Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Friday, February 22, 2013

More on Barry Farm (vs. Poplar Point) as a new location for the FBI

Anacostia OverviewI was rushed this morning writing the previous entry on Barry Farm as an option for the FBI headquarters.  I hadn't yet seen today's papers (e.g., "DC to pitch Poplar Point site for FBI headquarters" from the Washington Examiner) mentioning how DC Government intends to offer Poplar Point as an option for the FBI.

Putting the FBI at Poplar Point is a terrible idea

1.  Poplar Point is a very visible location on the south side of the Anacostia River, across the river from the redeveloping Capital Riverfront.

Development of part of the site allows for a kind of knitting together of both sides of the River, whereas previously the River has helped to separate Wards 7 and 8 from the rest of the city.

2.  The reason I was/am down on the FBI as an agency to locate in the city is because they have the highest security requirements with regard to hardened construction and public access (Category 5, like the CIA and Pentagon and the National Security Agency).

-- BUILDING SECURITY: Security Responsibilities for Federally Owned and Leased Facilities, Government Accountability Office
-- Activating Federal Places, National Capital Planning Commission
-- GSA Security Resource Guide
-- Interagency Security Committee Standards and Best Practices, Department of Homeland Security

Category 5 security requirements means that the agency gets located in the equivalent of a moat, providing virtually no opportunity for buildings being able to strengthen connections with the street and urban vitality.

In the comment thread on the previous entry, Alex B. mentioned the ATF building on Florida Avenue, which is walled off, albeit with a section of retail--which is only half successful--some of the space is still vacant, years after the building opened, and a couple of the original businesses have failed.  (And I hate that ATF employers go over to the Metro entrance to smoke.)

Also see the article "Crawling into the Bunker" from the Repeat blog by Lynn Becker.

3.  So the last thing you want to do is to put the equivalent of a military base, the FBI, with the highest security requirements, on a very prominent piece of DC land, forcing this area's disconnection from the rest of the city, instead of leveraging the land's ability to knit the city together.

4.  Plus, Poplar Point is in a flood plain.  While this can be accommodated in building construction, it's a really bad idea to place a high security government agency in a location that is physically vulnerable to weather-related phenomenon (c.f., the impact of Superstorm Sandy on waterfronts in New Jersey and New York City).

5.  To reiterate, if you are going to attract the FBI, you want to put them in a location where connection and street vitality isn't a priority.  Barry Farm, adjacent to the closed off campus of St. Elizabeths, is perfect.

A Barry Farm location would leverage the proximity to the Department of Homeland Security's presence on the St. Elizabeths West Campus, while Poplar Point would not offer the same level of proximity, although it would still be close.

More on the advantages of Barry Farm as a location for the FBI

1.  The FBI doesn't need all the space it wants, considering that its space requirements, according to the RFI, are for 2.1 million square feet of space.  That's fewer than 8 office building equivalents downtown (most buildings range from 300,000 s.f. to 600,000 s.f.).  So the FBI's space requirements can easily be met by using Barry Farm.

2.  The Barry Farm site would be relatively contained and can be "walled off" the way they want, meeting building and campus security requirements.

3.  The site's topography would allow them to build bigger without having to build higher than the city's current height limits, because they can build into the hills (the equivalent of a walk out basement).

4.  If they have additional space requirements, the DHS campus offers additional opportunity for growth.

5.  Barry Farm has great transportation connections (although lacking direct connections to multiple transit lines, unlike the current location).  It is located proximate to the Anacostia Metro Station, Suitland Parkway, I-295, and the Capital Beltway (I-495), offering easy trips southward to Virginia, including to Quantico, site of the FBI's major training facility.

6.  Barry Farm is proximate to Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, which would give the FBI access to "private" airport facilities.

More on the advantages of the Barry Farm location for the FBI to DC Government's economic development planning in Greater Anacostia

1.  Combining the FBI with DHS would create a security cluster, which could help to bring new businesses to the area, including to the DC Government-controlled St. Elizabeths East Campus, which as discussed in the previous entry, is already being marketed.

2.  It would jump start redevelopment of the Anacostia Metro site, which has a lot of development potential, which could incorporate housing as well, to make up for some of the loss of the Barry Farm site.

More on the advantages of the Barry Farm location for the FBI as a funding source for affordable and public housing production and initiatives

1.  Actually, these ideas are already discussed in the previous entry.  The thing about a project like this, is in order for the Pennsylvania Avenue current site of the FBI to garner the most net value and revenue, the new space has to cost less, not more than the value of the current site.  That's the case with the Barry Farm location, which would require little in the way of additional infrastructure to be supported.

2.  The loss of housing on the site could be accommodated by fixing vacant properties elsewhere in Wards 7 and 8 and by building new housing development, such as at Sheridan Station.

3.  DC could agree to direct its financial cut from the overall project to a permanent fund for (a.) affordable and public housing production and (b.) economic development activities in Wards 7 and 8.  (I'd suggest funding in part the project I am to propose, an economic and social development "Marshall Plan" to eradicate poverty in these wards, but I haven't yet articulated this proposal in full.)

Another Metro Station

1.  In the previous entry's comment thread, Alex B. rightly pointed out that my opining that adding a subway station to Barry Farm/St. E's West Campus makes no sense.

2.  But I still think an infill station just across the street on the East Campus, but close enough to the West Campus, would be in order, if it can be done with the track geometry.

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