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April 23, 2005 Monroe Rezoning Hits Snag

By FRANK DELANO

Free Lance-Star

An omission in an official notice has sent back to square one a controversial Westmoreland County rezoning case that opponents fear could spoil the county-owned birthplace of President James Monroe.

County officials discovered the error this week and ordered new hearings on Douglas L. Cooper's application to rezone 47 acres of cut-over timberland for more than 100 homes next to the land where Monroe was born in 1758.

County zoning ordinances require notification of all adjacent property owners when a rezoning application is considered. But a March 22 notice sent to adjacent landowners omitted the owners of at least one property abutting the Cooper tract.

Interim Zoning Director Milton Martin ruled Thursday that the oversight invalidated county deliberations held this month on the project. The Planning Commission will now rehear the case June 6 and forward it to the supervisors for action at their June 13 meeting, he said.

The Planning Commission approved Cooper's plan April 4 despite a warning from staff planners that the county's comprehensive plan designated the property a Rural Lands Area where "residential developments are strongly discouraged."

At a hearing before the supervisors April 11, opponents claimed the proposed residential development would spoil the natural qualities of the wooded birthplace site, where the county hopes to develop a park and a foundation hopes to build a replica of the Colonial farm where Monroe was born.

The supervisors deferred action on the rezoning until their May 9 meeting to arrange an archaeological survey of the Cooper property. Historians believe some of Monroe's family may be buried on the site.

The Board of Supervisors thought the Virginia Department of Historic Resources could do the work, but DHR Director Kathleen Kilpatrick declined.

"This agency is simply not staffed to conduct large-scale field work. For us to conduct the archaeological work on a 50-acre site, we would have to put our entire archaeological staff into the field immediately, calling a halt to all other work," Kilpatrick said.

County Administrator Norm Risavi said DHR is now helping the county draft a plan for a Phase I archaeological investigation of the Cooper tract.

William G. Thomas Jr. of Richmond is leading the opposition to the Cooper rezoning. Thomas is president of the James Monroe Foundation, which has signed a 99-year lease with the county to build the replica Monroe birthplace on a portion of the 76-acre county site.

In recent weeks, Thomas has sent out dozens of e-mails to the state's historical community, asking for assistance in preventing development of the Cooper tract.

To reach FRANK DELANO: 804/333-3834 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it