Housing Complex

Just How Friendly Can a Military Base Be?

What much of the base looks like. (Lydia DePillis)

Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, the 905-acre military enclave located on D.C.'s southern corner, is walled off from the rest of the city, with four gates that demand identification before you're allowed to enter. Most of the 13,200 people who work there don't live there, and those who live there have all their needs provided for without ever having to leave.

A few months ago, the D.C. Council passed a resolution blasting an environmental assessment for the Navy's long range master plan, saying that it increased the installation's isolation from the rest of Ward 8. Since then, the base's public relations staff has been working overtime, meeting with the District's economic development team and Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry, to demonstrate that they are trying to integrate with the rest of the city. Really!

"Contrary to what some people think, we're not a closed base. The citizens can come if they have a reason to be there," says public affairs officer Joe Cirone. "We exist to help people. We are Ward 8 residents. We consider ourselves part of Ward 8."

What does he mean by that, exactly? Well, they just did their first ever job fair with the District's Department of Employment Services, collecting 93 applications for six full-time job opportunities. The base's fire trucks are deployed to help flight blazes in D.C. and Prince Georges County. There's a bowling alley that civilians can come use, if they sign up for a league. The area's Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner lives on base. They're even working to build a playground in Ward 8, although the money isn't quite there yet.

The gigantic and forbidding Blanchard Barracks.

But in a lot of ways, the base doesn't contribute much—usually just by virtue of standard operating procedure. All of the goods in the Army and Air Force Exchange Service's "Target-like" store, which is open only to members of the military, are exempt from sales taxes. Although base commander Captain Anthony Calandra apparently commutes by bicycle most days from Alexandria, the private vehicle is king, in part because funding restrictions make it difficult to arrange a shuttle from the Anacostia metro station (those rules also complicate Cirone's desire to start a bikesharing system for getting around within the base). There are 719 privately-built townhouses that the military doesn't own, but Cirone didn't know if they're on the D.C. tax rolls; D.C.'s Office of Tax and Revenue says they're not. To help employees who can't or prefer not to live at Anacostia-Bolling, a housing office has contracts with 120 apartment buildings for rooms at lower rates, only four of which are in the District.

All of D.C.'s military installations are closed off to the city to some extent. You can't just wander onto the 272-acre Armed Forces Retirement Home. Walter Reed Army Medical Center closed itself off to casual visitors after September 11, 2001. The Navy Yard is also closed to the public, and has only hesitatingly opened up its riverfront to connect to Yards Park.

And as much as JBAB brass might want to reach out, they're limited in the degree to which they can become an economic engine for the city. At the Ward 8 Community Summit a few weeks ago, I chatted with some of the JBAB officials about that problem.

"What's not well known is that Captain Calandra is like the landlord of an office park, and the tenants in that park don't really work for him," said Naval District Washington corporate information officer John Imparato, referring to users like the highly-secure Defense Intelligence Agency and the White House Communications office. "We provide services to our tenants, but they have a mission. We can't tell them how to hire. It's like if you have an apartment, and you want to paint a wall, the landlord is limited in what he is allowed to tell you. You can't put holes in the wall, but you can certainly put a carpet down."

"I think a better parallel would be a shopping plaza," added Calandra. "I own the plaza, but I don't account for the hiring practices of the individual stores in the plaza."

The very Pleasantville-esque townhouse section.

So of course, District politicians and officials can't have unrealistic expectations of their military neighbors. But they can ask for as much cooperation as possible on transportation, communication about available jobs, and any measures that would encourage employees to live in the communities surrounding their workplace. From the talk, at least, JBAB is willing to meet them half way.






"Experts in the Military Cut!"

One of the two chid development centers, which enroll 668 children between them.

The food court, one of several eating options on base.

  • http://distcurm.blogspot.com/ IMGoph

    ....and this is exactly what DHS will be like on the west campus of St. E's. Sorry, Ward 8, it's not going to help the people who are living in the ward now.

  • hillman

    Compare the crime rates on base and in the surrounding communities.

    Funny how we pretend that's not a concern.

    Until DC gets serious about crime and social issues I don't blame the military for not interacting.

  • That Guy in DC

    Split the base in half along Malcolm X /Mac Dill Blvd. Make this a publicly open "main" street with community shops and military services offices (might have to relocate some playfields and a few housing units). The "main street" should be publicly open between South Capital and the Potomac shore; base gates can be created on the north and south sides of the shops/offices. The Potomac shoreline should then be publicly open from Malcolm X /Mac Dill Blvd. north to the new South Capital bridge. Of course a heavy military boundary can be maintained between this newly publicly accessible shoreline and base operations.

  • Joseph P Cirone

    Established just nine months ago, (the consolidation and realignment of three military installations) by Congressional action, Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling has a proud record of helping our neighbors in Wards 7 and 8, with community service to help people and public facilities in need; helping impressionable youth avoid negative lifestyles and mentoring school children.

    We thank the City Paper for its highlighting some of the other good that we have already performed and for its fair reporting.

    JBAB, its tenant commands, mission units and residents collectively contribute more to the local community than meets the eye.

    A few more facts: In addition to providing more than 540 people with information about the six full-time jobs mentioned; we also provided information on 27 flex-time jobs available at the time, and another 18 potential (future) job opportunities for which we were taking applications for during the recent event held in conjunction with the city’s Department of Employment Services (DOES).

    We co-sponsored the job opportunity information session, because we know that hiring additional D.C. residents not only helps the community, but helps ensure that we continue to have a viable workforce interwoven in the community.

    Free workshops taught job seekers how to search for and apply for a federal job; prepare a resume for a federal job and how the federal job application and interview process worked.

