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Letter to the Editor: BRAC 133 and recent Council Candidate Forums

Lincolnia Hills resident Diane Costello questions the city’s decision-making process.

To the editor:

On March 25, 2009, Mayor Euille, council members Del Pepper, Paul Smedberg and Justin Wilson, as well as Deputy City Manager Mark Jinks, appeared before my civic association to discuss the BRAC 133 development at the Mark Center, announced in September 2008. More than three years and multiple meetings and events later, including five candidate forums since this September, and I am still waiting for answers.

Purported Lack of City Support for Mark Center site: We have repeatedly been told that the city did not support the Mark Center site for the DoD relocation – this includes Mr. Lovain’s insistence that the “City advocated vociferously for Victory Center”, Councilwoman Pepper’s claim that “no one besides Duke Realty wanted DoD to go to that site” and admissions of being “rolled” by DoD. Really. The city of Alexandria most emphatically did support the Mark Center site as the location for BRAC 133. Evidence, from the BRAC 133 Information Archive on the City website:

July 29, 2008: Two identical letters from Mayor Euille to James Turkel, Chief of the Belvoir Integration Office (cc to James Hartmann, City Manager); one is for the Victory Center, the other the Mark Center. “…the City of Alexandria strongly supports the proposal of the Duke Realty Corporation to relocate the Washington Headquarters Service to the Mark Center property in Alexandria, Virginia. We look forward to working through the details of implementing this important project in a responsive and expeditious manner with the Department of the Army and the property owners.”

May 5, 2008: Two identical letters from Mayor Euille, one to Sen. Webb, the other Sen. Warner (cc to City Manager Hartmann, Deputy City Manager Mark Jinks, Legislative Director Bernard Caton, Stuart Litvin, President and CEO of AEDP – Alexandria Economic Development Partnership). “…The three finalist sites include two sites in the City of Alexandria, (the "Victory Center" and the "Mark Center"), as well as the GSA warehouse site in the Springfield area. We are writing you to solicit your support in having the two potential WHS sites in Alexandria be given equal consideration to the GSA warehouse site in this competitive selection process. We are not asking you to choose one site as your preference over the other two sites, but we are asking you to communicate to the DoD that all three finalist sites have your support, are viable, and deserve full and fair consideration ... ”

So who “rolled” whom? Did the mayor, city staff and AEDP act without the full consent and knowledge of council?

During the Chamber of Commerce forum Wednesday night, Mayor Euille described his role as a “team player” and “collaborative partner with city council”. Is his support of the Mark Center for BRAC an example of this?

If the city and council “vociferously” objected to the Mark Center site prior to its selection – where is the proof?

Where are the city’s letters to our Washington representatives demanding that DoD comply with the original property solicitation requirement of “within one mile of a metro”? Where are the objections in the City’s response to the DoD Environmental Assessment? Where, prior to final site selection, are the objections on public safety grounds to a potential terrorist target and a bomb detection facility within walking distance of three West End schools?

Legitimacy of Closed Executive Sessions: During the Sept. 12 candidate forum, Mr. Lovain and Mr. Smedberg said they regretted following city staff’s advice at the time to hold discussions about the BRAC project behind closed doors in executive sessions. The city website states – “City Council operates under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, which bars closed executive sessions of the Council, except for discussions on matters relating to personnel, pending litigation, and land acquisition.” Virginia Freedom of Access to Information section § 2.2-3711 titled, Closed meetings authorized for certain limited purposes – includes, “3. Discussion or consideration of the acquisition of real property for a public purpose, or of the disposition of publicly held real property, where discussion in an open meeting would adversely affect the bargaining position or negotiating strategy of the public body.”

The two sites in Alexandria under discussion were privately held by developers: Duke Realty (Mark Center) and Jones Lang LaSalle, among others (Victory Center). They did not constitute publicly held real property. The purpose of BRAC 133 was not public – it was a relocation of 6400 federal employees. There was no public body negotiating a strategy – Duke Realty was in competition with the owners of Victory Center as well as multiple non-Alexandria property owners, including the federal government at the GSA Springfield site.

How did holding closed executive sessions on this matter comply with the law? The whole point of the open-meeting law (or sunshine law) is that there is a general rule of law that meetings and discussions of elected public bodies should be open to the public and the media. The fact that there are limited exceptions does not change or weaken the importance of the general rule. The exception noted above (# 3) is designed to protect the public treasury, not to protect elected officials from public scrutiny.

Furthermore, what justification was given by city staff to hold such closed sessions? Or did no one ask, despite there being two lawyers on council at the time (Mr. Lovain and Mr. Gaines).

