In response to concerns from the public about moving a former Greenfield Plantation slave cabin and kitchen, Botetourt County is creating the Greenfield Preservation Advisory Commission. WFIR’s Starr Anderson has the details:
These are questions and answers released by the Botetourt County Board of Supervisors regarding recent actions at Greenfield.
1. Why is the County moving the historical slave cabin and kitchen in Greenfield?
The slave cabin and nearby kitchen are located in a central location in the Greenfield business park and have been designated for relocation to a 28-acre historical preservation area near the entrance to Greenfield. This new site already contains a majority of the historical resources present in the park, including other structures and cemeteries. Moving the slave cabin and kitchen causes the least disturbance to the fewest number of historical resources in the park and allows future visitors to have enhanced access to those resources. In order to accomplish the broader preservation goals of the park, a plan to move the slave cabin and the kitchen was adopted 20 years ago with broad publicity and public involvement. The plan has been reviewed and reaffirmed in the years since with input from the public. To the extent of balancing all needs and goals of the park, the plan is still appropriate for the full utilization of the County’s land purchase.
2. Why move the slave cabin and kitchen now after 20 years?
Botetourt County, like the rest of the country, was tremendously affected by the ‘great recession’. As economic development programs are beginning to gear back up in the recovery years, the Board of Supervisors has recognized the need to reinvigorate the attractiveness of Greenfield. The slave cabin and kitchen are located on a prime tract of land key to that initiative. In fact, the land has the access and attributes necessary for the 20-acre development containing the 100,000 square foot “shell building” expandable up to 250,000 square feet, a new access road, and four smaller tracts to the north of that new road for smaller-scale development.
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3. Why can’t the slave cabin and kitchen be left where they are on a small parcel within the business park?
As the economy has recovered in the years since the recession, the competition for industrial prospects has become fierce. There are hundreds of initial competitors nation-wide for a single prospect and prospects are actively looking for reasons to eliminate sites from consideration. The experience of repeated showings of Greenfield to industrial prospects in the past has demonstrated an aversion on the prospect’s part to have the historical buildings in close proximity. This is the case for a variety of reasons, including liability, expectation of concerns and complaints of visitors to the historic sites from the impact of surrounding industrial development, limitations to future development of the property, security of their facilities, etc. Unlike less intensive office or commercial uses, more intensive manufacturing planned for Greenfield is, inherently, incompatible with public uses in such close proximity. All other existing passive recreation uses in Greenfield remain far enough away from any planned development as to not warrant similar concern.
4. Will moving the slave cabin and kitchen destroy their historical significance?
By virtue of their very existence, the slave cabin and kitchen maintain much historical significance. From a strict historical perspective, relocating the slave cabin and kitchen could diminish their significance. The Board of Supervisors’ task, however, is to balance a variety of competing perspectives. The Board wants to showcase these buildings for visitors and for future generations while also upholding its commitment to the taxpayers to be good stewards of Greenfield. By relocating the structures, the Board will ensure three things: the fewest number of historical resources will be disturbed for the development of the park, the structures will be more accessible to the public, and the ongoing preservation and maintenance of all historical structures will be more efficient. After moving, the slave cabin and kitchen will be structurally the same; their physical features will be preserved; and, they will remain historically significant. The County is utilizing appropriate expertise and resources in this effort, including the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. The structures’ location changes by approximately one-half mile, but they will still be on land that was part of the original Preston property. Moreover, the collective tourism potential of Greenfield should be enhanced, not diminished.
5. Won’t moving the slave cabin and kitchen endanger the potential to establish Botetourt County as part of the Lewis and Clark Eastern Legacy Trail?
It is true that the original Greenfield Plantation and Preston home site may have played an indirect part in the Lewis and Clark expedition. It is believed that William Clark and perhaps Meriwether Lewis visited the Preston property and manor house during their visits to Fincastle; however, the Preston house was destroyed by fire over a half century ago. The existing slave cabin and kitchen were built over 30 years after the Lewis and Clark expedition and have no direct affiliation to the expedition. The inclusion of Botetourt County as a part of an Eastern Legacy Trail will succeed or fail on the significance of Fincastle and William Clark’s repeated visits to the Town.
6. Many people are opposed to moving the slave cabin and kitchen and to the development of what was the Colonel William Preston home site. Why is the Board of Supervisors not listening to their concerns?
