Greater Greater Washington

Put the FBI in Suitland, not Greenbelt (and not Poplar Point)

Talk of the FBI leaving its Pennsylvania Avenue heaquarters reached a fever pitch in the last week, with WMATA taking steps to enable its development partner at the Greenbelt Metro station to bid on the FBI. But a different site might be more fiscally prudent and better contribute to transit-oriented development: the Suitland Federal Center.


Suitland Federal Center. Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

I have only seen Suitland, in southern Prince George's County, mentioned once in the press covering this story (December 18, 2011, in the Baltimore Sun), but I believe it's the best choice in Prince George's and the region.

The Suitland Federal Center is a 226-acre site housing the offices of the US Census Bureau, the National Archives' Washington Records Center, the NOAA Satellite Operations Facility, the National Maritime Intelligence-Integration Office, and a few other small buildings. There is a contiguous area of just under 55 acres that includes a couple vacant buildings, open land, and underutilized parking lots.

Suitland already has much of what the FBI needs

This space could easily become the new location for the FBI. The entire area is already access controlled via gates and a fenced perimeter. There is room for the standoff distance that the GSA requires for Level 5 facilities (those that are considered critical to national security). The building would need to be long, narrow, and tall in order to fit all the office space necessary to house upwards of 10,000 employees, but luckily, there is already precedent for such a building in Suitlandthe Census Bureau's building.


The 55-acre area that could house the FBI.

Most importantly, the federal government already owns the land. Unlike at Greenbelt, a headquarters building in Suitland will not preclude any more land from future taxable uses. The latest proposals for the Greenbelt property would have GSA pay taxes to Prince George's County and Greenbelt for the next 20 years, but the land would come off the tax rolls permanently after that point.

Both locations have regional transportation benefits

The city of Greenbelt and Prince George's County have good reasons to want the FBI at the Greenbelt station. More jobs at this location would mean economic development opportunities for Greenbelt and other nearby cities in northern Prince George's County, and the oft-cited "reverse-commuting" effect from employees living to the west may help slightly balance traffic on the Capital Beltway, which is heaviest out of Prince George's County during the morning rush and heaviest into the county during evening rush hour.

The commuting situation would be similar at the Suitland location. The years-long Wilson Bridge project added driving capacity along the southern part of the Beltway, and can arguably handle commuter traffic more efficiently than the northern part of the beltway through Montgomery County and over the American Legion Bridge.

Many FBI workers already drive to and from Virginia. The Bureau has a major facility including its training academy at Quantico. Suitland would offer a shorter trip for people traveling between the two, via the Wilson Bridge by car or bus, or possibly a future rail transit connection.

News reports have also cited a need for a location within 2½ miles of the Beltway. Greenbelt is clearly superior in proximity, as it is directly adjacent to the beltway, but Suitland falls within 2½ miles of the highway. At either location, a new exit for traffic would need to be built. The exit for the Greenbelt station only serves traffic coming from or going to the west, and an exit on the beltway for the Suitland Parkway would probably be necessary to handle higher traffic coming to and from the Suitland Federal Center.

Both locations could take advantage of a Green Line station adjacent to the site, and both are at or near the end of the line, encouraging reverse commuting for those using the transit system from DC and the core of the metro area.

Greenbelt could be so much more, while Suitland never can

The placement of the Suitland metro station, unfortunately, precludes the opportunity for strong transit-oriented development at this location. The station is hemmed in by a freeway to the west and the fenced-off-and-not-open-to-the-public Federal Center to the north and east. The "downtown" crossroads of Suitland (Suitland and Silver Hill Roads) would have been a better location to encourage TOD, but moving the station is extremely unlikely.

Greenbelt, on the other hand, has the opportunity for mixed-use at its station. The area to the south of the station had a development plan that derailed when the real-estate market crashed in the last decade. Eventually, demand for housing, shopping, and jobs at locations inside the beltway will only make Greenbelt an even more attractive place to invest in growth.

I realize that it's difficult to ask a city to wait, when they can benefit from development today. In the long run, though, the city of Greenbelt has the opportunity to create a plan that will bring jobs, residents, retail, and a tax base to this site. That seems like too good of an opportunity to throw away for the short-term promise of 20 years worth of property taxes from the federal government.

Not Poplar Point, either

Update: Just before this post went live, Jonathan O'Connell of the Washington Post reported that Mayor Gray will propose keeping the FBI's headquarters in DC by moving it to Poplar Point in Ward 8.

While that site would have some transportation advantages similar to Greenbelt or Suitland, ultimately, it would be a bad choice for the city. It would preclude the possibility of developing that land in a form that could produce property taxes for DC, and it would cause an even larger stretch of our very limited waterfront property to be forever off-limits to the residents of the city.

It's an interesting proposal, but ultimately its shortcomings should lead to the idea being scuttled quickly.

Geoff Hatchard lived in DC's Trinidad neighborhood. The opinions and views expressed in Geoff's writing on this blog are his, and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer. 

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A well-written and well-reasoned article.

However, I have a suspicion that the FBI's clout and the preference of its leadership and agents will dictate the final decision. The overwhelming majority of FBi agents live and are closely tied to the culture of Virginia. The FBI also has powerful ties on Capitol Hill, and will not hesitate to flex its political muscle to seek the location the consensus of its institutional players desire.

Sen. Mikulski (D-MD) as chairwoman of appropriations, notwithstanding, I think VA will win this one, rightly OR wrongly on the merits.

by Adam on Feb 21, 2013 1:15 pm • linkreport

As much as i'd like to see MD win the FBI game, Adam may be right that the FBI (speaking as a collective voice of employees) would rather be in VA, and that may have a lot of power, if for nothing else, not wanting to risk losing a ton of people and having to replace them.