    55 more applications were accepted for job vacancies by three other employers who were present at our joint JBAB-DOES event. 155 prospective employees are being considered by three additional employers also at the event. In all, there were more than a dozen employers present.

    In the last two months, JBAB has provides 99 job opportunities to the community. Additionally, at any given time, JBAB tenant commands, mission units and contractors may have additional job opportunities open that we do not keep track of.

    JBAB encourages use of mass transit by its employees, visitors, guests and those belonging to tenant commands, mission units and contractors who do work on the installation. For example, we participate in the MetroCheck program, encouraging Metro system ridership; we encourage carpooling and van pools and we are exploring additional transportation options.

    Personnel from the base, including the base commander and others on his staff; as well as other people that work or live on the base, can be found eating at local businesses in Wards 7 and 8 at various times. Capt. Calandra sets that example, just as he has in riding a bicycle to work versus commuting by car.

    Members of the Ward 7 and 8 community and the surrounding areas in D.C., Virginia and Maryland, who are military retirees or dependents, often utilize the exchange, which is a tenant at JBAB. Shopping privileges and other military benefit issues are set by federal law, and not something JBAB has any control of. The majority of personnel at JBAB are civilian employees and contractors; most of whom are likewise ineligible to enjoy the benefits mentioned in the article. The benefits are reserved for those brave men and women who serve this great country, or have retired from serving and help keep D.C. and the rest of the country safe.

    Joseph P. Cirone
    Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling
    Public Affairs Officer

  • Sally

    Agree with IMGoph. Anyone who thinks Homeland Security will benefit the surrounding neighborhood is delusional.

  • Smoke_Jaguar4

    I am a former resident of JBAB (previously Bolling AFB) and now visit it regularly. JBAB could be located on the moon and it would have better integration with the local area. I remember taking the base shuttle in the morning from my residence to the Anacostia metro station. This was typically a 50 minute ordeal (if and when the van would actually show up). We lived in a new town-home by the river, built 2006. The layout was bizarre and cramped, square footage was tight, the materials were cheap and flimsy and the build quality was poor; it started falling apart less than a year after it was built. Since we were next to Blue Plains sewage treatment facility when the wind blew from the south, the stench was nauseous.
    Base services were marginal at best. The Youth Center was dead. We had our youngest son in the base child care center; we were appalled at how poorly it was run. Attempts to raise obvious problems to the administration were met with bureaucratic stonewalling. Senior base leaders are too busy brown-nosing the Generals on base to bother with anything else. A lot of parents on JBAB homeschool their kids because they fear for their children in DC's public schools; with little free time left there is very little sense of community on base.

    Between the substandard housing, unacceptable child care, and unresponsive leadership, we moved off Bolling after a year. For our housing allowance, we found much better value and quality of life living off-base.

  • Terry in Silver Spring

    The Base Captain rides his bike in most days from Alexandria? Either bridge option must be harrowing from time to time.

  • http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com Richard Layman

    1. this is a long ago blog entry. http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2006/02/enclave-development-wont-save.html

    2. That Guy in DC makes an excellent urban design suggestion.

  • Eric

    Hillman: crime is being addressed and should you be paying attention, you would know that it has fallen in DC to the point where we do not even register on the most dangerous US cities lists. It will always be an issue anywhere in the world, but it should not be an issue here in this situation. Integration can only lower the overall rates.

    That Guy: I like your idea. I consider it fanciful, but I like it anyway.

    IMGoph: St. E's West won't bring the benefits it would have given a more open campus, but it no doubt will have some effects, even if tangential. Remember that the Feds are severely limiting amenities on the campus to "force" people to walk across MLK to hopefully patronize future businesses. The key will be to get those businesses up and running in time before habits set in. See: St. E's East & Congress Heights Metro Station projects.

    Sally: There's nothing delusional about thinking there will be benefits. If you've already given up on integration, that's not a good sign.

  • http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com Richard Layman

    ah, the amenities thing. The issue is that most people just don't get an hour for lunch any more, so they just will eat at their desks as there isn't enough time to go off campus, get something, eat it, and come back. The "amenities" in the ATF building, outside, on 2nd St. NE, have had some ec. issues. 2 of the businesses failed. That being said, as other buildings open up, more business is being generated.

  • Mike

    Maybe people have a different view of what military bases are - maybe its because people haven't served but the point of this article confuses me. Bases are not meant to be open to the public. Got to any base outside of this region and you will find they are in small towns or isolated from the nearest town. In those communities the local population doesn't have access to the base - just those who work and live there. Base housing is for married couples or junior troops (barracks) and we get a housing allowance to live off base wherever we choose to. The way a base normally connects to the local community is right outside the gates. In this case you have an interstate outside the gate and a river on the other side. I don't see too many options for those on base to drive off base or take a bus off base to grab a quick bite to eat east of the base?? Its not in the best spot to integrate with the local community. The Marine Barracks on 8th integrate better because the businesses there are across the street and surrounded by homes.

    And Terry - if you ride across South Cap street don't ride on the road - use the sidewalk to bike across. People need to stop making a big deal about biking in the road across S Cap bridge when there is a sidewalk to to use.

  • http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com Richard Layman

    Mike, the issue only comes up because the bases are touted as augurs of economic revitalization for the communities in which they are based. This is particularly the case for DHS and the St. Elizabeth's campus. I wrote stuff years ago when that was touted not unlike your point, that it was misleading to say otherwise (in terms of the ec. dev. potential), and that removing historic preservation protections to not reduce the job generating potential of the bases missed the point entirely.