- The Washington Times - Friday, May 4, 2001

A federal commission yesterday unanimously voted to reopen the debate on the design and location of a World War II memorial after questions arose last winter about the validity of a series of its votes on the project.

The National Capital Planning Commission agreed to allow members of the public to discuss all issues related to the project at two public hearings June 13 and 14. The scope of discussions will include the panel´s actions on the project´s design and location dating back to 1995.

"Holding these public hearings will give the public a chance to come forward and tell us what´s on their minds," said commission member Robert Gaines, who introduced the motion.

After the hearings, the commission is expected to vote on whether to build the monument at the approved location on the National Mall, midway between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument.

Yesterday´s vote disappointed the memorial´s sponsor, the American Battle Monuments Commission, which was about to name a general contractor to begin construction. But the group said it won´t lose hope.

"We are confident the commissioners will once again recognize the merits of the design and give its full approval," the group said in a written statement. "We remain confident that we will prevail."

The latest action comes after the commission learned that previous approvals of the memorial project may be invalid because the agency´s former chairman, Harvey B. Gantt, continued to vote on the project´s design long after his tenure had expired.

Mr. Gantt´s term as chairman expired Jan. 1, 1999, but he continued to preside over the monthly commission meetings until Dec. 14, when he was replaced by Richard Friedman. One of the votes in question came as recently as September, when Mr. Gantt was part of the 7-5 majority that approved the monument´s final design.

The approval of the memorial site and design have since come under fire from a coalition of groups, which filed suit against the commission´s plans.

During yesterday´s meeting, the commission also agreed to convene a panel to explore potential problems and benefits of the project´s location and site plans.

The panel will include architects, urban and design planners and land preservationists, who have not been involved in the World War II project. The panel will convene a public meeting on May 23.

The commission also requested the National Park Service to erect a mock-up of the memorial on the Mall by June 7 to give the panel a sense of the project´s height, bulk and mass. The request came a week after four members of Congress sent a letter to Mr. Friedman, asking for a full-scale mock-up at the Rainbow Pool site.

Most members of the panel favored the idea. "To not do this would be a disservice to taxpayers," said Patricia Elwood, a commission member.

But John Parsons, another commission member and director of the National Park Service, argued against the request because it would cost the Park Service an estimated $3 million and about five months to build.

"This is a ridiculous request," Mr. Parsons said. "Never has there been a case where we had to produce a theatrical stage set."

Also yesterday, the commission got a first look at design plans for a proposed memorial honoring Martin Luther King. Located along the Tidal Basin, the memorial will include two large granite stones that will depict the troubles many Americans have faced in their march toward full citizenship. A third rock, called the "Stone of Hope," will mark the progress toward equal rights.

Officials with the King Memorial Foundation expect the monument to cost up to $50 million.

* This article is based partly on wire reports.


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