I'm also not sure if the FBI is the *best* anchor of a new-urban/TOD/TND type of development. I'd suspect they will basically want a compound, similar to that already in Suitland, that is not going to welcome a mix of uses immediately under or adjoining their space. It may be a lot of jobs, and there may be a mix of driving and train riding, but i'm not sure how much local interaction would be had other than grabbing lunch on occasion. Knowing people who work at Suitland Federal - that has yet to result in places near by to eat. They carpool way up to Largo or down to Clinton on their lunch breaks. Save the 'good' sites like Greenbelt or Largo for development that can interact with the neighbors, and let VA get another giant employment center that will worsen traffic and not actually do much to spark TOD.

by Gull on Feb 21, 2013 1:33 pm • linkreport

Why not at the Franconia/Springfield Metro station where the old GSA buildings currently are? That's much closer to Quantico than anything in Maryland. It's at the junction of 95/395/495 and has metro service, bus service, etc. Also, the Springfield Mall is being gutted and renovated... there's plenty of infrastructure at Franconia/Springfield to support a new FBI Headquarters.

by Matt on Feb 21, 2013 1:34 pm • linkreport

Gull: Perhaps I was not clear. I was not claiming in any way, shape, or form that the FBI HQ would help facilitate strong TOD. Your entire second paragraph is basically restating what I said in this article.

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Feb 21, 2013 1:36 pm • linkreport

GH

I found you pretty clear - in a nutshell - IF FBI moves to PG, suitland is probably better than Greenbelt, because A. Suitland is less capable of TOD anyway and FBI won't be TOD AND because Suitland is closer than Greenbelt to Quantico.

Makes perfect sense.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 21, 2013 1:54 pm • linkreport

Don't sell Gerry Connolly short. Love him or hate him, he has excellent political smarts and is working very hard to win the FBI headquarters building for Fairfax County.

by TMT on Feb 21, 2013 1:55 pm • linkreport

I wonder if the proximity to the metro itself will affect ridership. The beauty of the Greenbelt site is that it could be practically on top of the metro while the Suitland site would add a quarter mile more walking to the trip. I mean I would be willing to walk, but would your average commuter? Plus Greenbelt also has MARC which could attract some (probably not many) of the MD commuters. Finally IF the purple line ever happens that would be additional access. So purely from a transit point of view, Greenbelt seems superior.

by Alan B. on Feb 21, 2013 1:59 pm • linkreport

Greenbelt is the more attractive option in PG from the FBI's perspective. If PG wants to land the FBI, they need to put their best foot forward, which Suitland is not.

by Falls Church on Feb 21, 2013 2:20 pm • linkreport

Many FBI workers already drive to and from Virginia. The Bureau has a major facility including its training academy at Quantico. Suitland Franconia-Springfield would offer a shorter trip for people traveling between the two, via the Wilson Bridge by car or bus, or possibly a future rail transit connection.

by Jasper on Feb 21, 2013 2:25 pm • linkreport

Jasper: Of course, if you're going to make a correction like that, you should probably have taken out the part about using the Wilson Bridge, since that wouldn't be necessary. ;)

(Worth noting, the point of this article was that Prince George's County would have a better site in Suitland than in Greenbelt. I made no claims regarding the efficacy of a Fairfax County site vs. a Prince George's County site.)

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Feb 21, 2013 2:33 pm • linkreport

While I still think the area on the south side of Central Avenue across from the Morgan Boulevard Metro Station is best, I agree with Geoff that Suitland is a much better choice than Greenbelt. The bottom line is that Prince George's County has several Metro-accessible locations that would be a good fit for the FBI, and all of them are closer in proximity to any of the sites discussed in Virginia and would be a better balance for area traffic.

by Bradley Heard on Feb 21, 2013 2:58 pm • linkreport

If Prince George's, I would definitely agree Suitland is the better location for the county over Greenbelt.

by selxic on Feb 21, 2013 3:08 pm • linkreport

That might be a nice area for something to go, Bradley Heard, but that would be a waste considering what non-federal government development could actually provide to the County.

by selxic on Feb 21, 2013 3:10 pm • linkreport

Very well discussed. The security situation would not make the FBI a great candidate for TOD an I suspect that Springfield wouldn't be great either. Repurposing for FBI wouldn't be like redoing space for a random executive branch agency and Springfield area probably is anxious to revitalize as a commercial area.

by Rich on Feb 21, 2013 3:24 pm • linkreport

Geoff has very good points about how Suitland is a better location than Greenbelt. It's got the land area available. It's got easily upgradeable security. And it's already Federal land.

But what would kill Suitland as an option is the traffic situation. It's a couple miles from the nearest freeway (contrary to Geoff's article, Suitland Pkwy is *NOT* a freeway...there are signals in either direction from Suitland). And adding another Federal agency to Suitland would further exasperate the already dismal traffic/pedestrian situation on Silver Hill Rd. You'd have to make some MASSIVE improvements to both Silver Hill Rd and to St. Barnabas Rd in order to make this work, and the latter already has a really tight right-of-way south of Marlow Heights.

