Preserving the Wherry Quarter
The issueThe state’s property at Fort Monroe is being considered for limited development.
Where we stand The General Assembly was clear that the state property should be added to the new National Park.
©November 9, 2012
©November 9, 2012
Earlier this year, the Virginia General Assembly passed a resolution calling for the preservation of a portion of Fort Monroe known as the Wherry Quarter “to the maximum extent possible.” The resolution specified that the area, facing the Chesapeake Bay, should be left in a condition suitable for eventual addition to the newly established Fort Monroe National Monument.
The meaning of “maximum extent” is now being hashed out by state officials, and there are several options under review that run counter to the legislature’s intent – and warrant the attention of residents of our region and well beyond.
The Fort Monroe Authority manages roughly 240 acres of state-owned property at the fort, and consultants are currently preparing a master plan. The remainder of the 565-acre fort is operated by the National Park Service.
The state’s general vision is to lease or sell some of the historic buildings and allow limited, low-density development compatible with the existing structures. The goal is to create a plan that will cover the cost of maintaining the land and structures.
For the Wherry Quarter the consultants have proposed several ideas, including two that involve new residential development. Those proposals should be swiftly rejected because they would not adequately preserve the land for later inclusion in the national monument.
Another option calls for leaving much of the Wherry Quarter as open land but allowing a tourism-oriented development – a lodge or similar accommodations – on the northwest corner. In a compromise move, Citizens for a Fort Monroe National Park – a preservation group that helped win designation of the fort as a national monument – has called for shifting the development to the southwest corner, further from the water.
These options should be rejected, too, because they fail to leave enough of the Bayfront as open space. A tourism-related development is a worthy idea, but there are other areas of the fort where it could be placed.
Virginia officials hope to make their portion of the fort economically self-sustaining. But they need to ensure that in the process they don’t damage the mission of the national monument and, in turn, reduce the economic benefits of the park to the state and region.
The state-owned acreage at the Wherry Quarter divides the national monument in half, and – as the General Assembly has stated -it should be added to the national monument as soon as possible.
Residents of this region and elsewhere have repeatedly and overwhelmingly called for adding the Wherry Quarter since President Barack Obama established the national monument last year.
But supporters of Fort Monroe need to reinforce the message as the state wraps up work on its master plan. Comments can be made at http://ideas.fmauthority.com and www.fmauthority.com/contact-us.
Virginia has an obligation – and a financial incentive – to help the National Park Service present the rich history of Fort Monroe in a high-quality manner.
That story will be best told if the parkland is contiguous and fully accessible to visitors – and if the views of the Bay remain unobstructed by development.