Greater Greater Washington

Development


Westphalia owners lobbying hard for FBI

Prince George's County and Maryland have decided to throw their weight behind putting the FBI at the Greenbelt Metro station, but developer Walton North America hasn't given up lobbying for it to go at the 479-acre, non-transit-oriented Westphalia development out past Joint Base Andrews.


Image from the "Welcome Home FBI" website.

We received an email from the PR firm Edelman about a new website they are launching on behalf of Walton. The site, called "A Welcome Home for the FBI," argues that "Westphalia Town Center would provide a secure, state-of-the-art campus for the FBI within a vibrant community where FBI employees and their families can live, work and play," and that "Westphalia Town Center would be a win-win-win for FBI employees and their families, as well as Prince George's County residents and businesses."

There's even a map, captioned, "Westphalia Town Center provides many convenient transportation options." Does it, now?


Image from the "Welcome Home FBI" website, modified by the author.

While Westphalia is located next to the Capital Beltway and Pennsylvania Avenue and adjacent to Joint Base Andrews, it's not on or near a Metro line, MARC train, or the planned Purple Line. I've placed a star around potential spots for the FBI that are on Metro: Greenbelt, Franconia-Springfield (Fairfax's proposal), and two suggestions from Greater Greater Washington contributors, Morgan Boulevard and Suitland.

(This map actually shows Metro in entirely the wrong place. Notice how the Orange and Blue Lines appear under the Potomac around where Smithsonian station would be. The Red Line crosses into Maryland east of DC's the northern point, not west. This map doesn't show the Blue Line out to the Beltway at all, and the southern Green Line actually runs along Suitland Parkway.

It clearly looks as though this map originally had no Metro at all, and the designers hastily slapped the Metro lines on without sizing and positioning them right. Perhaps this illustrates how much Westphalia really thinks about transit.)

Walton is so eager for the FBI that they recently offered to fund a bus line to Branch Avenue Metro. Unfortunately, a bus is unlikely to draw nearly the percentage of FBI workers that a Metro site would. The county has explored ways to extend the Green Line to Westphalia, but no serious planning has been done for it and nobody, including Walton, has any idea of how to pay for it.

As a greenfield, largely undeveloped site, Westphalia will require lots of new, expensive infrastructure whose long-term costs will get pushed onto the public. That spending will ultimately weaken pressure to build in existing communities where there's already underused transportation infrastructure, at the Metro stations. Those communities, however, don't have PR firms to push the government to put jobs there.

Putting the FBI in Prince George's County is the right move. The east side of the region has not gotten its share of federal or private jobs, forcing people to travel long distances from east to west. The FBI wants a large security fortress, which is incompatible with potential locations in central DC.

An site that is short walk from one of Prince George's 15 Metro stations, however, could house a large high-security complex and also catalyze walkable transit-oriented development closer to the station. This would maximize the value we get from our existing regional transportation network. With so many available Metro-accessible sites in Prince George's, Westphalia is not a good spot for the FBI.

David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He loves the area which is, in many ways, greater than those others, and wants to see it become even greater. 

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Again, if you're concerned about people using transit to access the FBI headquarters, then keeping these 7,000 jobs in the District makes the most sense. There is certainly sufficient land for this next to RFK stadium.

by 202_cyclist on May 6, 2013 12:57 pm • linkreport

Morgan Boulevard or Suitland do look like better options. But if the FBI is willing to consider 495 OR a metro station for costs, I think everyone knows that at the FBI cars are king and 495 will win out. Thus this would be an alright choice if it proves to be cheaper than the 4 metro accessible options. The FBI headquarters is not going to be walkable anyawy, so putting it in PG but not near a metro would be fine by me.

by Richard Bourne on May 6, 2013 1:01 pm • linkreport

The Westphalia 6000-acre greenfield development scheme is now probably Prince George's greatest threat to undermining political will to guide growth and major employers to Metro stations. Heavy lobbying by the Westphalia backers for the FBI demonstrates this. If these lobby efforts are successful, nearly half a billion dollars is public road money could be siphoned off to this sprawl scheme.

by Cheryl Cort on May 6, 2013 1:05 pm • linkreport

"An site that is short walk from one of Prince George's 15 Metro stations, however, could house a large high-security complex and also catalyze walkable transit-oriented development closer to the station."