While Suitland is overall better than Greenbelt, I am of the opinion that Springfield is overall better than Suitland. Metro stop (just like Suitland and Greenbelt). Commuter rail stop (like Greenbelt, but unlike Suitland). Right next to a major freeway (like Greenbelt, but unlike Suitland). Already Federally-owned land (like Suitland, but unlike Greenbelt). And if the suggestion that most FBI workers already live in Virginia is true, then you cut down on regional VMT.

by Froggie on Feb 21, 2013 3:28 pm • linkreport

The importance of attracting government agencies by local governments should not be ignored. They will make many compromises to win an agency. For example, the Tysons Partnership was told informally that the County would grant waivers from the urban design and set-back requirements if necessary for a landowner to win a federal security-type agency. I would expect the County would do the same for Springfield in order to land the FBI headquarters.

by TMT on Feb 21, 2013 3:54 pm • linkreport

The GSA warehouses are not the top priority TOD locations in Springfield anyway, IIUC. Over one half mile walking distance to the metro.

I'd be taken aback if the County were to break the Tysons guidelines for an agency. Fortunately the property values in that area make it unlikely anyway.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 21, 2013 4:06 pm • linkreport

@ AWalkerInTheCity

I've seen draft proposals by Tysons landowners to redevelop property with a security perimeter. I cannot imagine they would do this if such construction would be financially unfavorable.

I don't expect to see much of this exception development occur, but if a landowner needs waivers to do this, the landowner will get the waivers. The County would rather have real estate taxes based on the rent of a non-conforming building than not, just to remain pure to the Plan.

by TMT on Feb 21, 2013 4:18 pm • linkreport

While you've presented a pretty decent argument for an FBI HQ at Suitland (particularly the fact that Greenbelt would be better served with a mixed-use development and Suitland has no hope of any other development), I still feel that Greenbelt is the best location in the Metro Area.

I've commented on many previous articles on GGW the benefits of a Greenbelt location so won't go into details, but its biggest advantage is transportation access. For the same reasons I also recommend New Carrollton, whose only downfall is a lack of space (although there is an empty lot across from the IRS).

Here's how I would (roughly) rank the potential HQ sites:

1. Greenbelt
- 2nd most accessible (Metro/MARC/3+ hwys), plenty of land, no (serious) traffic issues, nearby federal tenants (DOA, NASA, FDA, NWS, NSA)

2. New Carrollton
- most accessible (Amtrak/MARC/Metro/Purple Line/3+ hwys), IRS next door, but questionable land availability

3. Springfield
- decent access (Metro/I-95/I-495/VRE), plenty of land, but a traffic nightmare

4. Suitland
I-95/Suitland Pwy Access, Metro access, existing fed agencies including CB, not the best/safest part of town

5. Poplar Point
- plenty of land available, near to existing federal facilities, limited Metro access, highway (I-295/I-695/Suitland Pwy access), not the best/safest part of town

6. Dulles (West)
- airport access, limited highway access, no (current) Metro access, 15mi from the Beltway (and further from DC/MD employees)

7. Montgomery County site
- no viable site identified (possibly Twinbrook near HHS?), very likely Metro accessible, ? highway access

8. Largo Town Center
I-495 Beltway access, Metro access, limited space

9. Morgan Boulevard
- I-495 Beltway access, Metro access, plenty of space but more suitable more new hospital

10. Former Exxon-Mobil campus (Merrifield)
- hwy access (I-95/I-66), no Metro or other rail

11. Quantico
- near to FBI facility, I-95 access, very far from Beltway and current employees, limited VRE service

12-14. Herndon, Fort Belvoir, Dumfries
- far from Beltway, no rail access, some hwy access, unlikely to be selected

by King Terrapin on Feb 21, 2013 4:32 pm • linkreport

its not about purity - its about the changes to Tysons to reduce SOV mode share. The proposed densities of office space and employment ONLY make sense if we are making Tysons more walkable. That was what the people of the County were promised, when Tysons was upzoned. To increase office space and employment there without strictly enforcing the standards is simply to bring forward the time of gridlock that redevelopment opponents have warned of. That would not only lead to Tysons failing, but would end all credibility for such transformations in the County (if not the region) for generations.

I think there would be a political backlash, both from "urbanists" and from folks who were skeptical of the Tyons plan from the beginning.

Were the landowners in question looking at a Federal Agency? Other than the FBI, I am not aware of any security focused agencies in the market, and it seems the county has only been pushing the Springfield site.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 21, 2013 4:36 pm • linkreport

I totally agree w/GH's proposal and realize he wrote this w/Suitland as the better option in mind.

WRT to Froggie's point: From end to end, there are only 4 traffic lights on Stld Parkway. Any number of people attempting to get there from the East would be going against traffic...even those travelling north on Silver Hill Road. Why couldn't they make the massive improvements to improve the connections? While the distance from 495 may be slightly farther than Greenbelt to 295, you also don't have to travel through as much residential area.

And WRT safety, the area surrounding Union Station/Greyhound is safer NOW but certainly wasn't a utopia prior to the number of agency's setting up shop there. I'm assuming that DOH had similar concerns prior to its decision to relocate to St. E.

by HogWash on Feb 21, 2013 4:41 pm • linkreport

Are there reliable statistics on where the FBI employees in DC, at the current HQ and other locations in DC, live? How many percentage-wise in DC, Prince Georges, Montgomery Cty, VA? Of course, it may not matter much where the mid or low level employees live, but where the upper management and director of the FBI live. And who has more power among the politicians involved.

The Greenbelt site has the advantage of being 1 stop away from the future Purple Line stop at College Park which provides a east-west transit connection that the Suitland site won't have.

