Insecure hike: New federal digs may require scary crossing

Uncle Sam is at it again back to choosing a new home for the local branch of the Social Security Administration.

Last winter, the feds were contemplating plush office space at the pricey Peter Jefferson Place that sounded lovely for SSA employees but less desirable for their clients because the nearest bus stop at State Farm Boulevard was several hundred yards away. That posed a formidable hike for the elderly and disabled, many of whom rely on public transportation.

Although a decision was to have been made in April, the General Services Administration recently sent out a new request for proposals. The site that reportedly is now the leading candidate is out on Pantops near Aunt Sarah's Pancake House. And once again, the nearest bus stop is at State Farm Boulevard. That requires bus-riding Social Security clients to hike across four busy lanes of U.S. 250 east– plus turn lanes– with no pedestrian crossing.

"That is not good pedestrian access," says Charlottesville Transit Service manager Helen Poore. Could the bus route be extended to be closer to the proposed site? Poore says that would be up to Albemarle County, which pays for routes in the county.

Of course, this property, owned by Westminster Canterbury, may not be the ultimate home for Social Security. David Turner, the developer who submitted the winning bid to build the new offices, says another developer is contesting the choice. The other bidders were a group led by Charles Hurt and another group led by Lane Bonner, neither of whom could be reached for comment.

"We'd gotten some indication we might be the ones," says Turner. "There was a protest submitted that should be resolved in two weeks."

The existing Social Security office, which serves a largely elderly and disabled client base, is located downtown at the Market Street Parking Garage, a hub for most City bus lines. So why the need for a new location less accessible to the clientele?

John McFadden, with the General Services Administration in Philadelphia, who is handling the office space search in Charlottesville, did not return repeated phone calls from The Hook.

When Social Security was considering Peter Jefferson Place, a complaint reached the office of Senator John Warner, and an aide there explained that the local Social Security office decides the final site location. Local SSA head Daniel Kliamovich also did not return The Hook's call.

Presumably, the local Social Security office will let their clients know where to find them once a new office is chosen. Whether the walker brigade will be able to cross the street is another matter.