Fort Lewis plans for communities

Fort Lewis’ urban planners plan to transform the post from a concrete jungle of sprawling buildings to a leafy collection of smaller communities.

The post’s long-term master plan, unveiled Tuesday, organizes the Army post into 13 neighborhoods. In the works are widening of sidewalks, on-street parking, street cafes and restaurants.

Some of the post’s historic buildings, many dating back to World War II, will be renovated.

Garrison commander Col. Cynthia Murphy hopes the changes will transform the post’s community of 30,000 soldiers and their families into more than the sum of its parts.

“I think it’s really important to have that sense of community, especially during time of war,” she said. “When you have that sense of community, you know your neighbors and care about your neighbors. You don’t have that isolated feeling you have when you just drive from place to place.”

A major goal of the design is to reduce commuting. Planners hope to group barracks, dining facilities, motor pools, administrative buildings and training areas close enough to encourage soldiers to walk to work.

“It’s the new, old trend,” said Tom Tolman of the Fort Lewis public works department’s planning division. “It’s returning to the principles we used when we built Fort Lewis – the ability to walk and drive and bike. Now it’s all about driving everywhere.”

Planners are touting the post’s ecofriendly design: Not only the reduction of car commuting, but the addition of more trees and adoption of sustainable construction standards could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 18 million pounds per year, Tolman said.

The plan has no firm timeline for completion, but Murphy talked often about seeing major changes by 2017, the 100th anniversary of the post’s founding under its original name, Camp Lewis.

The Pentagon is prepared to put up big bucks to make it happen. Fort Lewis will receive about $3 billion over the next five years for construction.

Not everyone has been a fan of Fort Lewis’ plans.

Lakewood City Councilman Walter Neary said in January that he worries the on-post upgrades, including the Army & Air Force Exchange Service’s plans to build a mid- to high-end retail and casual-dining shopping center, will hurt his city’s economy.

Murphy disagrees. Many families shop on post, and often soldiers and employees don’t leave post during their lunch break or after dinner because the roads are congested, she said.

“I don’t think what we’re doing for our soldiers and families is any different than what other communities are trying to do for their families,” she said.

Urban planners, soldiers, family members and others began meeting 21/2 years ago to overhaul the previous master plan, which dated to 1995. Since then, the post has added more than 10,000 soldiers and a host of new equipment, including hundreds of eight-wheeled Stryker vehicles.

“The equipment and the facilities do not match,” Murphy said. “We needed to update the post.”

About 30 percent of Fort Lewis’ soldiers live on post, either in barracks or in family housing. The post is expected to grow to about 32,000 soldiers over the next few years, and the master plan assumes the same percentage will live on post in the future.

One piece missing from the plan is neighboring McChord Air Force Base, which will merge with Fort Lewis by 2010. Similar planning meetings will begin when the two installations become Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Tolman said.