As for getting a waiver on set-back distances for security, this is the future FBI HQ, not a lesser known government security facility. It is not going to get waivers on set-back distances. Hence the search for large campus space with a significant security perimeter which would not be TOD friendly.

by AlanF on Feb 21, 2013 4:42 pm • linkreport

I was thinking about that too, but it seems highly unlikely FBI would make statistics about where employees live available if that is even legal to do so. Hopefully it will be taken into account though.

by Alan B. on Feb 21, 2013 4:43 pm • linkreport

I agree with Froggie that traffic would become a real problem if another several thousand cars are added to the mix in Suitland. I wouldn't say Silver Hill Rd is currently dismal, but it could become that way. I doubt it's unsolvable, though. Maybe a Suitland Federal Center Only ramp from the Suitland Parkway like the CIA has on the GW Parkway and NSA has on the BW Parkway?

by jh on Feb 21, 2013 5:15 pm • linkreport

jh: That was something I thought about as I wrote this, though the wooded area to the west of the Census building (where such a ramp would likely go) is wetland territory, and bulldozing that area might not be plausible due to the location of Suitland House and the fact that it is historically protected.

That said, it's the federal government. If they want to override any rules protecting land, etc., they can and will.

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Feb 21, 2013 5:24 pm • linkreport

More people would metro to Suitland if (in order of importance)
1) parking weren't free
2) parking weren't relatively easy
3a) there was a second exit on the other (north) side of the platform that connected more directly with the center of the compound (i.e near the day care center)
(and/or)
3b) bikesharing that would connect the station with the entrances of the respective SFC tenants (away from the Census) (and for that matter, back the EOTR part of the DC system; the nearest dock to the water tower truck entrance is a little over a mile and a half)
4) people didn't perceive Suitland as dangerous.

There's a fairly big crowd at the one gate on Silver Hill at the rush hours (moreso in the afternoon), but the only thing that really jams up the works is an evac situation. The approach roads themselves are fairly benign, trafficwise, compared with much of the DC metro area (unless you're a pedestrian that lives in any of the adjoining communities, then the roads are actively hostile)

by Kolohe on Feb 21, 2013 6:19 pm • linkreport

@ Geoff:the point of this article was that Prince George's County would have a better site in Suitland than in Greenbelt.

I know that. I am just pointing out that your argument is showing that F-S would be even better than Suitland :-P

by Jasper on Feb 21, 2013 9:01 pm • linkreport

@Geoffrey

Right, an entrance right next to Census wouldn't work. But, maybe one between Navy and Archives or at the end of the property right next to the cemetery. I'm not sure how much space is available by the cemetery, though.

@Kolohe

Put another large building on the existing surface lot and parking will no longer be easy.

BTW, Census is raising their transit subsidy on March 1, so there could be an increase in Metro riders.

by jh on Feb 21, 2013 9:22 pm • linkreport

The problem with having a large federal or other employment center in the suburbs (any of these locations would be) is it makes driving all that much easier and appealing to people. I fear this may be the ultimate downfall of White Flint and Tysons, the only people who'd find transit appealing are those who lived further out the Red/Silver Line, in downtown DC, or on the opposite side of the city. Almost anyone commuting from VA or southern MD/PG County would want to drive to Suitland, and anyone who lives in Most anywhere in Suburban MD would want to drive to Greenbelt. Metro is a popular mode for federal workers who work in the core, where suburbanites can park and take the train into the city. If I lived in Alexandria or Springfield or New Carrollton and worked in Suitland i'd surely drive, and this is from someone who walks to work and chose to live where I do so I could walk, so i'm not anti-transit or urbanism.

by Gull on Feb 21, 2013 10:18 pm • linkreport

I like the article but there is one problem; this article should be posted in the Washington Post or shown to PG County/FBI officials. Otherwise, this is just a pipe dream.

by Namaste on Feb 21, 2013 10:40 pm • linkreport

Namaste: I tweeted it to Rushern Baker. That's a start, right? :)

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Feb 21, 2013 10:45 pm • linkreport

When there is talk of should a building go to spot a or spot b why is there no mention of how it effects the already present community.

Many things come to mind when huge buildings like this are built in areas

1 Traffic/Crowds (not really a problem with FBI, but for stadiums)
2 Terrorism Target (any major government building and nearby residents will have to deal with the crap)
3 Blocking roads/Security Checks (more likely with FBI)
4 Best use of space for the community
5 Brings happiness to community

by kk on Feb 22, 2013 2:11 am • linkreport

Could the unfinished Department of Homeland Security compound be a site for the FBI. It is owned by the Feds and has plenty of unused land. DHS's mission and the FBI's mission are both compatible. From what I've heard, Congress may not fully utilize the property, withholding future expenditures. It would keep the FBI in DC without taking valuable taxable land from the local gov't., would be near Metro/ I-295/ Suitland Prkwy. and private sector development happening on the other side of MLK Blvd. This site should be a shoe in.

by Dave on Feb 22, 2013 3:58 am • linkreport

Additionally, a back entrance off the I-295 can be added.

by Dave on Feb 22, 2013 4:04 am • linkreport

It needs to be located where the best and the brightest can live and hotel near it and where this critical HQ can connect to other critical HQs and national leadership. Any isolated warehouse district or “place in need of jobs” is a horrible idea for this critical agency. It also needs superior transportation with a great deal of resiliency not just a few random links that could easily be shut down. This is not about “jobs” it is about national security and resilience.

by AlexD on Feb 22, 2013 5:15 am • linkreport

Actually there is a decent site for the FBI in Montgomery County: There is a field of ABC owned radio towers on the inside corner of the westernmost I-270 Spur in what I believe is North Bethesda. The site site's coordinates are: +39° 1' 0.42", -77° 8' 34.46" The site is more than large enough and I know ABC doesn't need all those towers anymore and is interested in selling. I always thought it may be a good site for a DC United stadium too.

by Alex on Feb 22, 2013 5:21 am • linkreport

I currently work on the Suitland Federal Center. I agree with the author that Suitland is an excellent choice, with land available and great metro access. The drive in could be tough, because the connections to the beltway are already tough. Silver Hill Road to St. Barnabas is already slow. Connecting Suitland Parkway better to the Beltway would help.