If one of the arguments against keeping these 7,000 good jobs in the District is the security requirements and large footprint the FBI headquarters site will likely require, how can you have mixed-use development around this at any of the suburban metro stations? If you can't have condos and a cupcake shop right next to this in DC, why would you be able to at the Suitland metro station?

by 202_cyclist on May 6, 2013 1:06 pm • linkreport

"If one of the arguments against keeping these 7,000 good jobs in the District is the security requirements and large footprint the FBI headquarters site will likely require, how can you have mixed-use development around this at any of the suburban metro stations? If you can't have condos and a cupcake shop right next to this in DC, why would you be able to at the Suitland metro station?"

it wont be great for urban development right next door, but will still provide SOME demand for amenities. So its a question of what the alternative is - right next door to a metro station is probably a bad idea, but more than 1/2 mile, where TOD is weaker if it will happen at all, is not so bad - take a look at the FFX proposal, for example, which is near the metro, but not in the heart of proposed TOD.

That consideration applies even more strongly to Penn Ave in DC. As for RFK, Im not sure whats possible there - but, assuming the fed govt relaxes requiremens for recreational use, I would think it would have more potential than someplace 1/2 miles from suitland or new carrolton metro. But I can't say for sure.

Note places NOT being suggested for the FBI to locate - downtown Silver Spring, Tysons Corner, etc.

by AWalkerInTheCity on May 6, 2013 1:16 pm • linkreport

@202_cyclist

I can't speak for DA, but I'm certainly not expected walkable mixed-use at any site for the FBI. I think transit-oriented development is the best we can hope for. In Prince George's some Metro stations (like at Suitland) are ill-situated for walkable mixed-use but can still work for a transit-accessible yet high-security campus for the FBI.

by Adam L on May 6, 2013 1:17 pm • linkreport

Let's be honest, if this is in Suitland or Morgan Blvd, most of the employees will drive from: 1) Howard County, 2) Annapolis, 3) Baltimore suburbs, or 4) elsewhere in DC and the DC suburbs, especially, as is likely, this has a lot of parking.

by 202_cyclist on May 6, 2013 1:20 pm • linkreport

I have to agree with 202_cyclist's latest comment that having the FBI at Suitland or Morgan Blvd would just cause people to drive. If the Census and other smaller government operations on that complex have not been enough to even slightly turn around that part of Prince Georges, then why would another big federal agency do the trick? Morgan Blvd may be sliiiiightly more likely to benefit from FBI, as the area just outside the Beltway in that area is not terrible, but it would do little to help the Blue line further west. This is why Greenbelt is to me the preferable PG county location. If people do drive, it's much closer to the BW Parkway, to 95 north, to Montgomery County, it's on the 'trendy' side of the Green Line and on the Howard County MARC line. Logistically it's also a better location if there is ever the need for future coordination between CIA in Langley and NSA up at Ft Meade. On top of that, Greenbelt is not a bad area, and areas inside the Beltway along Rt 1 and Kenilworth avenue are starting to show signs of life again.

by Gull on May 6, 2013 1:29 pm • linkreport

Again, if you're concerned about people using transit to access the FBI headquarters, then keeping these 7,000 jobs in the District makes the most sense. There is certainly sufficient land for this next to RFK stadium.

No thanks.

by oboe on May 6, 2013 2:10 pm • linkreport

Agree with Gull that Greenbelt is the best spot. Easy access to MARC, Metro, I-495, I-95, Route 50, and the B-W Parkway. The only better area in the region transportation-wise would be New Carrollton, which doesn't have the space.

Not to mention that Greenbelt is the most suitable area economically speaking since it's near many other fed govt institutions in Northern PGC/Eastern MoCo and Fort Meade, not far from BWI, and has plenty of (empty) office space for overflow staff/contractors.

It's also one of the most livable areas in PGC due to it's excellent planning, aforementioned transit options, diversity, (relatively) low crime rate, good schools, and less traffic than pretty much everywhere else on the Beltway.

