Make the national monument a priority
By Mark Perreault

7:25 p.m. EDT, March 26, 2013

In November, 2011, President Obama, at the bipartisan behest of
Virginia’s Congressional delegation, designated parts of Fort Monroe a National Monument: 244
acres of mostly natural lands and a National Park Service (NPS) easement around
the fortress. This was a terrific step in the in right direction, and a
testimony to the vision of the Fort Monroe Authority. Unfortunately, it left a
space between the Monument areas. Why? Some in positions of authority say the
NPS balked at taking additional Fort Monroe property; others with an equal
claim to knowing the inside story say Virginia was unwilling to relinquish this
piece of prime real estate along the Bay.

However it happened, there is now a
growing consensus that the key acreage dividing the Monument–known as the
Wherry Quarter–should be largely turned into parkland. New construction
between the two parts of the Monument would diminish the sense of the past and
overall beauty that imbues the historic structures and the natural landscapes.
Gazing from the north battlements of the fortress at a 21st century
neighborhood, or walking, biking or driving past new homes or an office park to
enter Monument parkland, will provide far less than an optimum experience of
Fort Monroe for visitors.

To put the matter more positively, a
green Wherry core will help to draw visitors and their money to Phoebus and all of Hampton in this time of
declining military presence. Financial sustainability of the state managed Fort
Monroe lands is achievable, without developing the Wherry core, by (i) a
combination of cost reduction efforts through shifting costs to private
residents and other tenants at Fort Monroe, and in time to the National Park
Service, (ii) more residential development in the areas to the south and west
of Wherry, particularly the North Gate, and (iii) continued but gradually
diminishing help from the state (perhaps augmented by a one-time capital
infusion for infrastructure), in recognition of the public benefits Fort Monroe
provides the state and region (including the benefits

provided by any public facilities to locate on
Fort Monroe). And if the Wherry core is eventually incorporated into the
Monument, along with Batteries Irwin and Parrott on the south waterfront, the
National Monument can become a gem of the National Park system, and thereby
help attract national and international tourists (as well as many locals).

Since the 2005 base closure
announcement the citizens of Hampton Roads have consistently
indicated their preference for as much green space as possible at Fort Monroe.
Now their voices have been joined by those of many preservation and
conservation organizations. National Parks Conservation Association, Chesapeake Bay Foundation,
Chesapeake Conservancy, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Virginia
Conservation Network, Virginia Coastal Access Now, Coast Defense Study Group,
Central Virginia Battlefields Trust, and the James River Association have all
recommended a green Wherry, and most have also encouraged its eventual
inclusion in the National Monument (for their full statements, go to
fortmonroecitizens.org, where you can also see a video on the issue titled
“Preserve the Place”).

The National Parks Conservation
Association, 780,000 members and supporters strong, had this to say in a recent
letter addressed to Terrie Suit, Chair of the FMA: “Given Fort Monroe’s
compelling–truly unique–history, and Old Point Comfort’s setting amidst
Virginia’s largest urban population whose demand for open space will only
increase, the future course for the FMA is clear. We urge the FMA to protect
the 72 acres of the Wherry Quarter as green space managed consistently with the
goals and values of Fort Monroe National Monument.”

Moreover, the city of Hampton, once
a strong advocate for development at the historic site, passed a unanimous
resolution last summer calling for significant green space in Wherry with any
development there being “complementary to the National Park Service plans
such as that which is limited to tourism, hospitality, recreation and open
space concepts.”

It is time for the FMA to adjust its
priorities a tad. It should make the creation of a Wherry park, and eventual
unification of the National Monument, a key objective, as essential to its
mission as the preservation of the fortress or the historic buildings. Given
the commitment and initiative of its advisors, planners, board members, staff
and director, Citizens for a Fort Monroe National Park is confident that it can
do so without sacrificing any of its other objectives.

Perreault is President, Citizens for
a Fort Monroe National Park



Property sale to fortify Historic Village infrastructure

By Robert Brauchle, rbrauchle@dailypress.com | 757-247-2827      March 2, 2013

HAMPTON — The state authority overseeing Fort Monroe‘s redevelopment plans to sell the homes and buildings within the property’s Historic Village as a way to shed expenses.

The announcement Friday by Fort Monroe Authority Executive Director Glenn Oder is a turn from the path the group has taken in the past year, which is to lease those homes to tenants.

The authority will use the profits from the sales to pay for infrastructure upgrades needed on the property.