Suitland is not the safest area, but has gotten better over the years. Once on the compound, I have always felt very safe. There could also be a better Federal Protective Services presence at the metro station during working hours, that would alleviate a lot of stress.

The walk in from the metro is not terrible, but could be better with a shuttle to all 5 (with FBI) major activities on the compound.

Finally, with so many employees on the compound, inevitably some of the surrounding area should see more retail, especially restaurants.

by Gregg on Feb 22, 2013 5:27 am • linkreport

If you thought the Ward 3 NIMBYs were bad, you haven't seen anything until you suggest putting the FBI in the largest dog park in lower Montgomery County.

by Wlliam on Feb 22, 2013 7:00 am • linkreport

Alex, that site lacks the transit options that were requested. That would be bad for the FBI and would have been bad for DC United as well. Most of United's fans are from Virginia. Also, NIMBY at that location...

Rich, Springfield would be anxious to redevelop as a private area if it were a private area. That's why they're anxious for a federal agency to develop.

by selxic on Feb 22, 2013 7:36 am • linkreport

Sort of off-topic, but why does the FBI need 10,000 headquarters employees? What do they do? Aren't most agents, you know, out in the field?

by Greenbelt on Feb 22, 2013 8:37 am • linkreport

jh - very true & what I was going for w/ #2
The other factor is that if you're a nova commuter to the compound that uses the Wilson bridge, you're hardly hitting any traffic- it's all going the opposite direction. And because there's no public transit option across the Wilson bridge, you are necessarily adding about a half hour to your commute to go all the way thru town and then all the way out.

by Kolohe on Feb 22, 2013 8:38 am • linkreport

(if you take metro)

by Kolohe on Feb 22, 2013 8:39 am • linkreport

Anyone have info on the number of Census Bureau employees who actually commute by Metrorail? Anecdotal evidence is that the # is low, not in small part because of the vast amounts of parking built for the campus.

It seems that adding another federal agency would present an opportunity to improve that situation, by pooling the Census/FBI parking, and providing fewer spaces per worker overall.

by Brian on Feb 22, 2013 9:56 am • linkreport

@ Gull:The problem with having a large federal or other employment center in the suburbs (any of these locations would be) is it makes driving all that much easier and appealing to people. I fear this may be the ultimate downfall of White Flint and Tysons, the only people who'd find transit appealing are those who lived further out the Red/Silver Line, in downtown DC, or on the opposite side of the city.

True. FBI agents are not living downtown and won't be reverse commuting to their work. On the other hand, USPTO has led to quite a stream of reverse commuters to King St and Eisenhower. Most federal workers will choose to live in the suburbs where there is no metro. See: Ft Belvoir, Mark Center, NIST.

I can only hope that putting more federal work centers at the edge of the core will push transit further out. The Yellow Line needs to be extended along US-1 to Ft Belvoir and further south to Lorton, Woodbridge and Potomac Hell. The Blue Line needs to be extended along VA-289, VA-286 and VA-123 to Burke, Fairfax City/GMU, cross an extended Orange Line and meet the Silver Line at Wolftrapp. The Orange Line needs to be extended to Centreville, Manassas and Gainesville if not Warrenton.

In MD: The Green Line need to go to Andrews, and follow MD-5 to Brandywine and Waldorf. The Blue Line needs to jump to Penn Ave and Upper Malboro. The Orange Line needs to go to Annapolis. The other end of the Green (at Yellow) Line needs to go to Laurel, Ft Meade, BWI and Baltimore. And the Red Line needs to get extended to Colesville, Cloverly, Columbia (crossing the ICC and roughly following US-29) and Baltimore, whereas the other end needs to go to Gaithersburg, Germantown, and probably Frederick.

On top of that MARC and VRE need to become actual proper train services with trains that run all day and weekend.

/end dream

by Jasper on Feb 22, 2013 9:58 am • linkreport

I dare say that if the FBI moves to Suitland, the criminals will go somewhere else. While Greenbelt has proximity to NSA, Suitland will be close to DHS--An upgrade to the nearby trails would be very likely.

An eventual connection with the Purple Line is possible, since the direct route from New Carollton/Largo to Oxon Hill skirts Suitland.

An interchange with the Beltway and Suitland Parkway, however, is very unlikely.

by JimT on Feb 22, 2013 9:59 am • linkreport

I keep hearing statements about retail and services created around wherever the new FBI relocates to. And then I hear arguments that the FBI building will be a dead weight for the community. So, which is it? In my opinion, if the FBI creates development where there is none, it is a good thing. Some say that an undeveloped area should wait and pass up the FBI because it will offer no real benefit in the long run. But some of these places we're talking about have been empty for decades. To have 10,000 converge on an area and not expect them to want to eat, live, or play near their job is counter to the trend we see happening all over the area. Ask any local business person if they wanted to be next to a building where 10,000 employees go in and out of every day. They'll emphatically say yes. The point for any county is to get as many people to live, work, and play in the county as possible. It drives demand for housing and services. Which increases revenues. I don't expect the FBI to be a monolithic fortress with a moat and a 20 foot fence. There are ways to incorporate it into the surrounding area.

