National Trust for Historic Preservation

Land-use concepts for
Fort Monroe

By David J. Brown

5:30 p.m. EST, December 11, 2012 (Daily Press)

Planning for Fort Monroe’s future has reached a crucial
juncture with a public meeting held tomorrow by the Fort Monroe Authority. At  the direction of the Fort Monroe Authority, Sasaki Associates has identified five alternative land-use concepts to guide the reuse of the Fort. Every element of Sasaki’s concepts should be debated publicly as the five
alternatives are critically analyzed and refined. Ultimately, one concept will
be adopted in 2013 by the FMA as the heart of Fort Monroe’s master plan.

As the National Trust sees it, the Fort Monroe master plan must:

•Secure new civilian uses for each of the fort’s historic

•Conserve open space – especially the precious Chesapeake
Bay waterfront – for the public’s use and enjoyment;

•Strictly limit new construction to protect the historic
character and natural beauty of Fort Monroe;

•Create new opportunities to tell the full stories of Fort
Monroe, including the fortress’s African American heritage; and,

•Establish a vibrant and economically self-sustaining new
community where people are welcomed to live, work, and visit.

These are our measures of success. Although there is much
work left to do, Sasaki’s alternative concepts get it right in many ways. My
organization urges thoughtful consideration of several elements of Sasaki’s
alternative concepts.

First, we welcome the concept for a Crescent Park that would connect the Chesapeake Bay and Mill Creek waterfronts and secure a scenic buffer zone around the historic fortress. Importantly, a Crescent Park also would create wonderful opportunities for an integrated network of public
landscapes and walking trails.

Second, the Trust believes that the FMA should continue to utilize the buildings located in the 70-acre Wherry Quarter. They are capital assets which should not be wasted. When the useful life and economic value of
these existing buildings is exhausted, the majority of the Wherry Quarter should become park land to complement the National Monument designated by President Obama. In the meantime, the FMA should look to the North Gate for new construction sites.

Finally, we commend Sasaki’s concepts for the very positive emphasis on adaptive reuse of the historic buildings at Fort Monroe. Today, there are 176 homes available to lease at Fort Monroe; 112 already are leased out by the FMA – that’s a 64 percent occupancy rate. Many other historic buildings at Fort Monroe will need to be physically altered and updated to
accommodate modern purposes, ideally using the federal and Virginia historic rehabilitation tax credits. As preservationist Ada Louise Huxtable wrote:

Buildings change; they adapt to needs, times and tastes. Old buildings are restored, upgraded and converted to new uses. For architecturally or historically significant buildings with landmark protection, the process is
more complex; subtle, subjective and difficult decisions are often required.
Nothing, not even buildings, stands still.

As 2012 ends, the public’s involvement continues to be an essential component of land-use planning for Fort Monroe. I strongly encourage
you to view Sasaki’s concepts at, and to participate in the December 13, 2012 public meeting to be convened by the Fort Monroe Authority. Together, we can shape Fort Monroe’s future as a vibrant and welcoming National Treasure.

Brown is the executive vice president and chief preservation officer of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.