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Planning for Fort Monroe's future
Officials are seeking feedback on proposed rules and hope to finalize a deal by August
By KIMBALL PAYNE | 247-4765
HAMPTON - Typically, when the Army leaves behind land, military officials come up with about four pages worth of rules guiding the future of the property.
On Saturday, federal, state and local officials unveiled a draft agreement charting the course for Fort Monroe after the Army leaves.
It's 53 pages long.
"Fort Monroe deserves that," said Conover Hunt, who helped draft the so-called programmatic agreement. "It is an elegant and thorough document."
About two dozen local residents and Monroe enthusiasts came to the Hampton Roads Convention Center to get the first glimpse and offer critiques of the overarching framework. There are similar meetings in Richmond and Washington this week to gather comment, and officials are also soliciting feedback via mail and the Internet in the hope of finalizing the agreement by August.
The legally binding agreement basically governs what can and cannot happen on the 570-acre post in the near and distant future.
"It sets the boundaries for reuse," said Melissa Magowan, deputy to Monroe's commander. "Please get your comments back to us, we're interested in what you have to say."
The Army is set to leave the fort in 2011 as the Department of Defense reshuffles bases and troops around the country and local and state officials are trying to plan a bright future for the post, which has been seen as a strategic asset since the early 1600s.
The detailed guidelines for caring for the numerous historic buildings and landmarks on Fort Monroe are being ironed out in the same week the National Park Service dealt a blow to hopes for turning the post into a massive park. A seven-month study released last week concluded the federal government probably wouldn't be able to come up with enough cash to properly maintain all the vaunted assets on the property.
But the study doesn't mean the waterfront post cannot become some sort of hybrid park that lures historic tourists and sun worshipers to help offset caring for deteriorating structures.
The agreement breaks the post down into five separate sections, mostly along the lines of physical characteristics. The document details a framework for the future of each specific portion. The northern edge of the post near Buckroe Beach is slated to remain largely natural beach and marsh space, and the southern edge near the entrance is envisioned as a mix of private homes, business and offices fit into the historic buildings already there. Meanwhile, there can be construction only inside the moated post if there are "health and safety concerns."
"It's wonderful in its flexibility," said Hunt, deputy director of the Fort Monroe Federal Area Development Authority. "If you want to put a restaurant inside the moat, you're not going to build a new building to do it."
Leaders from the local grass-roots group Citizens for a Fort Monroe National Park said they were pleased with the amount of detail contained in the agreement, especially the suggestion to establish an on-site historical preservation officer to act as something of a history cop as the post transforms from an active military base.
But Mark Perreault, vice president of the organization, said it would have preferred stronger statements about preserving open space in the section of the base just north of the moated post — known as the Wherry Housing district. But Perreault and others said they like that the agreement specifically prohibits any new buildings in the section from rising more than three stories.
Perreault also noted that if the state ever wants to sell off pieces of the post to private individuals or companies — an idea not currently on the table — the agreement would require that state officials run a series of studies and explore many alternative options.
"They've got hoops to jump through, which is a good thing from our standpoint," he said.