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August 3, 2005 Monroe Birthplace LLC Rezoning Could Destroy Economic Future of Westmoreland

By G. WILLIAM THOMAS III

The James Monroe Memorial Foundation recently entered into a long-term lease with Westmoreland County to restore the James Monroe farmhouse and build an education and visitor center, and operate these as a historic attraction, on the adjoining county-owned land. The Foundation opposes the proposed rezoning of the adjacent Cooper tract for a number of reasons.

The Foundation believes that the recent action of the Planning Commission in recommending approval of rezoning of this property ignores the county's Comprehensive Plan.

The purpose of the Comprehensive Plan is to protect the citizens of Westmoreland County from inappropriate development of adjoining land and to guide development in a predictable, principled fashion.

The Planning Commission has now signaled that it will approve any development, no matter how inappropriate, and any variance from the Comprehensive Plan. Citizens of the county who thought their rights in their homes and lifestyles were being protected by the county government may now find that they have no protection - presumably anyone can operate a tire dump, or a hog processing plant on adjacent land, or anyone can operate an auto body ship in their front yard, if they simply ask the Planning Commission.

There is still plenty of New York City garbage that can be brought to dump sites in Westmoreland County by barge when the Charles City County sites are full.

The property that is the subject of the rezoning application was acquired as agricultural property and should be kept that way, consistent with the county's Comprehensive Plan. If the owner needs to sell it for more money, he can creatively use conservation easements to obtain significant tax benefits, and keep it agricultural. There are also national environmental groups which have expressed interest in purchasing this property due to its environmental and historical importance.

The Foundation opposes any isolated changes to the Westmoreland County Comprehensive Plan, which calls for this property to remain agricultural.

The land for which this rezoning is sought is part of the original 500-acre farm owned by President Monroe. In fact, the property to be rezoned was acquired in 1764 by Spence Monroe, the father of President James Monroe.

Acquisition of this land by a preservation group or a public body, for eventual addition to or as a supplement to the county park at the James Monroe birth site, is its highest and best use..

Because the rezoning applicant's property is a part of the original Monroe farm, and is fairly near the original farmhouse site, it is very likely that there are significant archaeological sites on the property associated with President Monroe.

In fact, the Monroe family cemetery is very likely on this property. This entire tract must be carefully surveyed by Department of Historic Resources-approved archaeologists before any development can occur. We understand that the Department has told the county it is willing to assist the county with grants towards archaeological investigation.

While the Foundation opposes any non-agricultural development, we believe that the county must insist on a full archaeological site investigation of the entire property, with pledges not to disturb any sites which are found, and to create or leave in place substantial tree buffers between this property and the county-owned Monroe land, and along Route 205, as required conditions for any rezoning or development of this property.

\Not only Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities [APVA], which protects many historical sites in Virginia, but also the National Trust for Historic Preservation, have said that the proposed residential development could destroy this historic site.

Conservation easements or sale to a preservation group are the intelligent way for the owner to realize any appreciated value in this property, not to construct a crowded subdivision.

Any non-agricultural use of the land, such as its proposed use for a crowded subdivision, will unduly tax the county and state resources. Crowded subdivisions typically cost counties money, in terms of the public support services which subdivision residents need.

In fact, most counties estimate that the per home cost of subdivisions to a county is in the $25,000 - $30,000 range. Using this estimate, a 109-home crowded subdivision could cost this county $3.27 million in long-term costs.

If the county believes that it needs a new subdivision, the county needs to at least delay this until an appropriate proffer system is put in place to help the county cover these costs

Respected Richmond architect Bill Laffoon provided a technical review of the development plan at the June meeting of the Planning Commission. This technical review pointed out that the proposed development would violate the county's zoning ordinance in a number of respects - including inadequate parking, pipestem or flag lots, and lots without road frontage.

This type of development might have worked in Prince William 20 years ago, but is completely inadequate by modern planning standards, and more importantly, located on the wrong piece of land.

This crowded subdivision would be a net financial negative for the county, not a benefit. State Route 205, the key artery for this part of Westmoreland County, is not built to handle the additional traffic which a 109-home subdivision will generate.

VDOT estimates that each home represents an average of 7 automobile trips per day - and that Route 205 as it presently exists cannot accommodate an additional 700 trips per day. Route 205 will have to be widened (with more harm to the Monroe family farm - if rezoning and intense development occurs next door). How many county homes and businesses will lose land and be diminished in value by a road widening of Route 205

That is the path on which this subdivision rezoning will inevitably place the county, and an example of why the county's Comprehensive Plan must be followed.

Route 205 should be kept as a scenic byway from Colonial Beach to the Monroe Farm to Leedstown, with connecting scenic byways to the George Washington Birthplace National Monument, Westmoreland State Park and Stratford Hall.

I recently met with the Virginia Secretary of Commerce, who said that I could quote him that historic tourism is Westmoreland County's best opportunity to economic growth.

By destroying a scenic byway and degrading a state and national historic landmark, when there is ample other land available for development and this land can be sold for preservation purposes, this Board of Supervisors would be destroying Westmoreland County's economic future.

For all these reasons, and to protect the property rights of county residents from arbitrary and capricious variances from the Comprehensive Plan, the James Monroe Memorial Foundation respectfully asks that the Board of Supervisors reject this rezoning application.