It is finished.
Virginia finally has been given the keys to the former historic military post Fort Monroe.
After more than a decade of protracted negotiations between the U.S. Army, the Office of the Attorney General and the Fort Monroe Authority, some 313 acres of land officially are under the state’s stewardship.
Fort Monroe Executive Director Glenn Oder made the announcement — met with applause and cheers — during the authority’s Board of Trustees meeting in Hampton this month.
“After a decade of negotiation, all the property coming to the commonwealth, and that is key, has been transferred,” Oder said. “It’s not just property transfers. It is the acceptance of all the utilities … acceptance of the responsibilities.”
The remaining 34 acres transferred comprise several buildings and five parcels — including the Old Point Comfort Marina and the moat — deeded during March and this month, authority officials said.
Late December, the Army transferred a parcel known as the Tidball deed of about 4.2 acres, containing nine residential duplexes. All recent transfers have been recorded in Hampton Circuit Court, according to meeting documents.
Over the past seven years, the bulk of deed transfers have happened in bits and pieces amid a tangled slog of negotiation behind the scenes. It’s a discussion that really started in 2005 when the Base Realignment and Closure was first announced, Oder said.
Before the Army pulled out officially, the board and authority were established as a political subdivision of Virginia to preserve, protect and manage Fort Monroe and Old Point Comfort. The Army officially decommissioned the 565-acre military post in September 2011.
Transferring land, including parcels deeded over to the National Park Service in areas now included in the Fort Monroe National Monument and easement, has stumbled along.
Transfers began in 2013 and continued seemingly every other year until 2018, with the remaining happening in 2019. John Hutcheson, the authority’s deputy executive director, was the point person, and has been at it for nine years, he said.
“When we were talking about the transfer of the property, foolishly, the expectation was we were going to sign these deeds on the 15th of September. So here we are seven and half year later and we (just) got it done,” Hutcheson said. “These deeds have lots of language about preservation and environmental management. A property as … special as Fort Monroe requires that you take the time to do it right.”
Some of the hold up was due to extensive environmental remediation work needed on several parcels, such as soil contamination in which the soil had to be removed and replaced, Oder said. Other situations dealt with the groundwater or land use restrictions.
From contracts with Newport News Waterworks to its relationship with Dominion Energy, the final transfers will mean for the first time the authority and tenants renting on the property may have an easier time getting routine maintenance work done.
Before the deed transfers, the utility lines crossed over multiple shared parcels and any necessary repairs or maintenance work required the Army to initiate the process — which took a long time, Oder said.
“We had an intricate set of lease arrangements. In some cases, the Army rented us the building and we managed it and they were still the owner. We would have to ask permission,” Oder said. “(The transfers) will help with lawn maintenance. It will help with utility management and most importantly ... it will help the Fort Monroe Authority and its vision of moving property into the marketplace.”
Since 2018, the authority has sought opportunities to offer long-term leases, from 40 to 99 years, on the commercial buildings it owns, ever on the hunt for ways to add revenue sources.
For the current fiscal year, the authority received $5.8 million from Virginia for operating expenses. It also draws some $3 million from residential rentals and $1 million from commercial leases.
Most of the authority’s commercial properties — about 900,000 square feet and about 98 acres of land — will be offered up to prospective developers, which can help balance the ledger. The authority is waiting for responses to requests for proposals from interested parties, which are expected to be submitted by October.
The Army still has small stake on the former post. It owns the grounds where the historic Chamberlin on Fenwick Road sits. The north beach, also known as Dog Beach, is still Army managed.
The U.S. Coast Guard manages the lighthouse, whose footprint is within the park service’s easement.
Lisa Vernon Sparks, 757-247-4832, email@example.com, on Twitter: @lvernonsparks