather than another institution use like a hospital.

Springfield has the advantage of VRE but it's also tied in with the US 1/I-95 corridor which is a congestion horror, which I would see as a security problem.

by Rich on Feb 14, 2012 9:02 pm • linkreport

@Andrew and @Bradley: Perhaps you don't share my pessimism, but I think that (aside from the US-1 corridor) there is very limited demand and willingness to be TOD pioneers in PG County areas that currently bear no resemblance to an urban transit district, but that the demand to build and buy into a neighborhood that had some of the features of such a neighborhood would find greater (albeit still limited demand), and that there actually are quite a few people who would buy homes and locate businesses in PG County neighborhoods resembling Capitol Hill or Bethesda, if there were any.

If that is the case, then attempting to concentrate development in a few areas is more likely to jump start the process than maintaining a well-diversified portfolio of options. A secure federal installation at the periphery can of course add to the momentum. I'll admit that I am reaching with the Aardwick-Aardmore site, but I think we need to start by looking at locations where the site would tend to advance a real TOD with a real chance of reaching critical mass (which would justify tapping into the TOD fund). If Largo Town Center was one of the top projects for a TOD, then the logic of Morgan Boulevard would be much greater as an urban environment formed between the two stations.

@Scott. Whatever the problems from having FBI employees leaving Landover before a Redskins game on Monday night, the traffic would be mostly in opposite directions. So the problem would pale in comparion to the problem we already have of people whose commutes involve outbound US-50 and MD-214 or the Capitol Beltway sharing those roads with Redskins fans.

by Jim Titus on Feb 14, 2012 9:36 pm • linkreport

Rich, Route 1 doesn't go through Springfield.

Up until now I had actually forgotten for some reason, but the areas around FedEx clog quickly and a few streets are even made one way or are reversed.

What's wrong with the current plans?

by selxic on Feb 15, 2012 8:22 am • linkreport

@ selxic:

My experience, as someone who lives in the area, is that the only time areas around FedEx Field clog up is on Redskins game days -- which is what you would expect when 100,000 people converge on the same place. Even on those occasions, reversable lane technologies actually help move through the vehicle traffic. That's no barrier to putting the FBI across from Morgan Blvd.

The current Morgan Blvd plan calls for mixed use development around the Metro station and along the Central Avenue frontage. I have no objection to mixed uses around the Metro station. That's what I'm recommending with the hospital campus and the associated mixed use offices. That's basically what we have around Foggy Bottom, with GW Hospital in DC. (I would, however, disagree with the plan's recommendations for the deforestation of the area northwest of the Metro tracks. That's a mistake.)

The current Morgan Blvd plan doesn't really encompass most of the industrial park south of Central Ave, where I'm recommending that the FBI complex be placed. If the FBI campus doesn't come, then yes, that secondary area could be fully built out (not just on the Central Ave frontage) with walkable, mixed use TOD that supports the main core area across the street.

by Bradley Heard on Feb 15, 2012 10:00 am • linkreport

I realize I didn't make it clear, but I mentioned the traffic patterns for gamedays as a point towards roadway capacity as outlined in the post. I still believe any development there would not have any problems with roadway capacity although signal lights (or traffic circles for the GGW crowd) may be needed on Central Avenue.

by selxic on Feb 15, 2012 11:37 am • linkreport

Is there any extra space at any Federal Govt owned facilities in the area ?

What about moving it to Goddard Flight Center, USDA, Ft Meade, Bolling AFB, Census Bureau or Andrews AFB one of them certainly has to have room for extra buildings to be built.

Why should the header quarters of any government agency that can be a security rise be near a metrostation. If anything ever happens the entire area around it could be shut down causing problems for everyone not just the workers (see Capitol Hill 2001-now). Just imagine if they had to block Central Ave off even one time.

by kk on Feb 15, 2012 9:23 pm • linkreport

@ kk: As I said in response to your comment on the previous post, it's counterproductive for us, as DC area residents, to get overly worried about security threats. Virtually everything in DC is a security target. We're used to the occasional gridlock due to security threats. It comes with living in the National Capital Region. Even with all its security threats, the Pentagon still has a Metro station.

by Bradley Heard on Feb 15, 2012 10:29 pm • linkreport

Mr. Heard's suggestion makes sense to me. Fairfax is overbuilt and choking in traffic while Prince George's potential has yet to be fairly tapped.

by ceefer66 on Dec 3, 2012 10:55 am • linkreport

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