“We have a train coming at us in terms of expenses,” Oder said. “This is one way we’re going to be able to deal with that.”

The Army and the state have been negotiating for 18 months over the property’s transfer from the military. The state and National Park Service are now planning the future of Fort Monroe, even before the property transfers to those groups.

Oder said he doesn’t foresee a strong appetite in the General Assembly to spend money on tile floors, new windows or other maintenance projects associated with owning a home, or 170 of them.

“The commonwealth is not set up to be a real estate company,” he said. “We see it more as a homeowners association, although there are still some buildings we foresee continuing to own.”

Oder’s comments came during a Fort Monroe Planning Advisory Group meeting. The board was formed to review proposals for the property before they are taken to the authority’s board of trustees.

“We’re not selling the public’s access to the water,” group member Joseph Spencer said. “With all the trails along the waterfront and public land, we’re continuing to keep the water available to the public. To me, that’s remarkable.”

Gov. Bob McDonnell signed legislation last spring allowing the Fort Monroe Authority to sell property in the Historic Village and North Gate areas of Fort Monroe.

No sales can take place until the Army completely vacates the property and both the Fort Monroe Authority and the governor approve a master plan being assembled by Sasaki Associates.

Inner Fort and Wherry Quarter areas are excluded from property sales.

Fred Merrill, of Sasaki, said the authority should focus its attention on directing people and businesses toward the buildings within the Historic Village within the next year or so.

“There are plenty of buildings for people to live in, to love them and to take care of them,” Merrill said.

An accurate timeline has not yet been set for the transfer of Fort Monroe from the Army to the commonwealth.


Consultants urge patience in park plans                             

By Sarah Kleiner Varble    The Virginian-Pilot     © March 2, 2013

Outspoken residents are wanting to move quickly, but Sasaki Associates wants to lease buildings and hold off on deciding about a permanent use for the section until other parts have been redeveloped. 


   Fort Monroe advocate Adrian Whitcomb believes the Wherry
Quarter section of the historic property should be set aside as
park land as soon as possible.
   But consultants studying the redevelopment of the former
Army base said Friday it’s too early to make that decision.
   Fred Merrill, principal of Sasaki Associates, urged the planning
committee of the Fort Monroe Authority to continue leasing the
buildings in the quarter and hold off on deciding about a
permanent use for the section until other parts of the fort have been redeveloped.

   “We’re saying with Wherry, let’s think about it 15 years out,” Merrill said. “This can become a very important part of the whole story, but we want to continue to lease the buildings and generate revenue, which the Fort Monroe Authority desperately needs… and let that happen as long as it can.”

   Sasaki previously had proposed three plans for the quarter – one centered around commercial development, another around residential development and a third plan that would designate it a park. The quarter is northeast of the fort’s stone-walled section, which was designated a national monument by President Barack Obama in 2011.

   A group of outspoken residents has supported the park plan. On Friday, Whitcomb urged the members of the authority to move quickly.

   “To keep it in limbo for 15 years will not advantage the national monument as much as if you say up front, this will become (a part of) the national monument as soon as possible,” Whitcomb said.

   Merrill suggested focusing in the next five years on projects within the stone-walled section, which is surrounded by a moat.

   Within the next 10 years, the Historic Village, which is west of that section, should be redeveloped, Merrill said. The project should include the development of a waterfront park, the sale of homes to private owners and the addition of small businesses, such as dentists or law offices.

   Merrill also proposes the addition of a seven-mile hike-and-bike trail around the peninsula and a high-speed ferry based at the southern end that would travel between Newport News, Norfolk and Old Point Comfort.

   The North Gate section should be redeveloped within the next 15 years, and it should serve as a transition zone between historic sites and new development, Merrill said.

   Fort Monroe was a military base until September 2011, when the Army moved out to comply with a 2005 base closure decision. A little more than half of its 570 acres will be managed by the National Park Service.

   The Fort Monroe Authority, a state entity, is overseeing reuse of the rest of the property.

Sarah Kleiner Varble, 757-446-2318, sarah.varble@pilotonline.com



March 2, 2013 Letters to the Editor of The Daily Press

                             Balance the [Fort Monroe Master Plan] process

With three Fort Monroe master plan concepts to choose from, economics alone, particularly short-term narrowly defined economics, should not be the determining factor. Hired consultant Sasaki Associates seems to indicate that the primary objective is to maximize Fort Monroe Authority revenue by 2027.

