Navy Annex Proposal Causes Stir

Wednesday, July 8, 1998

From a contemporary press report:

A plan to expand Arlington National Cemetery by tearing down the Navy Annex and taking over a section of Fort Myer is advancing in Congress, much to the chagrin of local residents and officials who say they have not been consulted about the matter.

The measure would add 44.5 acres to the 612-acre cemetery, which has more than 270,000 graves and is considered the U.S. military's most hallowed ground. Space at the cemetery is running out; at the current pace of 5,000 burials a year, the existing cemetery will be filled by 2025, officials say.

The expansion, which has passed the U.S. House of Representatives as a little-noticed clause in a Defense Department bill, would create enough burial sites to last at least until 2040, officials said. The bill will be considered by a House-Senate conference committee in the next week.

Most of the new land, 36.5 acres, is south of the cemetery, on both sides of Columbia Pike. The main structure on that land, the 57-year-old Navy Annex, was never intended as a permanent building, and federal officials have long eyed that land for additional cultural or memorial sites once a massive renovation at the Pentagon is completed in 2010.

“Those buildings are going to come down sooner or later, and we wanted to lay claim to them before someone else did,” said Rep. Bob Stump (R-Ariz.), who is the House Veterans Affairs Committee chairman and the leader of the drive to expand Arlington. “We're limited as far as our options.”

The bill also would convert eight acres of Fort Myer — the area between McNair Road and the cemetery's current boundary — to grave sites.

The superintendent of Arlington National Cemetery, John C. Metzler Jr., was traveling yesterday and could not be reached for comment, but Stump said he had consulted with Metzler on his proposal.

Word of the House bill surprised Arlington officials and local activists.

“I'm astounded that this action has proceeded this far without any coordination with the local officials,” said Sherman Pratt, past president of the Arlington Historical Society. “A whole bunch of people will be adversely affected.”

Pratt and others in Arlington said they are concerned because the hill on which the Navy Annex is located is an especially scenic and valuable piece of property.

“You've got a potentially major land-use decision that may be decided without anybody having a conversation about what is the highest and best use for this property,” said Chris Zimmerman (D), chairman of the Arlington County Board.

The Navy Annex has room for 6,000 employees in 1 million square feet of office space. But only 100 Navy personnel work there, and most of the space is used by the Marine Corps, spokesmen for the services said. A Navy post exchange gas station also is located on the property.

The proposed transfer also raises questions about the future of the eastern end of Columbia Pike, which carries 38,000 vehicles daily between Route 27 and Interstate 395.

“They can close the road, but what are they going to do with the traffic?” asked Arlington County Board member Albert C. Eisenberg (D). “If they keep it open, they have a major thoroughfare cutting through hallowed ground.”

Members of Virginia's congressional delegation said they are trying to delay talk of expanding the cemetery until such questions can be answered.

“We're not necessarily opposed to it, but we think Arlington should have been consulted,” said Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), whose district includes the cemetery. “It's some of the most valuable property in the Washington area, and I'm sure some people will want to offer alternative uses.”

Sen. Charles S. Robb (D-Va.), a member of the conference committee considering the proposal, said he will seek to delay a decision, in part because he wants Congress to consider using the Navy Annex site for a national military museum.

Arlington National Cemetery's space problem became a national issue last winter after allegations that political donors without military backgrounds were getting waivers to be buried there. A Democratic campaign donor, former ambassador M. Larry Lawrence, was disinterred in December after evidence surfaced that he had fabricated his World War II Merchant Marine service.

Previous efforts to add grave sites have run into controversy. Cemetery officials had eyed a dozen wooded acres controlled by the National Park Service, but environmentalists and historic preservationists protested. The Park Service now plans to turn over just four of those acres for graves.

Read our general and most popular articles

Leave a Comment