by adelphi_sky on Feb 22, 2013 10:10 am • linkreport

Sorry to come into this discussion late and without certain basic information, but has anyone demonstrated irrefutable evidence that the FBI headquarters MUST be relocated from Pennsylvania Avenue in the City? Could it be that people are influenced by a desire to exact posthumous revenge on "Jedgar" Hoover by demolishing the building that bears his name and the imprint of his grim personality? Revenge is a dish best taken cold, but not this cold, folks: Hoover has been dead for 41 years. Alternatively, is it another one of the perennial efforts to tear chunks of the federal presence out of Washington DC and relocate them to the benefit of suburban jurisdictions and to the detriment of the City? Who can say? To repeat, however, why MUST the FBI HQ leave DC? If the Hoover Building must go, demolish and replace it with something more architecturally au courant, or rebuild the interior and let the facade stand as a monument to the "brutalist" architecture of the 60s and 70s. If some components of the bureau have outgrown the in-town space, move them to Crystal City or some other nearby venue where there is existing rental office space. But why not leave the FBI headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., in Washington D.C.?

by Publius Washingtoniensis on Feb 22, 2013 10:54 am • linkreport

Why has zero consideration been given to relocating the FBI headquarters to Walter Reed? With Walter Reed, 1) the property is large enough, 2) it presumably meets the security requirements, 3) the federal government owns the property, and 4) Walter Reed is served by several bus routes. I see no good reason not to consider and advocate for Walter Reed.

by Ben on Feb 22, 2013 11:05 am • linkreport

@Publius Washingtoniensis
You've raised a few issues. To try to answer:
1. The Hoover BUILDING itself is too small (FBI already has offices scattered around DC they want to consolidate), old, and obsolete. So the building has to go at the least. GSA and FBI have already determined that much.

2. As for the location, there are a few issues. FBI HQ is listed as a "high priority" federal facility and so it has to have certain security requirements. I'm not sure these can be met at the current location and if they can, GSA has determined it's too expensive to do so. The plot the current HQ is on is also some of the most high-value land in the city; GSA knows they can make a bunch of money through either a land swap or selling the plot to a developer.

3. In DC vs out of DC - many of us believe that these big federal facilities don't actually have much to offer the jurisdiction they are located in, and especially little to offer DC. These secure compounds don't really encourage a walkable framework that is compatible with a lot of close-by development.

by MLD on Feb 22, 2013 11:12 am • linkreport

Publius-

The problem with high security buildings like FBI headquarters is that they're a poor fit for an urban area like DC. Their obsession with security means they are very hesitant to incorporate features like ground floor retail or any real connection to the surrounding neighborhood. The trend with such buildings has been to incorporate security features that keep everyone else as far away as possible length. The FBI building pays no real estate taxes, and many, if not most, of its employees live out in the suburbs (meaning, they don't pay DC income taxes). Overall, the building doesn't seem to add much to the District (certainly not architecturally).

Given all of this, the idea of replacing the building with a mixed-use development like the types we've seen spring up all over DC, with all of the attendant benefits, seems like a no-brainer.

by Potowmack on Feb 22, 2013 11:17 am • linkreport

This article might just be the best I have ever read on GGW, and most of the comments are superb, making an already good article even better.

Great job, Geoff.

@Publius Washingtoniensis, don't forget that the Hoover Building is just the "tip of the iceberg" as far as FBI offices in Washington go. The Bureau has additional headquarters staff scattered around many other buildings in leased space. The Bureau's management would like to have all of those various offices consolidated to one campus, and apparently the Hoover site just isn't big enough.

by C. P. Zilliacus on Feb 22, 2013 11:18 am • linkreport

Thanks to MLD, Potowmack, and C.P. Zilliacus for their useful insights. I guess the security issue trumps everything in the post-9/11 era. Too bad, because it would be better for FBI staff to interact daily with private sector and public sector non-agency folks.

by Publius Washingtoniensis on Feb 22, 2013 11:32 am • linkreport

Again, if security is a concern, Walter Reed presumably already meets the security requirements.

by Ben on Feb 22, 2013 11:36 am • linkreport

Re: Walter Reed, there is already a redevelopment plan for the area and the State Dept has called dibs on some land for embassies. I also think adding that much traffic to the area would be a nightmare for local residents.

by Alan B. on Feb 22, 2013 11:47 am • linkreport

While this isn't one of the official FBI/GSA criteria, don't underestimate the importance of locating the office building near some place that employees want to live. FBI HQ staff are generally well-paid and well educated and are going to demand a location that provides the amenities and quality schools that well-paid/educated people usually desire.

I realize Suitland is *accessible* to places with good schools/amenities but places that actually *have* good schools/amenities trumps that. Suitland is likely the lowest cost re-location option but you can bet that the FBI will fight tooth-and-nail for a premium location rather than the low cost option.

This decision won't entirely be up to the FBI big wigs who likely live in the favored quarter (Mclean, Bethesda, etc.) and want to continue living there and still have an easy commute. But, you can bet that they will have a lot of influence over the decision behind the scenes.

by Falls Church on Feb 22, 2013 12:30 pm • linkreport

@Greenbelt Sort of off-topic, but why does the FBI need 10,000 headquarters employees? What do they do? Aren't most agents, you know, out in the field?

