- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 29, 2007

Home builders and government planners spend plenty of time attempting to predict the future, hoping that their best guesses will result in homes being built where people want to live, with roads and schools in place at the right time to meet demand.

Among the many factors affecting residential growth in the Washington region are the decisions made by the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission, which will increase the number of employees at U.S. Army installations at Fort George G. Meade in Anne Arundel County and Fort Belvoir in Fairfax County.

Growth at Fort Meade is being addressed on a regional basis because employees and their families are anticipated to live within several nearby counties, including Prince George’s and Howard counties.

By law, BRAC decisions require the completion of changes to the bases by September 2011.

At Fort Belvoir, 22,000 jobs are anticipated to be added under the BRAC plan.

At Fort Meade, 5,695 new jobs will be added because of BRAC decisions. However, the planning estimate of growth at Fort Meade by local government officials is as many as 24,000 jobs over the next five to seven years.

“There are four components to growth at Fort Meade, not just BRAC jobs,” says Kent Menser, chairman of the Howard County BRAC Task Force. “The National Security Agency is expected to add 4,000 positions, an additional 2,000 positions are anticipated to come from Department of Defense growth, and another 12,000 jobs will come to Fort Meade through the Enhanced Use Leasing program.”

Enhanced Use Leasing (EUL) is a program that allows government land not needed immediately to be leased to developers for commercial use, Mr. Menser says. After construction, the buildings are leased to government or commercial tenants.

Though additional jobs do not necessarily translate into an equal number of newly relocated households, developers do anticipate an increase in demand for homes because of the job growth, particularly at Fort Meade.

“Fort Meade is already Maryland’s largest employer,” says Tim Ford, executive director of the Association of Defense Communities. “Developers have looked at the anticipated job growth at Fort Meade as a good opportunity, especially because there is room for growth there.”

Mr. Ford says Fort Meade already was on a strong growth track before the BRAC decisions, so development in that area started even before BRAC.

“The demand for housing in that region in Maryland is not the same as it is in Fairfax County,” Mr. Ford says. “The location of Fort Belvoir is a much bigger problem, with an estimated $500,000 needed for roads to solve traffic issues there.”

Mr. Ford points out that the movement of 22,000 jobs from other locations in the Washington area to Fort Belvoir is the biggest issue for this region.

“The tough part about Fort Belvoir is determining whether people are going to follow their jobs to the new location,” Mr. Ford says. “It’s hard to track. Will people stay where they live and commute to Fort Belvoir? Will they move closer to the job? Will they look for another job?”

Mr. Ford says there’s little land available for new housing near Fort Belvoir, so it’s hard to estimate where in Virginia the residential growth will take place.

Near Fort Meade, Toll Bros. Inc. already is selling homes in the Enclave at Arundel Preserve development and in several communities in Howard County.

“The approval process for new housing developments takes so long that the Arundel Preserve plans predate BRAC,” says Douglas Shipe, group president for Toll Bros. in Maryland. “While its proximity to Fort Meade is important, this development is sited so that it has easy access to Howard County and the rest of the corridor between Baltimore and D.C.”

Mr. Shipe says the approval process for new developments can take well over four years, so if new homes are to be built by the 2011 BRAC completion date, the developers would need to be deep in the planning and approval stages right now.

“Developments are often completed in stages, so we are actually still in the approval stage for part of Arundel Preserve,” Mr. Shipe says.

Don Frederick, president of the Prince George’s County Association of Realtors and a Realtor with RE/MAX 100 in Camp Springs, says he and other area real estate agents are anticipating an influx of new residents to Prince George’s, Anne Arundel and Howard counties in the next two to three years.

“We’ve been hearing that there will be 10,000 to 15,000 new jobs at Fort Meade, with an average salary of $80,000,” Mr. Frederick says. “We anticipate a big jump in housing needs for higher-income employees and contractors. We believe this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of both renters and buyers looking for homes in this area, although we have few specifics yet.”

Mr. Frederick says he has heard of efforts to speed up the approval process on a 2,500-home development in Odenton in order to meet the expected housing demand.

“The main issue first will be the commercial development in and around Fort Meade,” Mr. Frederick says. “Housing will come after the commercial development.”

Cynthia Herberg, director of marketing for Camberley Homes and Winchester Homes, says, “We already have in place in Howard County several single-family-home communities, including Nottingham Acres, Montjoy and Riverwood, which have varied price ranges. We’re looking strategically at Fort Meade growth and expect there may be some people moving from Northern Virginia to Howard County to be closer to their new job location.”

Ms. Herberg says that Winchester and Camberley will be looking into marketing aimed at BRAC buyers and ways they can make the move easier for those who need to relocate.

In Virginia, Camberley Homes is building upscale single-family homes and town houses at Stockwell Manor in Falls Church, a location within commuting distance of Fort Belvoir.

Dan Carr, director of public affairs at Fort Belvoir, says the draft Environmental Impact Study (EIS) issued by the Directorate of Public Works on Fort Belvoir, “anticipates minimal impact on the housing market even though 22,000 jobs are being added there. This is because 96 percent of the people who are being placed in jobs at Fort Belvoir already live somewhere in the Washington area.”

Mr. Carr says that unlike BRAC recommendations for almost any other location in the country, the new jobs at Fort Belvoir are coming from nearby places — Crystal City, Pentagon City and the Pentagon.

The draft EIS reports that “more than 70 percent of incoming employees currently live within an hour of Fort Belvoir at peak-hour travel speeds.”

“Two-earner families characterize this area,” Mr. Carr says, “so some people will commute long distances in order to accommodate their spouse’s job rather than move to be closer to their own job. It’s the nature of working in this area that it’s a foregone conclusion that you are going to commute by car, by VRE or by Metrobus or the subway. The impact of these 22,000 jobs at Fort Belvoir will be on commuting patterns far more than on housing.”

Some of the positions being moved to Fort Belvoir come from Aberdeen Proving Ground, located north of Baltimore, so planners anticipate that some of those employees will choose to move to Northern Virginia.

“Even if they do choose to move to Virginia, they could pick Mount Vernon, Vienna or, which I think is more likely, to move farther south and west, away from Fairfax County to areas where the housing is less expensive,” Mr. Carr says.

The impact of changes at Fort Belvoir on housing is elusive to gauge.

“Analysts who are studying this say that for planning purposes, companies should anticipate a 12 [percent] to 15 percent annual turnover in employees due to retirements or to employees moving away or taking other jobs,” Mr. Carr says. “So, when the dust settles in 2011, there will be 45,000 jobs at Fort Belvoir. At some point, the chances are better than average that some of that 15 percent in job turnover will involve people moving into this area from someplace else. But it’s almost impossible to get an empirical handle on that because it is hard to say where the replacement employees will come from.”

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