Where is the effect on preserving all of Fort Monroe, the land as well as the historic buildings, and telling the story of Fort Monroe examined for each of these concepts?

Where is an exhaustive list of pros and cons for each concept revealed?

Where is the expressed will of the people, clearly stated on the MindMixer website and at meetings and in polls, surveys and petitions over the years, given serious consideration?

Where is the provision for the people to provide ongoing input in this process?

Where is the indication that the approach called for here will ever be taken?

Where is the larger economic picture examined, both positive and negative? A major hurricane and even continued sea-level rise could turn any short-term gains from development into massive losses.

On the positive side, a unified Fort Monroe National Monument would attract more tourists and local residents and be a much greater boost to the Hampton Roads economy than fifty or more acres of development. All of this needs to be examined freely and openly.

Any process that does otherwise will have failed the people now and for generations to come.

Please follow the link at fortmonroecitizens.org to view the new video, “Fort Monroe: Preserve the Place.”

Adrian Whitcomb
Citizens for a Fort Monroe National Park
Newport News



Editorial: Fort Monroe’s future

Creating a self-sufficient project requires addressing its unique obstacles

6:18 p.m. EST, February 5, 2013
If there is a conundrum more challenging to the Hampton Roads region than transportation funding, it has to be this: figuring out how to design a sustainable future for the property at Fort Monroe.
In 2005, the U.S. Army announced it would be vacating Fort Monroe as part of the Base Realignment and Closure process. In September 2011, after years of negotiations and discussions regarding the future of this historic military base, the Army decommissioned the fort and handed over the ceremonial “key” to the Commonwealth of Virginia. Immediately thereafter, the management responsibility was transferred to the Fort Monroe Authority. In the same month, a National Monument was established to preserve the historic character of certain portions of the property.
The Authority was charged with developing a plan for the property that would eventually lead to economic stability and independence. Visions of a mixed-use, live-work-play development alongside the historical components have guided the planning stage for Fort Monroe during the past year.
Since taking over, the Authority has seen a dramatic increase in public use. The number of visitors for concerts, the beach club, the fishing areas, and historic tours in 2012 well exceeded expectations.
In addition, 120 houses have already been rented. Commercial spaces are occupied by the Virginia State Police, the Virginia Fire Marshall and the Marine Services Corporation. The STEAM Academy has committed to establishing its new residential school for science, technology, engineering and math at Fort Monroe. The property is also being considered for a new veterans’ care center.
This activity is good news for Fort Monroe. However, as the master planning process continues, it is important to remember that even with its many amenities and attractions, Fort Monroe is burdened with a unique set of problems:
The National Monument comprises two distinct pieces, the area inside the moat and the Dog Beach area, which are separated by the non-monument Wherry Quarter area. While monument supporters would like to see this area converted to green space, an economically sustainable plan might contemplate other uses.
Utilities are an aging collection of zig-zagging lines and connections, metered for one user.
Some of the buildings are in need of repair or adaptation for new uses, but historic guidelines make restorations costly.
Residential occupants are limited as to what they can do with their houses and yards.
The weather and tides are unpredictable and potentially damaging.
Access to the site is difficult.
There is insufficient parking for areas that might be developed into commercial spaces.
The Army still owns the property. While transfer is likely in the near future, the Army is now asking the Authority to pay for certain waterfront portions of the site that its engineers built up after the original survey was drawn.
For the past year, Sasaki Associates has been working on possible master plans, with various combinations of revenue-generating uses. In December, three possible configurations were presented: one that provides for reuse and infill of existing areas; one that converts the Wherry Quarter area to a park; and one that contemplates a waterfront community.
Yet Sasaki’s economic analysis reveals that none of these options is financially sustainable. Each would be operating at a multi-million dollar deficit 15 years from now. None would generate enough revenue to support the huge operating and development expense that must be incurred to create them.
When the Fort Monroe Authority was established by the General Assembly, the idea was that it would not require a permanent line-item in the state budget. Yet it is clear that getting from point A — a complicated puzzle of problems that must be addressed in coordination with multiple stakeholders — to point B, a thriving and successful community with a major national landmark at its heart, will take significant time and resources.
The magic formula is elusive, and figuring out how to overcome the obstacles often seems like a chicken-and-egg pursuit. Fortunately, the board of the Fort Monroe Authority is a dedicated group that is working hard to find workable answers.
As long as the planning process keeps moving forward and Fort Monroe continues to generate interest and activity, we encourage the General Assembly to continue supporting this important project with annual funding. Finding the balance of progress and preservation for this gem is a dream worth pursuing not only for Hampton Roads, but for the Commonwealth.
Daily Press

