HAMPTON — The Fort Monroe Authority has backed the creation of a national park at the historic landmark that would have a larger footprint than recommended by the National Park Service last year.
But significant parts of Fort Monroe would not be administered by a National Park Service unit, allowing for limited development.
The unanimous vote of the board of the Fort Monroe Authority brought to an end more than a year of speculation over what size national park should be pursued at Monroe.
In a separate development the authority retreated from the idea of long-term leaseholds of properties at Fort Monroe, after receiving a critical consultants' report. It may now work for legislation make property sales easier at Monroe after the Army vacates the post on Sept. 15.
Hampton Mayor Molly Joseph Ward, who heads an authority group working on the national park issue, has been involved in meetings with park service officials and legislators over the last few weeks.
The final map was a "huge accomplishment" and there has been a "lot of give and take," she told the Fort Monroe Authority's board.
The authority agreed on a footprint that would include the Dog Beach area and a large section of the undeveloped north portion of Fort Monroe in a national park as well as the historic fortress and slivers of the post to the north east and south east of the fort.
Ward said the Dog Beach area does not revert to the commonwealth like most of the rest of Fort Monroe.
"This area should remain natural. I believe the park service would be receptive to accepting this parcel," she said.
Part of the beach area on the east of Fort Monroe would be outside the area administered by the National Park Service, but should remain as an area used for tourism, Ward said.
The Wherry Quarter north of the moat would be outside the park service area but Ward said there should be a corridor linking the two park service administered sections, running through this sector.
The area within the moat is highlighted as part of the park footprint including a number of key buildings such as Old Quarters 1, Building 50 and the historic Parade Ground.
Two batteries to the east of the fort would be in the park service footprint but not some parts of the historic village to the west and the south that were included last year by the park service in its areas of interest.
Ward said the National Park Service boundary should encompass the entire Fort Monroe site, even though some areas would remain in the control of the Fort Monroe Authority.
"What that would mean is that we could call the entire fort a national park, so that when we talk about Fort Monroe we could say it was a national park," she said.
Mark Perrault, president of Citizens for a Fort Monroe National Park, a group that has been campaigning for a larger national park comprising all 565 acres, said his group had to "swallow hard" on the proposed footprint that left areas such the Wherry Quarter out of the park service administered area.
"The national park that we now are looking at is a hybrid national park in a sense that it provides natural resources and the bay and it provides the tremendous historical and architectural assets we have. It's going to be more attractive to visitors and in Washington we are building a strong partnership with other national groups," he said.
But the final decision doesn't rest with the National Park Service. A national park can be designated by either Congressional authorization or a presidential declaration.
A park service team that visited Monroe last year said it was interested in the area delineated by the road system around the fort and the moat. It included all of the resources in the fortress and the moat, as well as resources between the moat and the street comprising the outer perimeter. Dennis R. Reidenbach, regional director of the northeast region of the National Park Service, said the natural resources "are not of national significance."
In another significant move Thursday, the Fort Monroe Authority heard a report from consultant David Shiver who looked into the 99-year residential leases the authority is proposing to use to create revenue.
Shiver concluded that historic properties would not receive any more protection by being leased than they would by being purchased. He said the creation of a program for leasehold mortgages might not be easily accepted by the market.
He said the authority would get less in sales revenue and would get no more control over properties than if they were sold.
"My recommendation would be to look at fee simple," he said, prompting board chair Terrie Suit to suggest the creation of a committee to evaluate how legislation could be changed to make property sales easier. Currently land sales need to be approved by the Virginia General Assembly and the governor.
"We are five months away from taking this place over and we find out today our economic model isn't going to work or is seriously flawed," said Sen. John Miller, D-Newport News. He rhetorically asked why the consultants' report wasn't drawn up at an earlier stage.
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