By Arya Hodjat | [email protected]
Council approved construction of a new Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority office building, pending a development special use permit review, at its July 9 public hearing.
Council approved the measure by a vote of 4-3, with councilors John Chapman, Amy Jackson and Mo Seifeldein dissenting.
The new office building is slated to be constructed on a vacant WMATA-owned site on Mill Road near the Eisenhower Avenue Metro station. The building will be 14 stories tall, about 408,767 square feet and have parking for 218 vehicles, according to a staff report.
The proposal is part of WMATA’s efforts to consolidate its offices. In addition to constructing a new office building in Alexandria, WMATA plans to relocate its existing 5th Street NW headquarters in D.C. to a site near L’Enfant Plaza and construct a new office building in Prince George’s County, according to the staff report.
Paul Smedberg, a former city councilor who was elected WMATA’s chairman last month, spoke in support of the project at the hearing. Smedberg was elected to city council in 2003 and served for five terms before losing his bid for reelection in 2018.
“I really do think there is an awful lot of benefit to this, to the city,” Smedberg said. “There’s the benefit of bringing hundreds — and it will be hundreds — of jobs, and I don’t think that can be overlooked.”
The councilors who voted against approving the project questioned its benefit to the city.
Chapman asked for more data about the potential economic boost that the new headquarters would bring the area. While WMATA representatives touted the jobs the building would create, Chapman said that Metro officials hadn’t provided enough data.
“It’s highly beneficial for any locality that Metro is involved with to say, ‘Hey, this is the economic impact our employees provide,’” Chapman said. “We’re missing a piece of information that could be easily provided by Metro, but hasn’t.”
Seifeldein questioned WMATA’s decision to decline a request from city staff to contribute to the city’s Capital Bikeshare and affordable housing funds. According to city staff, WMATA would provide public art in lieu of open space.
Nina Albert, WMATA’s director of real estate and station planning, said Metro would handle the cleanup of the site, but could not legally contribute to the city’s non-transportation funds, given its federal grant requirements.
“In order for Metro to have the flexibility to fund this project … we must be able to comply with the federal regulations,” Albert said.
Seifeldein disagreed, calling it an issue of “willingness, rather than legality,” which Chapman agreed with.
The timing of the public hearing was atypical, since council does not usually convene in July. Smedberg stressed the importance of approving the project now because construction would be more difficult if the project were delayed until the winter. “
We don’t do anything that benefits one specific jurisdiction. … Anything we do, we have to do for the benefit of the system,” Smedberg said. “There are a few examples of things that’ve been pretty heavily debated that required … if the jurisdiction really wanted it to happen, they have to pay for it themselves.”