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July 12, 2005 Monroe Site Vote Delayed

By LAWRENCE LATANE III

Richmond Times-Dispatch

MONTROSS -- The Westmoreland County Board of Supervisors yesterday postponed voting on a rezoning request that would create more than 100 building lots beside the neglected birth site of fifth President James Monroe.

The supervisors voted unanimously to defer the matter 30 days, hoping that the landowner will modify the proposal in response to its many critics.

But two of the five supervisors expressed reluctance to raise the bar too high for Doug Cooper of Fredericksburg, who wants to rezone 47 acres from agriculture to the county's most permissive residential zone.

"If the Founding Fathers were in this room today, they'd say both sides have rights," said board member W.W. Hynson Jr.

Board member Darryl Fisher asked, "How do you tell a person you're not going to ever do anything with" their land?

Two previous Planning Commission meetings have made it clear that many people think the proposed development contains too many houses, impacts protected wetlands, conflicts with the county comprehensive plan and hampers a fledgling attempt to develop Monroe's birthplace as a historical attraction.

So far, Cooper has not addressed the concerns, nor has he volunteered to provide an archaeological survey of his property, which the supervisors want. His land was once part of a tract that James Monroe's father owned and could contain a Monroe family cemetery. James Monroe is buried in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond.

Bill Thomas, president of the James Monroe Memorial Foundation, which wants to develop the birth site as a historical attraction, was pleased with the delay.

"I think this sends a stronger message to the developer" to change his proposal, Thomas said.

No one spoke in favor of the rezoning. Several people either said they opposed the plan or urged the board to postpone its decision.

"We have been pushed to move forward too quickly in this matter," said Robert Fountain, president of the Northern Neck Historical Society.

Cooper presented his proposal to the Planning Commission earlier this year on the same day the Monroe memorial foundation signed a long-term lease for 10 acres that include the archaeological site of the Monroe birth site home.

The planners unexpectedly recommended the rezoning last week, a move that sent the request to the supervisors yesterday.

Westmoreland has owned 76 acres of the Monroe property since the collapse of a previous Monroe memorial effort decades ago.

Thomas said the rezoning plan is forcing his group to reconsider spending millions of dollars on the site to build a reproduction of the modest frame house where Monroe was born in 1758 and to build a visitors center.