EPA:

Kansas City sues over plan to move Region 7 to suburbs

The city of Kansas City, Kan., went to federal court today to challenge the administration's decision to move U.S. EPA's regional office from a downtown plot to a newer building in the suburbs.

This spring, the General Services Administration signed a lease to move about 500 of the office's employees to the former headquarters of the Applebee's restaurant chain in Lenexa, Kan., about 20 miles away. It unleashed anger in Kansas City, where the office has become an anchor of a long-struggling downtown, and among critics of suburban sprawl, who say the Lenexa office is an ill fit for an agency tasked with protecting the environment (Greenwire, April 19).

The lease ignored the president's orders on sustainability and will grow the office's carbon footprint by making employees drive more miles to work, the Unified Government of Wyandotte County says in a lawsuit filed today in U.S. District Court in Kansas City.

"The GSA did not fully account for or weigh the social or economic costs associated with leaving the city's central business area, place any emphasis on the city as an existing central city, or act in any way to 'strengthen the vitality and livability of the communities in which federal facilities are located,'" the lawsuit says, citing an executive order that dates back to the Carter administration.

Staff from the Region 7 office oversee permits and environmental programs in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska. All of them, except about 50 who work at a custom-built EPA laboratory downtown, are scheduled to move to the Lenexa building in June 2012.

GSA spokeswoman Angela Brees said she could not comment on the lawsuit, but reasserted the agency's claim that the Lenexa building was the cheapest available, even when considering the cost of moving to a new office.

It also scored highest on technical criteria that include sustainability and design, she said. The owners of the building, which has been given a Silver rating by the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program, have vowed to upgrade it to meet LEED Gold standards and get a Platinum rating for operations and maintenance by the time employees arrive.

But critics say that having an office in the suburbs will wipe out any benefits, and the owners of the downtown building dispute GSA's cost estimates. Represented by former Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.), whose influence helped move the office across the river from Kansas City, Mo., in 1999, they claim the Applebee's building will cost $27.81 per square foot, up from about $24.98 per square foot for the current space, and that GSA was wrong to say improvements to the downtown building would raise costs by an extra $6 per square foot.

Kansas City has filed an appeal with the Government Accountability Office in addition to today's lawsuit. Brees said a verdict is expected on Monday.

Click here to read the lawsuit.

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