- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 9, 2003

The leading contender for the site of the new Homeland Security Department is a building in a business park in western Fairfax County, which would strengthen demand for a rail line along the Dulles Corridor but would worry those concerned with urban sprawl.
"It's really going to be a shot in the arm for the Dulles rail project," said Tony Howard, spokesman for the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce. "The project is taking on a greater importance."
Real estate sources said yesterday that a 275,000-square-foot building at 15036 Conference Center Drive in the Westfields Business Park in Chantilly, just south of Washington Dulles International Airport, has the advantage partly because it is vacant and surrounded by plenty of space for expansion.
Also, security concerns dictate that the department be situated away from the nation's capital, and the National Reconnaissance Office and many other government contractors are located there.
The Homeland Security Department is expected to decide on a site for its headquarters by Jan. 24. The department is requesting an initial 250,000 to 275,000 square feet, but has approval to lease up to 575,000 square feet for up to $25.9 million per year.
The department has narrowed its choices to three sites: two in Tysons Corner and the Westfields building.
A move of the department which initially would house 1,700 workers to Chantilly would facilitate development toward Dulles, said Patty Nicoson, president of the Dulles Rail Association. A rail line serving the department in Tysons Corner also would speed up efforts to develop a town center in the area, she said. A move to any of the three sites could trigger funding from the federal government for the rail project.
Plans for an extension of Metro through Tysons Corner and out to Washington Dulles International Airport have caused heated debate. The Virginia Transportation Board approved a $4 billion plan last month, but the Federal Transit Administration immediately argued that it was too costly. Less-expensive plans, including one involving buses with dedicated lanes, have been proposed as alternatives.
Sprawl opponents said the Dulles rail expansion would lead to more traffic, congestion and pollution in the short term.
"We think it's ridiculous," said Steve Schwartz, president of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. "It does not help the traffic problem to have the federal government making decisions like this."
Economists said the Homeland Security Department would not benefit the region greatly because most of the expected 1,700 workers already live in the area.
Fairfax County, however, is likely to see an economic boost if the agency attracts contractors from the District of Columbia or Maryland.
"Federal contractors will often cluster in proximity to the agencies they serve," said Stephen Fuller, an economist at George Mason University. "If [Homeland Security] were in Fairfax County, then there will be an incentive to move."
The office vacancy rate in Tysons Corner would drop from 20 percent to 18.8 percent with department's move. The vacancy rate in the submarket including Chantilly would fall from 19.3 percent to 15.9 percent, says CoStar Group Inc., a Bethesda company that tracks local real estate.
"My instinct is Homeland Security is more likely to move further out, just because of the campus setting and NRO," said Sandy Paul, mid-Atlantic research director for Delta Associates.
Contractors moving near the department's headquarters would further reduce vacancy rates, and a massive expansion to house all 17,000 of the department's local workers would give an even bigger boost to local economies, analysts said.
One company that would benefit from a Homeland Security move to Chantilly is Corporate Office Properties Trust, a Columbia, Md., real estate investment trust. The company owns about 761,000 square feet of office property in the park, with options to support at least 780,000 square feet of development.
Randall M. Griffin, president of Corporate Office Properties, said the company anticipates being able to house contractors for the department and accommodate any future expansion.
"The pattern has typically been when the government leases space, the support elements need to be close by," Mr. Griffin said. "We can definitely take advantage of this."

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