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S. W. NEIGHBORHOOD ASSEMBLY v. ECKARD

January 23, 1978

S. W. NEIGHBORHOOD ASSEMBLY, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
JACK ECKARD, et al., Defendants.


Oberdorfer


The opinion of the court was delivered by: OBERDORFER

AMENDED OPINION

This case is about a nine-story office building at 1900 Half Street, S. W., in an area known as Buzzard's Point, an industrial/residential neighborhood on the Anacostia River in Southwest Washington. The case is in Court on a complaint of citizens and citizens' organizations in Southwest against Government Services Administration ("GSA"). The building was built to GSA specifications by a private owner. Before it was built, GSA leased it for five years for use by as many as 2,300 government employees to be assigned there from offices elsewhere. The citizens contend, citing the National Environmental Policy Act. 42 U.S.C. § 4321 et seq., that GSA should have prepared an environmental impact statement before it agreed to the lease because the lease and occupancy of the building will have a significant impact upon traffic, air quality and other elements of the relevant environment. The citizens also complain that GSA failed to honor Executive Order 11512 which requires GSA to be a "positive economic and social influence" in areas where it acquires space, to act consistently with local plans and programs, and to "foster" the policies and programs of the federal government.

 The Court now has before it two motions for summary judgment with supporting memoranda: one filed by the citizens, and one by GSA. The parties have also submitted a Joint Statement of Material Facts and environmental assessments prepared by GSA staff about Buzzard's Point (incorporated herein by reference as the source of the facts here stated).1* On the basis of these documents and with the benefit of oral argument by counsel for both parties, the Court will, for reasons stated more fully below, grant the citizens' motion, deny the GSA motion and enter an order which will (1) require GSA to prepare an environmental impact statement and (2) afford the citizens a later opportunity to seek whatever relief from the Court they believe to be indicated by the statement and by the situation at Buzzard's Point when the statement is complete.

 I. Facts

 The circumstances about which the citizens complain have their genesis in plans begun by GSA in the early 1970's. At that time the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) determined that its space was inadequate end requested GSA to relocate SEC or provide additional space near its existing headquarters. In October 1974, the relevant Congressional Committee authorized GSA to acquire for SEC use 460,000 square feet of space at an estimated annual cost of $ 2,800,000. In November 1974, GSA advertised its intention to lease office space for use by SEC in the Washington area. In December 1974, GSA issued a formal Solicitation for space to be available by July 1975 for a term of five years. The Solicitation contained precise specifications reflecting SEC's particular requirements.

 None of the offers received in response to the Solicitation met all of the essential requirements of location, cost and July 1975 availability. Some offers involved proposed buildings, which, when and if constructed, would be large enough to house the entire SEC according to the specifications at a rental within GSA's means as prescribed by Congress. These offers seemed relatively the most promising. GSA therefore extended the delivery date in the Solicitation to July 1976, and commenced direct negotiation with two offerors of prospective buildings which would meet the size and price requirements. In April 1975, GSA requested these two offerors to submit evidence of a financing commitment, ownership of the offered site for the term of the proposed lease, an executed construction contract with a firm completion date, a building permit and compliance with zoning laws. Both of the bidders responded.

 Dr. Lazlo Tauber, a principal of one of these bidders, Southwest Joint Venture (SJV), had originally responded to GSA's December Solicitation without success. On February 14, 1975, Dr. Tauber and SJV again responded to the GSA Solicitation by offering a building which SJV would build to the GSA-SEC specifications in time for July 1976 occupancy. On February 21, 1975, SJV entered into a contract for the construction of such a building. On March 12, 1975, SJV obtained a commitment for interim or construction financing upon the condition that it first obtain a firm building lease commitment from a responsible tenant approved by the lender.2*

 On June 3, 1975, having requested all offerors to submit their best offers by May 30, 1975, GSA accepted the SJV offer. Although SJV had performed a minor amount of excavation on the site prior to June 3, it had not obtained permanent financing as of that date. In fact, neither construction nor permanent financing could have been obtained without a firm lease commitment from some responsible tenant for the building;3* the lending institutions had conditioned the commitments by retention of the right in the lender to approve the specific tenant, which approval right was exercised here.

 Soon after GSA accepted the SJV lease, GSA notified SEC that the building had been assigned to it. SEC immediately protested this assignment to the Office of Management and Budget ("OMB") on the ground that GSA actions in leasing the space violated Executive Order 11512. On January 3, 1976, OMB upheld SEC'S appeal and overruled GSA's assignment of SEC to the building. Thereafter GSA negotiated with the Agency for international Development, the Federal Energy Agency and the Departments of Treasury and Agriculture about assignment to Buzzard's Point, but none of these agencies was assigned there.

 In the interim, the building was timely completed and is now partially occupied by about 800 employees of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Civil Service Commission, the Department of the Air Force, the Army Surgeon General's office and the Air Force Judge Advocate General's Office.

 Before accepting the SJV offer, in addition to obtaining proof of a building permit and zoning law compliance, GSA had communicated with some other local and federal government agencies: the National Capital Planning Commission ("NCPC"), the Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD"), and the District of Columbia Environmental Services ("D.C. Environmental Services"). GSA also received a letter from Melvin Mister, Executive Director of the District of Columbia Land Agency ("RLA").

 NCPC advised GSA that, while the zoning square in which the Buzzard's Point building would be located was zoned for manufacturing and office uses, construction of an office building there was not compatible with NCPC's policies and with proposals being formulated by an Interagency Task Force for the area.

 RLA, possibly responding for itself and HUD, requested GSA to consider locating SEC in the inner city and urban renewal areas and to lease space there for acre than five years. GSA responded to RLA by advising that it had considered location of SEC in a neighborhood with low or moderate income residents, but it was not authorized by Congress to make a lease longer than five years for SEC space. GSA made no direct response to NCPC.

 On June 1, 1976, two days before the lease was accepted, GSA staff completed an environmental assessment for two sites for SEC use, one of which related to the Buzzard's Point site. The assessments found that the GSA lease and occupation of either site would not be a major federal action significantly affecting the quality of the human environment and that acquisition of either site would not require a full-blown environmental impact statement.

 The June 1 assessment contained approximately 50 typed-pages (plus appendices) and was prepared in a very short time. For example, six pages under the caption "Physical and Biological Setting and Impact" were devoted to a description of general weather conditions in Washington. This section concluded that the project would have "only minimal impact on the micro-climate of Buzzard's Point, since the site presently consists of raw earth and pavement that are devoid of most vegetation." The assessment added, moreover, that "the design of the building . . . will ...


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