Sunday, November 1, 2009
My thoughts on the request to rezone the Newport Barracks site and the potential development there
Before I go further with my thoughts on this matter, I would like to state that the purpose of this blog has never been, nor will it ever, be political in nature. The purpose of this site was, is, and will continue to be a place where information, primarily on the Battle of Newport Barracks, can be shared in hopes that it can shed light on the events that took place in and around Newport during the Civil War. This is an emotional issue for me in that I feel a strong connection to the site and to those men who struggled there 145 years ago. For a number of years researching the various aspects of the battle and the site has been a passion and a labor of love for me, so clearly I do have a biased opinion on this, but I hope that it is not viewed as a political position as I feel this issue transcends political ideology.
On Friday, October 30, I was informed about the public hearing taking place in regards to the request for rezoning of the 44 acres that includes the site of the Newport Barracks, as well as the location of the final phase of the February 2, 1864 battle there. My initial reaction was one of sadness at the prospect that a historical site that is very close to me personally will begin to feel the pressures of development that have long threatened other historical sites in the last 30 years.
I expect that the motion requesting to rezone the area will be approved, thus paving the way for a future development on the site. While no actual plan for development has appeared, the approval of the motion will undoubtedly put that process in motion. You do not put on a football helmet unless you are going in to play in the field, and you do not rezone an area to residential unless you have options or a plan in mind. With that said I do not believe that this request or any future development at the site is malicious in nature, nor do I feel the people involved harbor such feelings. What I am concerned about is the lack of concern or consideration of the site and the events that took place there. It has been stated that now is not the time to look into that and once a plan is in place it should be considered. I personally feel that is a narrow-minded and short-sighted means of going about this. The time to consider this is now, and the more time in discussion and deliberation can only be beneficial in the long run.
Now in a perfect world the best case scenario for this site would be for it to be preserved and interpreted correctly for future generations of visitors. At the end of the day this is what I would like to see done, but I also understand that politics, practicality, and the power of the all mighty dollar come into play. I am not, nor was I, anti-growth during my time on the council and I was always a proponent of smart growth. I often said there was a way for the town of Newport to grow in a manner that was beneficial to the citizens, as well as preserving the identity and heritage of the community. Now, more than ever, local governments are feeling the crunch of the current economy on their budgets, and any chance to increase the tax base and revenue should be considered. Also for consideration should be the impact that the growth will have.
I hope that any decisions that are made are not made in haste, but after a deliberate and thorough period of consideration. Any plan for development should look at including provisions for adequate archaeological study of the area, in addition to a plan of historical interpretation of the site. Often politics is a study in compromise, and I am open for such on this issue. I believe that ultimately there is a way to have smart development in a way that can still preserve the historic nature of the site and allow for a proper interpretation that would educate and enrich the lives of not just citizens, but visitors to the site.
Carteret County is a county that lives and dies on tourism money, but Newport sees but a fraction of the overall money spent by visitors to the county during the year. By interpreting this site it will create an immediate draw for people to come into the town of the Newport and hopefully spend money in the community. Historical tourism is a big, and lucrative, business. Beaufort and New Bern are perfect examples of this, and while Newport would never receive the same amount of that proverbial pie, it still does not mean they should not at least sit at the table.
I am more than willing to help the town, and any developers of this site, in any way I can to insure that a proper plan of development is implemented. I would also be happy to develop a plan of interpretation for the site, and I would do so free of charge and I sincerely hope the town might consider me for such.
In the end the men who fought, and in some cases died, at Newport Barracks deserve to have their story told and remembered in a way befitting their memory. Simply paving over the site and throwing up houses does not honor or remember them, and in some ways is a desecration of their memory. I know that the people of Newport, and the government that represents them, values the history and heritage of the town. Those are two of the many qualities that make Newport special. While I no longer live in Newport, I still consider it home and consider the site of the Newport Barracks sacred ground, and I am convinced that a plan can be put in place that can be beneficial to all and insure that the most historic location in Newport is not simply bulldozed over and forgotten.