Agents don't work there, but many analysts do. Lots of 'em. It's also the central location for administrative and support staff. Only about 1/3 of FBI employees are agents.

by worthing on Feb 22, 2013 12:58 pm • linkreport

As a professional in the architecture field, I think the Poplar Point location could have potential to be rather nice, if planned correctly. If it is designed as an attractive object with marshland surrounding it and ringed by development, similar to what's being done with the US Embassy in London (http://www.e-architect.co.uk/images/jpgs/london/american_embassy_london_u260210_1.jpg), it could be a nice feature to the city that still aheres to security protocols and does not negatively impact the context around it. The building would need to be very nicely detailed, of course...

by Nate on Feb 22, 2013 1:29 pm • linkreport

How would the Poplar Point close off access to the waterfront? There would be more restrictions, sure, but people (i.e. non-US Navy employees) have access to the waterfront area by the Navy Yard now in Southeast. Perhaps not unrestricted access but they still have access.

http://www.jdland.com/dc/index.cfm/3669/Navy-Yard-Riverwalk-Opening-for-Unlimited-Public-Access-Apri/

Would the FBI headquarters have more restrictive access and security concerns than the Navy Yard?

by Ben on Feb 22, 2013 1:45 pm • linkreport

"Anyone have info on the number of Census Bureau employees who actually commute by Metrorail? Anecdotal evidence is that the # is low, not in small part because of the vast amounts of parking built for the campus."

@Brian I have no hard data, but my anecdotal evidence is that ridership has steadily increased since the Metro opened. My guess would be about 1000 riders per day. I believe the two parking garages built at Census were for about 3000 cars. That large surface lot is just left over from the old building.

Census has been increasing their teleworking recently, offer a variety of work schedules, and, as I mentioned, is about to increase their transit subsidy. I think traffic will gradually improve over the years, but there will still need to be improvements to handle thousands of more cars per day.

by jh on Feb 22, 2013 2:44 pm • linkreport

When Suitland opened, it 5,100 boardings per day. It now has about 6,400 boardings per day.

http://www.wmata.com/pdfs/planning/FY12_Historical_Ridership_By_Station.pdf

The station has just under 2,000 parking spaces.

by Alex B. on Feb 22, 2013 2:54 pm • linkreport

Since I live near Suitland, I wanted to weigh in.
First, drive to Suitland; take a 5 minute drive around the area. You will see that this is one of the most poorly planned and zoned communities in the DC area. It is almost impossible to see how the community could grow there to accommodate the FBI.
There are a few restaurants, most with Plexiglas and not much to offer.
Tour the closed and fenced off "Suitland Technology Center"...
Also, my favorite part of Suitland is: No sidewalks on Branch Avenue!
Also, Metro crime stats:
Metrorail Station Part I Crime Part 2 Arrests
1. Deanwood 67 6
2. Anacostia 64 14
3. L’Enfant Plaza 63 27
4. Suitland 60 4

Suitland # 4 on the list and since they only arrested 4 people, that the crime will continue to be a problem.
One person I know who worked there described it as "Liquor stores and gas stations" and they were not being unkind.
FBI will not go there because of the fact that it is not a fun or nice place to be working.

by John Capozzi on Feb 22, 2013 5:16 pm • linkreport

To Ben's point, if the State Department isn't going to need all 60 acres, the Walter Reed site seems like an ideal location:

-proximity to the Silver Spring transit hub
-Future GA Ave streetcar line
-already served by several bus routes
-Secure location within existing infrastructure

by Andrew on Feb 22, 2013 6:04 pm • linkreport

@ John Capozzi

Since when does Suiltland even border Branch Ave ?

Concerning crime what type of crime is it. All places have crime so to mention crime means nothing. There is crime at the current location downtown; as there also is in Springfield and Greenbelt.

You talk of the community growing around the FBI; but does the community actually want them there in the first place.

Restaurants with plexiglass, your point

by kk on Feb 22, 2013 7:33 pm • linkreport

If the agency can stay in DC it should. Also taking jobs out of an economy is never a good idea. Poplar Point is the perfect location and meets all of the FBI requirements. It will also certainly hasten the redevelopment of Barry Farms and spur more growth in the already growing Anacostia. I understand the loss in potential commercialization, but no other proposal has gained traction. I stress potential. There are billions in development occurring on the opposite shore and obviously the old Hoover building will see new life, so the city will only stand to gain. Whereas Poplar Point will most likely remain as it is today for the foreseeable future.

by Sivad on Feb 22, 2013 7:36 pm • linkreport

I presume the FBI needs to work with other federal agencies responsible for domestic law enforcement and anti-terrorism, such as the Department of Homeland Security, Alcohol, Tobacco, & Firearms, the White House, the Department of Justice, the federal courts, and perhaps the Pentagon and CIA. All those are located in DC or close in. If access to those agencies is critical, then the FBI should locate in the District, near a Metro station.

Poplar Point is in the flood plain but Barry Farms is not. Barry Farms is also directly adjacent to both the Anacostia Metro Station on one side and the Department of Homeland Security compound on the other. Poplar point is farther from Metro, and it is close but not adjacent to the DHS compound.

by M Farrell on Feb 23, 2013 2:32 am • linkreport

@gregg: not sure if you were aware, but there already is a Metro shuttle on Suitland Federal Center. Two huge problems with it though. First, it runs on 30 minute headways during the peak hours only. Second, it's obscenely slow...I could often outwalk it even from the NOAA building (15min walk from my old desk to the Metro platform).

Regarding Suitland worker transit usage, my (former) agency was pretty low. Out of about 50 or so workers (both civilian and active duty), only about 2-3 would commute via transit on a regular basis...and 1 of these was via one of the MTA commuter buses that came up from Waldorf and stopped at Suitland Metro. Our workers were very scattered...mostly in Maryland but ranging from Port Tobacco to Chesapeake Beach to Owings Mills! There was a "slight" concentration in the general vicinity of Crofton and Annapolis, but there's very little transit they could use. Several of our junior sailors live on base on Andrews, but there's disappointingly little transit that can be used from there either.

