- The Washington Times - Friday, June 2, 2000

The federal government has signed a huge, long-awaited lease for a new Patent and Trademark Office complex in Alexandria, Va., after a federal judge Thursday threw out a suit attacking the environmental study on the project.

"It's great," said Tony Costa, assistant regional administrator for the General Services Administration, which picked the lease and wrote the study. "The PTO relies on a lot of high technology, and they're in a space that just can't handle it."

The lawsuit was the final obstacle keeping officials from the patent office and GSA, the government's real estate arm, from signing the lease on the 2.4 million-square-foot complex planned for Eisenhower Avenue and Dulany Street. The 20-year lease will cost $60 million a year in rent, making it the largest lease ever signed by GSA.

Bethesda, Md.-based developer LCOR Inc. plans to start construction this fall on what will be the government's fourth-largest facility.

"We're obviously pleased," said R. William Hard, principal with LCOR, which filed legal papers backing GSA during the case. "It looked like the judge was strongly in support of the government's case."

Judge Emmet G. Sullivan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia wrote that "the [study] submitted by the government has taken the requisite 'hard look' at environmental issues associated with the alternative scenarios for the PTO consolidation."

The plaintiffs Thursday asked the judge to reconsider their objections and were granted a hearing June 21 to make their case. They also asked him to continue to keep the development from going forward. One said an appeal was likely.

"I respectfully disagree and we have every intention to file a notice of appeal," said Donald P. Young, a former GSA general counsel and one of the plaintiffs.

Scott E. Sterling, vice president with Charles E. Smith Cos., said the company the patent office's current landlord would decide on its next move after the June hearing.

The company and Alexandria residents Mr. Young, Diane G. Young and James W. Burke filed the suit in May 1999. The Smith Cos., which stands to lose more than $4 million a month in rent from the PTO, has fought the bid process on every front since Congress authorized it in 1995.

They claimed that the environmental impact statement, required by law, did not fully examine the traffic and environmental effects of the proposed development and unfairly ignored alternative scenarios, which are required by law.

"This really is not an environmentally sound thing to do to Alexandria," Mr. Young said. "There's only one way out, which is Duke Street, so the addition of 3,800 vehicles on it just doesn't make sense."

The Patent and Trademark Office wants to build a complex of five buildings between Eisenhower and Jamieson avenues on Dulany Street. Estimated to cost $400 million to $500 million to build, the complex won't be ready for its first occupants until late 2003. By 2004, about 7,100 employees will be relocated there, GSA officials said.

The agency currently is located about three miles north of the LCOR site in Arlington's Crystal City. PTO officials said they wanted to consolidate a work force scattered over a mile and a half in 18 buildings.

However, many Alexandria residents have objected to the PTO's plans, saying its employees would clog streets and its 16-story main building and other architectural features would harm the appearance of the neighborhood.

"This is the fourth-largest government complex in an area that's already gridlocked," said Alan Rudd, president of the Coalition Against King-Duke Gridlock, a civic group claiming more than 1,000 members.

The Alexandria coalition last month filed a separate lawsuit against the city of Alexandria, stating that it improperly removed two planned roads to make room for the PTO complex.

City officials said they had complied with the rules, even hiring Post Buckley International Inc. to do traffic engineering work on the proposal.

"I don't think it's a strong lawsuit," said city Manager Phil Sunderland.

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