It's such an obvious choice that there should probably be an investigation into corruption at GSA if it isn't selected. Hopefully Baker will continue to buck the trend of typical PGC officials by not bending over for the developer of the Westphalia Sprawl Site. The lying, bigoted officials in Fairfax have already proven they're willing to play dirty though.

by King Terrapin on May 6, 2013 2:26 pm • linkreport

"Notransitalia" sounds like a rail company picking up the lucrative Trieste-Turino line.

by Bossi on May 6, 2013 2:40 pm • linkreport

"An site that is short walk from one of Prince George's 15 Metro stations, however, could house a large high-security complex and also catalyze walkable transit-oriented development closer to the station."
-----
Personally, I would like too the FBI HQ go up at New Carrollton, since the area is currently an office park wasteland.

But I don't see how a complex that will be built and operate like a fortress can be a catalyst for the
type of mixed-use TOD that would create an actual neighborhood. The existing Metro-accessible Census Bureau ind nearby military agency offices in Suitland come to mind.

Perhaps someone with some knowledge of how this works could enlighten us.

by ceefer66 on May 6, 2013 3:22 pm • linkreport

But I don't see how a complex that will be built and operate like a fortress can be a catalyst for the
type of mixed-use TOD that would create an actual neighborhood.
For those reasons (and if feasibility is going to be ignored), I'm surprised locations like the Springfield GSA site aren't promoted by more here. It's strange to see DC locations diminished because the FBI would limit the potential of those areas, but the same logic is not applied to all of Prince George's County.

by selxic on May 6, 2013 5:22 pm • linkreport

selxc

I think a lot of folks here are sympathetic to the Springfield site - I think the main argument in favor of the PG sites over it is the desire for more east west jobs/pop balance.

I think it is pretty reasonable to think that the opporunity cost of acreage in DC is higher than that of some PG county metro stops, especially given the historic failure of PG to successfully develop dense TOD.

by AWalkerInTheCity on May 6, 2013 5:37 pm • linkreport

+1 to Cheryl. The Westphalia lobby is one of the biggest threats to TOD in Prince George's County, but certainly not the only one. As I've argued elsewhere, the development community's touting of these massive out-of-the-Beltway mixed-use projects--often with the blessing and encouragement of the county--siphons away most of the political will and the public dollars that would be needed to develop around Metro stations.

Fortunately, with its support of the Greenbelt site, the county doesn't appear to be buying into the Westphalia FBI plan that's being floated now -- at least not yet; however, it's still sadly supporting the overall mega-sprawl Westphalia "town center" project (which isn't in the center of any town, or near any transit).

by Bradley Heard on May 6, 2013 9:24 pm • linkreport

There were plans at one time to redevelop the old Spring Hill Lake apartment complex into a mixed-use town center with condos, town homes, and retail. If the FBI located in Greenbelt on the North Core site, there's still the South Core site that will have town homes, apartments, condos and retail. Then I imagine the plans to redevelop Spring Hill Lake would be revisited along with the eventual redevelopment of Beltway Plaza (see Laurel Mall redevelopment). The point is there is soooo much undeveloped land in Greenbelt that even with the FBI, there can be a respectable TO district created.

by adelphi_sky on May 7, 2013 10:04 am • linkreport

I still don't understand why the FBI didn't jump all over the Walter Reed site. It's near transit, in the city, and has a giant campus for fortress-crafting.

by maktoo on May 7, 2013 11:11 am • linkreport

In general, I'm for anything that provides a better east-west jobs balance.

As far as cars and transit: Yeah, FBI *agents* will want car mobility. From Greenbelt, they can pop right onto the Beltway. But a fair number of administrative and financial types will be working at FBI headquarters, and they're not the ones who need to run out to a crime scene at the drop of a hat, so they could take transit.

If Greenbelt gets the FBI, I envision there will be more commuter buses running between the outer burbs (Howard and Anne Arundel) into the Greenbelt bus bays, the way Bolt Bus stops there and goes to NYC.

by Greenbelt Gal on May 7, 2013 5:29 pm • linkreport

PG is not looking at the FBI at Westphalia. This effort is entirely Walton's.

by PGDude on May 21, 2013 1:01 pm • linkreport

Why not just tear down the current FBI headquarters and rebuild in place?

by DaveG on Aug 2, 2013 12:01 pm • linkreport

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