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May 18, 2005 Monroe Farm Archeological Investigation Stalls

By BETSY FICKLIN

Journal Press

The Sunday afternoon reception that followed Westmoreland County Museum’s unveiling of its new John Marshall portrait lasted longer than Museum directors had planned.

The comfortable surroundings proved most conducive to quiet discussions of the Museum’s projected expansion plans, development of bicycle trails and scenic greenways and creation of a major tourist destination on the old Monroe Farm property.

In addition to the local residents and John Marshall relatives, Sunday’s Westmoreland Museum event brought together historians, preservationists and scholars.

Board of Supervisors Chair Rob Wittman had an opportunity to converse at length with James Monroe Memorial Foundation President Bill Thomas concerning Foundation and county government plans to develop the Monroe Birthplace property they share.

Earlier this year the county government leased a portion of its Monroe Farm property to the Foundation. The Foundation in turn has pledged to develop a visitor reception center, Monroe farmhouse replica and associated farm appendages.

The Foundation’s Westmoreland County neighbor is installing water and sewer lines, an indoor restroom plumbing facility, entranceway and parking area and nature interpretation trails on a 78-acre tract of land that runs from State Route 205 to the upper reaches of Monroe Creek.

Confounding the local government and Monroe Foundation efforts are the development plans of the publicly owned property’s Monroe Birthplace LLC land developer neighbor who hopes to rezone an immediately adjacent 40-acre in order to build at least 100 homes.

On April 11 Wittman presided as the Westmoreland Supervisors heard the developer’s request that had been endorsed one week earlier by the county’s Planning Commissioners.

The Supervisors listened in April but delivered a vote delaying action for one month, believing that in that intervening time the developer’s property could be appropriately evaluated by teams of archaeologists.

As it developed, Virginia lacked the resources to dispatch the necessary crews and Westmoreland County discovered a public notice error that required its initial hearings to be invalidated. New hearings have since been advertised for June 6 and 13.

One topic of concern associated with the Monroe Birthplace LLD residential development proposal is the possibility that the old Monroe family gravesite is on that property.

The tombstone of Spence Monroe, the father of James Monroe, was discovered near the property line and is being stored in the basement of the James Monroe Law Office and Library in Fredericksburg.

With British gunships landing as near by as the Lower Machodoc Creek’s Coles Point settlement during the War of 1812, it is not beyond reason that Secretary of State James Monroe dispatched a rider to remove the grave markers from the Monroe family cemetery, fearing that British troops would come ashore from Monroe Creek and desecrate those graves.

The Monroe Foundation wasted no time in making known its concerns that a residential subdivision with 50-foot lots was not compatible with Foundation plans to invest millions of dollars to develop the publicly adjacent parcel as a major tourist attraction honoring the nation’s Fifth President.

On Sunday afternoon Foundation President Thomas and Board of Supervisors Chairman Wittman talked about the problem. Wittman made it known that he has spoken with the developer since the Board’s April 11 meeting and has suggested that those property owners initiate an archaeological survey of the land that is the subject of the pending rezoning application.

Thomas and Wittman are aware that the state is willing to allocate some of its revenue to offset costs associated with the recommended archaeological evaluation of land that once was part of the Monroe Farm.

This Tuesday Thomas told The Journal he is very disappointed that the developer has taken no initiative at all to satisfy the Foundation’s outstanding concerns.

In addition to the historic and aesthetic considerations, which the Foundation asserts are in contradiction to the county’s Comprehensive Plan, environmental issues are emerging.

As the developer’s property becomes the subject of ever greater scrutiny, wetlands issues are emerging, along with possibilities that some endangered species may be present on the site.

On the afternoon of May 23 the Westmoreland Planning Commissioners intend to view the developer’s property. That public meeting will begin at 3 p.m. with the Commissioners assemble at the English Building in Montross. The Journal’s reporter expects to meet the Planning Commissioners at the James Monroe Birthplace site.