The biggest development news in the Washington, D.C. area is the proposed consolidation of the FBI headquarters and its scattered satellite locations. In the face of a proposal to build 2.5 million square feet of offices as well as a parking garage and electrical substation, six major environmental organizations wrote to the federal government. Contrary to expectations, the groups didn’t oppose the massive new development. In fact, they were surprisingly positive about one of the locations under study.
Why are groups adopting this counterintuitive stand? The answer is simple: If it’s done right, development — especially redevelopment — can be a very good thing.
Currently, thousands of FBI employees are forced to work in temporary office space scattered across the DC region. To improve efficiency, the bureau wants to
consolidate its operations into a state-of-the-art campus. Based on security requirements, there’s no viable space for it in the city.
The federal government is looking at three possible locations: Greenbelt and Landover in Maryland and Springfield in Virginia. In reviewing the lengthy analysis of the proposed locations, environmental and smart growth advocates note that Springfield and Greenbelt are transit-friendly. But the Greenbelt site was even better.
It performed the best in transit ridership and pedestrian access, protects an adjacent natural area, improves water quality in the area and meets a host of economic and social equity objectives.
Across the Chesapeake region, environmental and smart growth advocates continue their push for transit-oriented development. These groups want new employment centers to be at public transportation hubs because the result is cleaner air, fewer greenhouse gas emissions and less congestion.
In addition, tough new water quality rules require today’s developments to guard against polluted stormwater runoff. That means tearing up acres of parking lots and similar hardened surfaces and replacing them in part with carefully managed green spaces that allow rainfall to absorb naturally into the ground. Stormwater runoff from old developments is one of the largest sources of water pollution in many communities. New developments that reuse these old sites can end up improving water quality.
And it’s not just air and water quality that can improve under certain development scenarios. As communities adopt new visions for themselves, they return to common themes. They want employment centers to be located adjacent to shopping and other commercial centers. They want their homes nearby. Many want to be able to walk or bike to work. They want more green spaces and recreational areas to be integrated into their communities.
With a few additional assurances and modest design changes, an FBI headquarters at the Greenbelt site will fit well into the future that Prince George’s County envisions for itself; take advantage of “reverse commute” transit capacity; provide cleaner air and water; and encourage economic opportunities on the eastern side of the DC region – all important, widely– and long-held regional objectives.
Massive projects can be financial bonanzas for developers. Done right, they can also pay big dividends to communities and the environment. They deserve our support.