Editorial: No blinders allowed

Governments work for the people; citizens deserve to know what’s going on

5:43 PM EST, January 23, 2013
American democracy was founded on hard-fought principles that define the relationship between government and the taxpayers who fund it — including the right of the public to know what its government is up to.
Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) guarantees two important rights: the right of the public to obtain “ready access to public records” and the right of “free entry to meetings of public bodies wherein the business of the people is being conducted.” There are exceptions, but they are narrow and specific, with the presumption in favor of access, not secrets.
Most citizens go about their daily lives letting government run itself without feeling the need to pore over plat books, search minutes of zoning meetings or review bank account records related to a public project. But when that high-traffic project is springing up down the street or those huge cost overruns for a school threaten other government services or tax rates, those types of records suddenly become important.
In addition, our governments collect and maintain a huge amount of data. Such information harvested and stored at taxpayer expense should be available for inspection by the public.
As a news organization, part of our mission is to seek out records that help tell stories, reveal details about actions affecting the public and keep government accountable. This means we often do the heavy lifting for the public by filing FOIA requests and pressing for compliance. We also pay attention to legislative efforts to limit public access.
This year, the General Assembly will consider a number of bills relating to FOIA requests. Perhaps the most notable is a bill that would expand FOIA to allow nonresidents to request documents. The bill is in response to last year’s federal court ruling upholding a constitutional challenge to Virginia’s law prohibiting nonresidents from making requests without an in-state presence.
We urge this bill’s passage. When it comes to a fundamental right like access to public records, our state shouldn’t be allowed to discriminate against out-of-state residents and organizations. Besides, we are a mobile society; residents who move to another state shouldn’t lose their public access rights. Furthermore, news organizations — who are often the parties requesting records — commonly operate across state lines, especially in the digital era.
The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case, but in the meantime, the General Assembly should take steps to clear up this particular defect in our FOIA statute.
Other FOIA bills
In addition, there are several bills pending that attempt to restrict some aspect of public access. While each may seem like small potatoes on its own, in the aggregate these bills represent a bumper crop that whittles away of public rights in favor of government secrecy. Every time an exception is granted, government officials are handed a tool for expanding the scope of what may be withheld from public scrutiny.
For example, H.B. 1639 would exempt the working papers and correspondence of legislative aides of General Assembly members when those aides are working on their legislators’ behalf. There is no reason to do so. Such communications can be an essential part of the official business of our elected officials as well as the sausage-making process of our legislature. When a lawmaker who is employed by the taxpayers lobbies for keeping secrets, it’s a red flag that those communications might contain details in the public interest.
Secondly, H.B. 1542 would allow removal or obscuring of a criminal defendant’s name from the online case management system if there is a legitimate law enforcement purpose. Even though such redaction wouldn’t affect the hard copy of the case file, we see no compelling reason to restrict the digital version when the public already full access to the print version. Again, it disfavors nonresidents and even state residents who are distant from the source of the file.
Finally, there are a few bills under consideration that are necessary to resolve issues about FOIA’s applicability in specific situations. For example, S.B. 1143 would prohibit legislators from being compensated for attending conferences if the agenda and materials for the conferences are not available to the public — a no-brainer. And H.B. 1952, proposed in the wake of last summer’s shenanigans at the University of Virginia, would require university trustees to submit confirmation of FOIA policies and practices to the State Council of Higher Education.
Any action to restrict public access or carve out exceptions to Virginia’s FOIA requirements, no matter how narrow or compelling on the surface, represents another limitation on your right to know. Now is a good time to remind your representatives in Richmond that government should err on the side of opening its doors to citizens, not locking them out.


