The Virginia Department of Transportation is considering realigning a section of the Western Bypass of U.S. 29 slightly to the north to avoid directly affecting a historic black cemetery and home site. The mile-long proposed path is 200 to 300 feet wide and would lead to the demolishment of six homes on Ivy Ridge and Lambs roads.
“In our efforts to avoid and minimize harm to the Sammons property, we are studying alignment shifts,” wrote Helen Ross, a VDOT preservation manager, in a Nov. 6, 2013 letter to the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.
Final design and construction of the 6.2-mile, $244.5 million highway cannot begin until VDOT has completed an environmental review as required by federal law.
The agency submitted a draft version of an environmental assessment to the Federal Highway Administration in August 2012, but the process has been delayed while the historical significance of the Sammons site has been debated and potential impacts identified.
Jesse Scott Sammons was an influential black educator in Albemarle County whose gravesite and former home off Lambs Road has been deemed eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.
Earlier this year, a historical research firm hired by VDOT said the significance of the Sammons site did not merit protection. However, Carol D. Shull, interim keeper of the National Register of Historic Places, determined in August that the site met two criteria for inclusion. Eligibility is enough to merit additional protection.
VDOT has met with descendants of Sammons and other interested parties under provisions in Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. The goal of these meetings was to resolve how to limit the “adverse effect” the bypass would have on the site.
According to the American Council on Historic Preservation, the Section 106 process usually results in a legally binding document that describes how to mitigate any of those effects.
“We are seriously studying a range of alternatives that either completely avoid the Sammons Farmstead Historic property or minimize use of the historic property should complete avoidance be determined to be neither feasible or prudent,” wrote Anthony Opperman, VDOT’s cultural project manager, in a Nov. 21 email to one of the consulting parties.
“This alternative will be part of the environmental assessment … for the project,” he said. “VDOT prepared the document using the services of one of the design consultants.”
VDOT hired the firm Cultural Resources Inc. to conduct both an architectural and archaeological review of the area to determine if any of the properties also are eligible for inclusion on the National Register.
“Avoidance alternative No. 1” is located in a residential area north of the former Sammons property and outside the current bypass alignment and the right-of-way VDOT purchased in 1998.
“They’ll have to pay us a ton of money,” said one of the homeowners in the alternative’s path who did not want to be identified.
When VDOT acquires property for road projects, it is required to determine fair market value through an assessment process.
The final meeting in this Section 106 process is scheduled for Tuesday in Charlottesville.