Developer faces uphill battle luring FBI to Westphalia

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Local,Maryland,Matt Connolly,FBI

While many Prince George's County officials have thrown their weight behind Greenbelt as a landing place for the new FBI headquarters, a massive Canadian developer is looking to change their minds.

The Walton Group's proposal would swap part of its planned 479-acre Westphalia Town Center for the FBI's much-maligned headquarters in the J. Edgar Hoover Building in downtown D.C. The company is already planning to build hundreds of apartments and townhouses, with retail space and a 150-room hotel, on the site, located on Pennsylvania Avenue just northeast of Joint Base Andrews.

"This is a next-generation site -- live, work, play," said Rob Leinbach, head of Walton's U.S. branch. "We have the ability to create a 21st-century campus-style headquarters for the FBI."

Walton owns more than 74,000 acres of land in North America, including 3,500 acres in Maryland and 2,900 acres in Prince George's County.

Prince George's is up against Virginia and the District for the potential new headquarters. The former has proposed seven sites, including a federally owned warehouse in Springfield, while the latter is pitching Poplar Point, a site on the Anacostia River currently used by the U.S. National Park Service and the U.S. Park Police.

While Maryland local and state leaders have been steadfast in their support for Prince George's, many have taken it a step further and endorsed a proposal to place the headquarters at the Greenbelt Metro station.

County Executive Rushern Baker and County Council Chairwoman Andrea Harrison, D-Bladensburg, extolled Greenbelt's safety and accessibility. The proposed location is just off the Capital Beltway and next to a MARC and Metro Green Line station. Greenbelt is also home to one of Maryland's two federal courts.

"A decision to locate the FBI headquarters at the Greenbelt Metro Station would be consistent with the county's long-term goals of creating new mixed-use development centers that provide daytime employment populations, residential options and retail amenities that serve employees, residents and visitors," the pair wrote.

The Greenbelt location meets the U.S. Senate's requirements that the new headquarters be within two miles of a Metro station, within 2.5 miles of the Beltway, and between 40 and 55 acres. The Westphalia site is 46 acres, but more than four miles from the nearest Metro stop.

Leinbach said he expected the Metro requirement to be loosened once the House passes its own guidelines, but added that Walton would offer financial support to a bus rapid-transit line from the Branch Ave Metro station. The eventual goal, he said, is a Green Line extension with a stop at Westphalia.

Still, Leinbach acknowledged an uphill battle in gaining the support of officials like Baker and Harrison.

"We recognize the fact that people are out ahead of us in the process," he said. "From my perspective, everybody's jumping the gun. The process is designed to select the best site, and I think the best site will prevail."

mconnolly@washingtonexaminer.com

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