The Board of Supervisors fully understands and acknowledges the historical value of Greenfield. Furthermore, there has been considerable and vocal opposition from a variety of groups and individuals interested in keeping the former Preston home site in its current state. Greenfield, however, is a County asset belonging indirectly to over 33,000 residents and taxpayers. When Greenfield was purchased with the approval of the County voters, the express intent for the land was a business park. The Board of Supervisors, with this and every action, is charged with balancing that original intent with the interests of all citizens and groups. One way that this balance was sought was with the creation of a protected 28-acre public historical preservation park at the entrance to Greenfield. That land already contains the majority of the existing historical resources at Greenfield and will be enhanced by the placement of the slave cabin and kitchen.
7. If the County proceeds with moving the slave cabin and kitchen and developing the business park, don’t you think it will hurt the County’s relations with its citizens and their future support?
The Board of Supervisors fully understands the difficulty of the issue at hand and regrets the harshness of some of the rhetoric that has occurred with this project. However, the Board hopes and believes that the decision will be accepted. Over time, as the County follows through on restoration efforts and the development of the 28-acre historical preservation area, the goal is for those currently in opposition to the project will support moving forward together. The Board intends to appoint a committee to evaluate the opportunities for the 28-acre site and provide long-term recommendations to the County. The Board sees this as an opportunity for a renewed and broad community partnership.
8. The County is going to spend over $300,000 to relocate and stabilize the slave cabin and kitchen. Isn’t this a waste of taxpayer dollars when the slave cabin and kitchen could be left where they are?
The Board of Supervisors is committed to being a good steward of taxpayer money and balancing the varying interests of all citizens. The slave cabin and kitchen need to be stabilized to prevent further deterioration regardless of their location. Also, to leave them where they are essentially eliminates the meaningful use of a prime portion of the business park. Moving the structures to the preservation area allows them to be preserved in a similar context while also preserving the prime development land. Furthermore, regarding the land where the slave cabin and kitchen currently sit, the County could realize millions of dollars in revenue from the sustained development of the site. This could be realized from the following example. The land has a current value of well over $1,000,000, and when the shell building is built, that value increases by another $3,000,000. If the County’s plan works and a manufacturer acquires the building and expands it to the planned 250,000 square feet of finished space, the building will have a tax base value of over $15,000,000. Conservatively, assuming manufacturing machinery investments of double that value, or $30,000,000, the tax base value would be over $45,000,000 and create hundreds of jobs. This does not account for the value and jobs that may come with development of the four smaller tracts or of the pad-ready site.
9. Is it true that the County will lose $450,000 if the slave cabin and kitchen are not moved?
The County has a liability to the Virginia Department of Transportation for $450,000 for the construction of International Parkway. The State, though, will forgive that liability if the County is able to attract adequate private investment onto the section of International Parkway adjacent to the slave cabin and kitchen. The value of the proposed shell building itself satisfies about two-thirds of the obligation.
10. Can Botetourt County afford to fund construction of a speculative shell building?
Currently, the County does not have the financial flexibility to pay for the construction of the shell building; however, in the Board of Supervisors’ pursuit to improve economic development opportunities and be good stewards of taxpayer money, the not-for-profit Greater Roanoke Valley Development Foundation has agreed to fund the shell building project. This partnership is designed to help the County facilitate economic development and job growth for the region. The estimated $3,000,000 building will be owned and financed by the Foundation. The County is conveying the land, which was purchased from the proceeds of a general obligation bond in the 1990s, and providing for some site improvements. The Foundation will get its financial investment back when the building is sold for full development.
11. The County already owns a “pad-ready” site at Greenfield. Why can’t the shell building be located on the “pad-ready” site and leave the slave cabin and kitchen in place?
It would be possible to make that decision, but it would be imprudent. The pad-ready site is a significant economic development attraction tool, recently being accepted into a national site certification and marketing program. To place the shell building on the pad-ready site would eliminate a significant development attraction site at Greenfield. The pad-ready site, thanks to superior marketing efforts, is under active consideration by one or more manufacturers. The diversion of the pad-ready site as a replacement location for the shell building would eliminate its consideration as an available site for those active prospects, based on their specific needs.
12. The County has been threatened with public protest over the plan to relocate the slave cabin and kitchen. Will that affect the County’s plans?
The Board of Supervisors welcomes public debate and the free expression of opinion; however, the Board has a duty to manage the County’s assets prudently and in the interest of all its citizens. The Board will do that in an appropriate way and utilize its legal standing to ensure the completion of what it believes is a balanced and well-reasoned plan for the further development of Greenfield and the preservation and promotion of its historical resources.
13. A lawsuit filed against the County claims the existence of slave cemetery in the area of the planned development. Does such a cemetery exist?
The records research and a comprehensive Phase 1 Archaeological Inventory of the entire property performed by professional archeologists and historians has not suggested nor identified the existence of such a cemetery. The County would welcome the opportunity to investigate any evidence of the cemetery.