Jan. 22 Letters to the Editor of the Dail Press: Phoebus and Fort Monroe
Public input
In reading about the changes in the Phoebus Master Plan (Jan. 18), the importance of citizen engagement in the planning process became even more clear.
How different things would be today without citizens leading the effort for a national park unit at Fort Monroe. The involvement of many citizens is certainly reflected in the changes that have been made in the Phoebus Master Plan. The wisdom of not rushing to implement the 2007 Phoebus plan can now be clearly seen.
As the article points out, Phoebus sees its future success as tied to the success of Fort Monroe National Monument. But the ability of FMNM to attract visitors to the area and therefore to gateway community Phoebus depends to a large extent on whether the state develops the Wherry Quarter and diminishes Fort Monroe’s natural beauty and historic ambiance, or turns it into green space and unifies the monument.
With so many issues unsettled concerning the state-controlled portion of Fort Monroe, we cannot afford to turn the Fort Monroe process over to a small group of public officials and planners.
There needs to be continued involvement by citizens and much more transparency as the process continues. Shortcutting the process at this point will negatively affect both Fort Monroe and Phoebus, as stated in detail at fortmonroecitizens.org. The Wherry Quarter, the heart of Old Point Comfort, is destined to either unite or divide the two portions of Fort Monroe National Monument forever.
This is not a decision for a handful of people to make.
Adrian Whitcomb
Citizens for a Fort Monroe National Park
Newport News


Phoebus plans updated as ‘gateway community’

Fish market gets ax in new plan

(January 17, 2013)

By Robert Brauchle, rbrauchle@dailypress.com| 757-247-2827

January 18, 2013
HAMPTON — With its vision of a waterfront park, new commercial development along Mallory Street and infill homes occupying vacant residential lots, the proposed Phoebus master plan passed its first major review Thursday evening.
The proposed plan is the first among a string of master plans being drafted to reflect the changes expected to come with the National Park Service monument at Fort Monroe. The Fort Monroe Authority, National Park Service, Hampton First and city are each creating master plans for their respective areas.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” Partnership for a New Phoebus president Faith Jones said.
Hampton Planning commissioners and members of the public attending the City Hall meeting said tangible improvements in Phoebus must be made once the plan is approved, which is a feeling they didn’t get when the current plan was adopted in 2007.
“When do we get to review the plan and see if we have made progress on this?” Planning Commissioner Andre McCloud asked. “Because I don’t know that I’ll be here in 10 years, and you might get someone here who never knew this meeting happened.”
In Phoebus, Mellen Street’s historic qualities should be used to create an “arts district” of general merchandisers, restaurants and bars, according to consultants commissioned to update the master plan. While businesses attract patrons on the street level, upper floors should be renovated to accommodate tenants.
While previous plans for Phoebus have called for condominiums, seafood restaurants and even a floating fish market along the waterfront, the new plan now recommends a waterfront park.
“This new public space will serve to anchor the southern end of the Mellen Street corridor as well as creating an attractive gateway to Fort Monroe,” planners wrote. “While more detailed discussion with the community will be warranted, possible park amenities could include a public lawn for community events, visitor parking, a waterfront walkway … a dock for small boats, water taxis, kayaks and a place for fishing.”
A portion of that new commercial activity could happen along Mallory Street where Maida Development Co. razed its nearly 76,000-square-foot building on Mallory in spring 2012 with the hopes of selling the property.
The proposed master plan now recommends building apartments or condominiums on the site with some commercial stores or offices facing the street. A north-south street should also be built between Mallory and Libby streets, allowing the city to market the properties to separate developers.
Convincing potential business owners and residents to invest in Phoebus might be a tough sell.
“The greatest obstacle to reaching market potential is the perceived lack of care and poor condition of housing stock throughout the area. In addition, the lack of high-quality retail in Phoebus, despite the charm of Mellen Street, holds back the marketing potential for new residential units in this area,” the consulting firm, Urban Design Associates, wrote.
While a total bill for the consulting services is still being tallied for the Phoebus plan, Hampton Community Development Director Terry O’Neill said the city expects to spend about $290,000 updating the Phoebus and Buckroe master plans.
Jones said changes could be made to improvement neighborhoods almost instantaneously if the city would simplify zoning regulations and maintenance codes for property owners, especially those who use the homes as rental properties. Clearer language, she said, will help everyone understand the rules.
Former Mayor Ross Kearney said he likes the proposed plan. He thinks it should also include an explanation of how the nearby veterans center and Hampton University can correspond to Phoebus.
“Those institutions have been connected to Phoebus for many years,” he said.
A public hearing for the plan is scheduled for Feb. 7. The City Council will then be briefed Feb. 17 on the document and a second public hearing will be held March 13.
Master plan’s key elements
•Enhance gateways into the neighborhood
•Coordinate a parking strategy
•Coordinate the waterfront with private developers
•More recreation space
•New homes and apartments