Community News — 08 July 2010
Shadow of a doubt

It seems to be universal knowledge among Alexandrians that the West Ends Mark Center was not the ideal locale to erect two high-security Department of Defense office buildings. The federal government obviously disagrees. The project is halfway done. 

One of the buildings is 15 stories, the other is 17, and both are rapidly casting a shadow over I-395 and a shadow of doubt, for some, over the governments motives.

With no Metro station in the area and 6,400 federal workers expected to arrive in a little more than one year from now, residents and businesses in the area still seem shell-shocked from the Armys decision to set up shop in the area. 

First it was a lack of environmental-impact planning in the area, then the realization after construction began that severely limited access to the site posed outsize traffic congestion issues. After that, the buildings encroachment on the Winkler Botanical Preserve sprung residents into action as city and federal entities pointed fingers at one another.

Now, hundreds of residents are demanding to know why Mark Center was chosen and how Duke Realty, the sites owner, submitted and won an unsolicited bid to help develop and sell the site to the Army. 

The Alexandrians submitted a petition to Congress last week asking for an investigation by the Government Accountability Office to determine what influenced the decision to move to this area and how an unsolicited bid came to the Department of the Army, according to Mary Kenkel, who lives near the site and is leading a movement to rewind the tape on the Armys decision-making process.

A land parcel in Springfield near a Metro station was in the running and another mass-transit-friendly spot in Alexandria lost out as well, leading local stakeholders to question the rationale for selecting a site expected to cause so many issues.

We all believe that it was chosen for a certain reason, Kenkel said. And somebody knows why.
The 2008 Defense Authorization Bill allowed the Army to review locations outside of Ft. Belvoir for the federally mandated project to secure DOD auxiliaries under the auspices of the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission. 

The Alexandria Mark Center site was chosen despite the legislation identifying more transit-friendly options. The choice was made based on the needs of DOD workers and for security reasons, according to the project overview. Little was made of the facillitys affect on its surroundings.

Among other reasons Mark Center provides the best resolution of security concerns, the document states, will improve space requirements and mission relationships, and minimizes changes to existing living, working, and quality of life issues for DoD workers whose offices are to be relocated. 

Minimal disruptions are anticipated for workers in terms of commute times, residency changes, and school requirements. Plus, workers will be in close proximity to the Pentagon and the senior leaders they support.

The petitioners, who have about 200 signatures so far, wonder why the location is less of a security risk than in Springfield, a sparser area and further from the countrys defense hub, the Pentagon. Rather, proximity was a selling point for the Army.

The chosen location sits within a half mile of a medical office building that serves over 1,000 patient visits daily, a mile from one middle school, two elementary schools, a fire house with an ambulance station and Inova Alexandria Hospital, is less than a mile from Northern Virginia Community College and directly across from a large apartment complex and elderly assisted living communities and has no Metro access, Kenkel said. 

This section of Seminary Road acts as the link for ambulances that serve Alexandria Hospital, she said.

The Virginia Department of Transportation stated in an April 5 letter to city officials that the traffic improvements proposed by developers will still have a debilitating affect on the region.

As far as being a terrorist target, its height and stance on the edge of the highway place a bomb me sign on it, practically, Kenkel said.

The project has been steamrolling forward rapidly. Rep. Jim Moran (D-8) has tried to mitigate the traffic effects by limiting the parking spaces available, hoping to ease the 6,400 workers into the site gradually. 

The petitioners want the project ceased. Ideally, Kenkel would have the building re-purposed, as a government building in the Skyline area of Alexandria was after being labeled a terrorist threat.

It wouldnt be the first time, she said. There was complete disregard and so many things done improperly. It needs to be fixed. 

I just want to know why something so inane is moving forward.

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