Community caught off guard by BRAC

Adam Tuss, wtop.com

FALLS CHURCH, Va. – A local community is up in arms over a fast-changing base realignment site it had little input on, residents say.

Tucked in between U.S. 50, U.S. 29 and the Capital Beltway in the Fairview Park section of Fairfax County, the military is getting ready to begin a new mission — the Defense Health Headquarters. It will bring together all Department of Defense military medical health care operations on to a single campus. The facility will house more than 3,000 employees and is expected to be fully up and running by the summer.

Because the new facility and its employees are moving into pre-existing leased office space that will not require new construction, the site hasn’t had to adhere to certain stringent Base Realignment and Closure guidelines.

For example, the facility doesn’t have to meet a 40 percent reduction in single occupancy vehicles like federally-owned sites.

Some call it BRAC without the BRAC.

“It didn’t trigger a lot of the things that would have engaged the county and the public the way other BRAC sites would have,” Fairfax County BRAC Coordinator Laura Miller said.

“People are engaged now because there is something to look at.”

Most prominently, what a lot of residents and drivers on U.S. 50 are looking at is a towering vehicle inspection checkpoint that has gone up. It has altered the landscape for some in the adjacent community of Pine Spring.

“It’s a game changer,” said Jim Colby, who has lived in his home on Cedar Hill Road next to the site since 1994.

“The lighting on the building for a military installation is really incompatible with living in a residential neighborhood. The facility has the appearance of a Coney Island theme park at night.”

He says a lot of trees have been chopped down, some which used to block his view of the complex. There also are concerns about a security checkpoint so close to homes and nearby Pine Spring Elementary School.

“I appreciate the need for facilities to be spread around for the Defense Department, but they need to be a good neighbor too. This is maybe a little bit over the line,” he says.

At a community meeting this week, residents, elected leaders and personnel involved with the BRAC move came together to talk about the issues. Environmental changes, traffic concerns and security questions were all raised.

“Some of these things (that have been going on at the site) were very much a surprise,” said Fairfax County Supervisor Linda Smyth, who represents the Providence District.

Once she learned about the exemptions for the site, she said she thought to herself “What is going on?”

Both the owner of the site and project leader said at the community meeting that they will work with the community.

Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., said he is keeping an eye on the Defense Health Headquarters.

“My office will continue to coordinate with federal agencies to ensure traffic is mitigated, security-related concerns are addressed and other environmental effects are abated over the coming months,” he said.

Raytheon, the previous tenant of the building housed a similar number of employees, but traffic on nearby U.S. 50 has only gotten worse since the company moved out about two years ago, Miller said.

“I know the community feels like they have been caught off guard. It has been challenging for us to get information on this site. It doesn’t seem like anyone is in charge,” she said.

Moran has promised a meeting with all the invested parties, including the federal government.

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