Most of us who lived in Virginia were concentrated in Southeast Fairfax, and a few of us would carpool from time to time. But taking transit from there often didn't make sense either. Especially when Metro jacked the fares up a couple years ago, it would cost me less to drive than it would to take Metro in. Furthermore, even with the mess that Silver Hill Rd and St. Barnabas Rd are, my car commute to Huntington rarely took more than a half-hour, while my *BEST TIME* on Metro was an hour-five, in no small part because I had to go all the way in to L'Enfant and then backtrack. And I even lived near Huntington Metro!

A Purple Line extension that swings down and hits Suitland and then across the Wilson Bridge would've helped, but you need a critical mass of potential transit users in order to make such a project cost-effective, and I just don't think we're at that point yet.

@John Capozzi: as you may recall, until about a year ago, most of St. Barnabas Rd didn't have sidewalks either. And a few sections still don't!

by Froggie on Feb 23, 2013 8:17 am • linkreport

Commercial and residential are perfect for Poplar Point. I expect a lot of offices someday. Hopefully they will contribute to the tax base more than FBI HQ could though. It's too bad the DC United plan for Poplar Point wasn't given a chance. M Farrell, are you thinking of a different location. The Anacostia Metro station is part of Poplar Point.

by selxic on Feb 23, 2013 10:27 am • linkreport

I work on that compound and I can tell you first hand there are no "underutilized parking lots". Thanks to that idiot Carter there are less parking spots available per employee at each facility, requiring a large porton of the work force to park away from the building they work at.

by Rob on Feb 23, 2013 11:11 am • linkreport

In addition to the Census, other tenants of the Suitland Federal Center have included the Naval Oceanic Office, the U.S. Weather Bureau, the Federal Records Center, the Naval Intelligence Support Center, the Smithsonian Institution, the Naval Ice Center, the Federal Protective Service, the 1996 Inaugural Committee, the National Archives and Records Administration, the Naval Maritime Intelligence Center, the Government Services Administration, and the Army Communications Command.

What do all of these tenants have in common? None are nearly as prestigious or as powerful as the FBI HQ. Why does that matter? Because, if an agency has the power and influence to avoid it, they're not going to end up in Suitland. Do you think Treasury, State or the CIA would end up in Suitland?

I don't mean to pick on Suitland. People live there and some of them must like it. But, it's not a premium location in the DC area and not even one of the nicer parts of PG county. If PG wants to land the FBI, they have to put forward their most attractive available locations. If you had the choice of living in Greenbelt of Suitland, where would you live?

by Falls Church on Feb 23, 2013 1:23 pm • linkreport

I am certain the National Archives would have zero problem with the idea of exchanging their Federal Records Center at Suitland location to the FBI in exchange for the FBI building location on Penn Ave, which is across the street from the original National Archives building. NARA needs space, FBI needs a new building. Would save a lot in the cost of land acquisition.

by Ray B on Feb 23, 2013 2:03 pm • linkreport

Selxic - Poplar Point is between the river and 295. The Anacostia metro is on the other side of the 295/Suitland Parkway interchange, about 1/4 mile away. In principle that's a walkable distance, but people would have to go under the freeway and cross a busy intersection and exit ramp, which is sure to suppress ridership, especially given crime concerns in the area.

Barry Farms Dwellings & recreation center is directly across the Suitland Parkway from the Anacostia Metro station, about 120 meters straight-line distance. If the FBI built a footbridge across the Suitland Parkway, and put a pedestrian entrance facing the bridge, they'd have straight line access from their headquarters to the Anacostia Metro station, with no street crossings.

People coming from Virginia could change trains at L'Enfant Plaza and be at Anacostia in 6 minutes. Together with the shorter walk time, it's much more viable than going from Virginia to the Suitland Federal Center by Metro, perhaps 15-20 minutes faster, each way.

The Barry Farms/Anacostia site is better for DC residents, for the same reason; it's much more accessible. A DC location is an asset for recruitment of younger employees in a way that it wasn't 20 or even 10 years ago.

by M Farrell on Feb 23, 2013 5:38 pm • linkreport

Re: Walter Reed site

It might have the space, but it certainly wouldn't have the access. GA Ave and 16th Streets are already packed during rush hours. It's bounded on all sides by residential property, is 3 miles from the beltway, 1.5 miles from the Silver Spring Metro, but only .5 miles from the Takoma Metro. However, the Takoma Metro isn't designed to be much of a hub and can hardly handle the traffic going through it now thanks to the Blair/Cedar/4th Street flustercluck.

by Michael on Feb 24, 2013 4:18 pm • linkreport

M Farrell,

The Anacostia Metro station has two entrances, one on each side of the freeway. For whatever development happens at Poplar Point, it will be able to access the metro station directly without crossing the freeway.

by Alex B. on Feb 24, 2013 5:07 pm • linkreport

I know the District wants to redevelop Barry Farm, but you think expediting the destruction of a neighborhood for something that isn't taxed is a good idea, M Farrell? For similar reasons, I don't like Poplar Point (unless the feds can call takebacks and say DC didn't do enough for the land transfer) or Greenbelt as candidates, but at least those are currently mostly undeveloped.

by selxic on Feb 24, 2013 9:52 pm • linkreport

Barry Farms Dwellings is an aging and dilapidated public housing project of two-story garden apartments and surface parking. As public housing it's not subject to DC real estate tax.

While it could be converted to private housing, the indirect benefits to the District of having 10,000 mostly well-paying federal jobs in the District are arguably greater. It also would likely have the highest transit mode share and the least traffic impact of any of the locations under consideration.

Richard Layman offers more detail - http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/

by M Farrell on Feb 25, 2013 2:20 am • linkreport

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