GREENBELT – The Mayor and City Council approved an altered North Core development plan Monday night which may not be ideal for the city but conforms to demands from the General Services Administration (GSA) in a continued effort by the city to encourage the FBI to relocate to here.
The changes, which allot more space for the estimated $1.2 billion FBI campus, are still close to the conceptual rendering of a previous development plan council already approved last year, said Garth Beall, an attorney for McNamee Hosea Attorneys and Associates who represents Renard Development Company, LLC, the developer for the project.
Plan modifications come after the GSA demanded more setback space for the sprawling FBI campus which, if it comes to Greenbelt, would bring more than 11,000 employees to the area, according to Beall.
The FBI headquarters demands level 5 security—a 350-foot buffer zone around building—for safety reasons. Last year’s original plan accounted for only a 100-foot buffer. Renard carved out more space for the campus in an effort to conform to the GSA’s criteria.
The result is less space for residential and retail spaces in the center of the development plan. The plan will also modify bike and pedestrian pathways.
While the new plan may not be ideal for the city, Beall said, the GSA likes it. The new plan does not compromise the look and feel of the “modern, urban, really cool development,” he said.
Despite bending to conform to GSA demands, Beall provided assurances to the council.
“We are still in charge, and I intend to keep it that way,” Beall said.
The GSA has still not decided if the FBI will be moving to Greenbelt, but Beall said he met with consultants at the end of April to discuss the site and its configurations. Other sites only received letters from did not meet GSA’s requirements.
“The GSA’s continued interest in Greenbelt is encouraging,” said Mayor Emmett Jordan.
The benefits of the FBI moving to Greenbelt would be substantial, Jordan said.
Construction would create contract jobs while retail and other business spaces will spring up in the area, bringing long-term jobs with them, Jordan said. The city would become prime real estate for FBI employees and their families, increasing Greenbelt property values, Jordan said.
The development would also operate as a catalyst to help revitalize the Franklin Park apartment complex, which has suffered from management turnover and low occupancy rates in past years, Beall said.
“We want to send the message that not only is [Greenbelt] a great place to work, but it’s a great place to consider living,” Beall said.
Right now the entire northwest area of the development is set aside for an FBI campus which officials such as County Executive Rushern Baker III and Governor Martin O’Malley have said they badly want to come to the state.
But other council members were hesitant to approve the new plan. Councilman Rodney Roberts said the proposal to allow 29 acres of wetlands to be obliterated by the construction project concern him.
“You’re essentially taking public property and making it impossible to use,” he said. “It’s just a bad idea, I think.”
Mayor Pro Tem Judith Davis said the city should request a perpetual easement, which would give the city some control over the real estate and environmental protection.
“Is there any way we can have some sort of say in the land?” she asked Beall. “I know this is state land and I know it is federal if we get this, but I don’t want to go quietly into the night on this one.”
Council members also expressed concerns about pedestrian safety and accessibility. Councilman Konrad Herling told Beall he must consider the effects of increased traffic.
“We need to work with the developer [at Franklin Park] to make sure their bus system is adequate,” he said.
Some of the planned real estate in the area has already caught the attention of Bozzuto Group, a Greenbelt-based real estate developing company, who is vying for apartment and condominium space. Chesapeake Hospitality, a Greenbelt company with roots in College Park, Md., is interested in possible hotel space, which Councilmember Silke Pope said is a start to making the project a desirable upscale development.
The council will wait until July 1, when the GSA is expected to release a short list of two or three developments they are particularly interested in.
If all goes according to plan, the project is estimated to be completed by 2020, with construction beginning in 2016.
“We are planning for the worst case scenario and hoping for the best-case scenario,” Beall said.
Despite the waiting game, Jordan is hopeful about the construction project.
“We didn’t really imagine a large GSA employer would be interested in coming to Greenbelt,” Jordan said. “But when an opportunity like this comes along, the city takes it very seriously.”
If the FBI does not bite, the city will still look at a mixed-use development for the area, Jordan said.
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