- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 8, 2009


Abraham Lincoln planned the Union attack on Norfolk while staying in Old Quarters 1 within the walls of Fort Monroe during the Civil War.

Today, it is the base of operations for another daunting, albeit less bloody task for Bill Armbruster, a former military man who is overseeing the departure of the Army from Fort Monroe and planning for an uncertain future.

Mr. Armbruster is the executive director of the Fort Monroe Federal Area Development Authority, the body created in 2007 to find a new use for the post when the Army leaves.

Last month, the authority made a landmark decision when it voted to create a national park out of historic parts of Fort Monroe.

But the National Park Service would only take over a small portion of the site, assuming the move is backed by Congress.

Mr. Armbruster, who traveled to the District at the end of last week to talk to lawmakers, estimates that the National Park Service will take over about 60 acres of the 564-acre site. The size of the park hasn’t been finalized.

That’s not to say large tracts will be opened up to developers.

“About 40 percent is open green space and wetlands, the natural areas that we want to protect,” he said.

Mr. Armbruster, a 74-year-old former Pentagon official with a Navy background, is pleased that the future of Fort Monroe is now clearer.

“There’s been a lot of misinformation out there,” he said. “There were those that felt the property was going to be sold to developers and that the choice was either a national park or high-rise condos. I’ve even heard casinos. I’ve heard all sorts of stories out there. It’s simply not true,” he said.

He said it is part of the development authority’s plan for the land at Fort Monroe to belong to the commonwealth of Virginia.

Under the plan backed by the development authority’s board last month, the National Park Service would take over Old Quarters 1, the historic stone fort that is the largest of its kind in the United States, the moat, the outer works, Irwin and Parrot batteries that were built just after the Spanish-American War of 1898, and a radar station on the parapets.

Old Quarters 1 “is the oldest building on Fort Monroe other than the lighthouse. In 1819, Lafayette entertained there. Lincoln spent four nights there,” Mr. Armbruster said.

“So much of the planning for the campaign on the Peninsula and the attack on Norfolk was planned from here.”

Mr. Armbruster proposes “limited development,” compatible with the historic fabric of the existing buildings. Although the private sector will be brought in, developers won’t own any land. Building heights will be limited to three stories.

Mr. Armbruster said that in the future, Fort Monroe would link to the Historic Triangle of Williamsburg, Yorktown and Jamestown to expand tourism.

Steve Corneliussen, of Citizens for Fort Monroe National Park, said the group is pressing for as large an area as possible to be included in the national park.

“It’s all a national historic landmark and all an environmental treasure, so we hope Virginia’s congressional delegation seeks as large a national park as makes practical sense,” he said.

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