Mark Center was the Lower Bid: This has been offered as a rational for DoD’s selection – that Mark Center came in $200 million less than the Victory Center. The asking price for the Victory Center was never publicly disclosed. Duke Realty was paid $105 million for its 16-acre parcel. But unlike the Eisenhower Avenue property, there was no building yet on the site. The completed design/build budget for BRAC 133 varies depending on the source, but hovers around $1 to 1.1 billion. That does not include items such as operating costs for the extensive shuttle system with DASH and WMATA contracts, nor the $100 million in short-, mid- and long-term road improvements necessitated by the lack of Metro. And we’re supposed to believe that this was the bargain site?

On Aug. 22, 2005, when the proposed personnel move was to Fort Belvoir, the Cost of Base Realignment Actions (COBRA) data states a one-time cost of $539 million for BRAC recommendation #133.

It should also be noted that the U.S. Army Material Command (AMC) vacated the Victory Center in 2003 moving to Fort Belvoir, citing lack of security bollards, the structural blast deficiencies of an older building and the potential explosive threat of the nearby railroad line. I would imagine the first two could be addressed – not the last. So why would council think this site was “in the bag”?

The never received Payment in Lieu of Taxes and loss of a Major Employer:

In a letter dated Jan. 4, 2008, and cc’d to members of council and the city manager, Mayor Euille wrote to the Duke Realty representatives: “…any City support of the Mark Center site (or any other site in the City) as the possible site for the offices of the Washington Headquarters Services is contingent upon the City obtaining significant financial compensation to offset its multi-year loss of future real estate taxes. … it would seem that the sale transaction could be structured in such a way as to address the City's concerns regarding this considerable loss of tax revenue. In order to put the compensation for lost tax revenue in perspective, we have calculated that if the federal government chose your site the net present value of foregone real estate taxes over a 20-year period to the City would be about $60 million. We look forwarding to discussing this further with you so that we can work to structure this as a win-win situation for the City and Duke Realty.”

What precedent was there for such a request and expectation that the city would receive such a payment? Did the city receive a check? Yet, the building is there. What is the meaning of “contingent upon”? None of this was discussed as part of the mayor’s response to the Chamber of Commerce’s BRAC question on Wednesday night.

Neither was this – Center for Naval Analyses (CNA) will be vacating its leased space at the Mark Center as a result of BRAC. As reported in the New York Times (Dec. 6, 2011) “…the group says its 750 employees no longer feel safe at Mark Center, and the value of its leasehold, for about 160,000 square feet, has been seriously diminished.” CNA will be moving to Arlington - “In the early ‘80s we were in Arlington. We had a brief moment of insanity and we moved to Alexandria,” said Chief Operating Officer Katherine McGrady. “Now we just want to move home.”

The chamber also asked Wednesday night about attracting large contractors to the City – why didn’t the Mayor discuss this – the loss of one.

AEDP (Alexandria Economic Development Partnership): What was the role of AEDP in the BRAC 133 site selection process? Two presentations are available on the AEDP website – one to the city staff on April 15, 2008, and one on June 12, 2008, to the mayor’s BRAC Work Group, which included then Vice Mayor Del Pepper, two members of the planning commission, city and deputy city managers, as well as representatives of Duke Realty, the Victory Center and others.

From the latter presentation – “Alexandria is pioneering the development of Federal Friendly Zones (FFZs) to support the long-term economic growth of the city and ensure the community is sustainable for future generations … Alexandria has many areas, neighborhoods and parcels that can meet these requirements, however, the process by which the federal government advertises, acquires and operates the commercial office lease space can conflict with many community objectives. The concept of the Federal Friendly Zones is to identify areas and sites that can support the federal requirements and become part of a larger integrated land use decision.”

Well, is that the West End and the now city council-approved Beauregard Small Area Plan?

“Another key objective of the Federal Friendly Zones is move from a Protection oriented process (using bollards, barriers, street closings, etc) that impact the streetscape and public space, to a Resiliency, Redundancy, and Recovery model that relies on enhanced police, fire, emergency management and community preparedness to respond to events (whether natural or man made).”

Exactly what constitutes “community preparedness”? Is there a West End evacuation plan that I’m not aware of?

BRAC 133 has never passed the smell test at the federal level. When Anthony Principi, the chairman of the BRAC 2005 Commission, was a guest on the Kojo Nnamdi show in June 2011, he stated “I don't know who is responsible in the congress or in the Defense Department for choosing the Mark site. Again, this was post-BRAC. BRAC had nothing to do with Mark Center”. But city of Alexandria elected officials did nothing to prevent this West End disaster. In fact, they lobbied for it and put out the Welcome mat.

The city has initiated “What’s Next Alexandria?” How are we supposed to go forward with the BRAC albatross hanging around the neck of city hall? Trust cannot be rebuilt with the community when we keep tripping over what has been swept under the rug.

Accountability is long overdue. Let it begin on Nov. 6.

Diane Costello
Lincolnia Hills, Alexandria

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