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Latest plans for Fort Monroe draw kudos, some skepticism
The future of the central section of the 570-acre post is still the main cause of dispute.
By KIMBALL PAYNE
May 28, 2008
The newest snapshot of the future of Fort Monroe has blurry spots, but even some of the most outspoken critics of the planning effort are offering kudos.
"This new plan is much, much better than the one in 2006. There's a lot that you can agree with," said H.O. Malone, president of the grass-roots organization Citizens for a Fort Monroe National Park.
But Malone said that because so much is up in the air, the plan does not carry a ton of real world significance.
"This is not the reuse plan — this is a placeholder," Malone said.
Bill Armbruster is the executive director of the locally based state panel that is tasked with plotting the future of the 570-acre outpost. He said the plan offered today and the feedback gathered from citizens sets the course for a revitalized Monroe.
"It gives us a blueprint," said Armbruster, who heads up the Federal Area Development Authority. "They'll be a lot of details to follow, but we know the direction that the plan is taking us."
The Army is set to leave Fort Monroe in 2011 as part of the base closing process that moved much of the outpost's military population to new areas, including Fort Eustis.
State and local officials completed a draft plan for the future of the base in November 2006, but that plan drew criticism for envisioning potential residential development north of the old stone fort. After developing the earlier plan, the local panel was beefed up by the General Assembly into an 18-member committee with state appointees and cabinet-level advisers to the governor.
That panel is tasked with giving Gov. Timothy M. Kaine a plan for Fort Monroe this summer and moving on to Washington by September. The panel is trying to balance the importance of historic artifacts and structures, with raising enough money to cover the cost of maintaining the entire outpost.
"We want to keep as much open space as possible," Armbruster said. "But it needs to be economically sustainable."
The reuse plan deals primarily in general, overarching concepts rather then ironclad specific ideas for each building and piece of the post that has been a significant strategic center for Hampton Roads dating back to the early 1600s. The blueprints for the future are somewhat vague, but give overall themes for how sections of the base could look in the future.
The plan suggests that the northern end of the park — near the southern tip of Buckroe Beach — would likely be best if preserved as an open beach, public park and wetlands refuge. Meanwhile, houses along the southern edge would get facelifts and be leased out as homes and office buildings, the marina would be revamped and expanded and the fort could be used as a historical center.
The main dispute, however, is what to do with the central portion of the base just to the north of the moat — known as the Wherry Housing district. Grassroots groups, such as the Citizens for a Fort Monroe National Park, want to see that area preserved as open park space, but some officials say the only way to keep the fort from turning into a major financial drain is to build some new homes and businesses.
The three versions of the initial plan were essentially the same overall with different levels of new neighborhoods in Wherry.
Armbruster and officials from the grassroots organization are also anxiously awaiting the results of a study by the National Park Service to see if the historic post could be turned into a national park. Officials said they have heard that the study is finished and they expect the results to be released soon.
Want to discuss the future of Fort Monroe today?
Bay Breeze Community Center, 490 Fenwick Road on Fort Monroe.