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Council raises roof for slave ship
U.S. National Slavery Museum gets approval for full-scale slave ship replica

Date published: 8/10/2005

By PAMELA GOULD

The U.S. National Slavery Museum can build the full-scale replica slave ship it plans as the centerpiece for its facility overlooking the Rappahannock River.

The Fredericksburg City Council last night unanimously approved the museum's request to exceed the 90-foot height limit allowed where Richmond Mayor L. Douglas Wilder plans to build the museum.

The motion to approve the request was made by Councilman Hashmel Turner and seconded by council members Matt Kelly and Kerry Devine.

The vote followed, without comment from any council members.

Afterward, museum Executive Director Vonita W. Foster, one of three museum representatives attending last night's council meeting, said she did not wish to comment.

Wilder, a grandson of slaves and the nation's first black governor, is the museum's founder.

The museum is to be built on 38 acres donated by the Silver Cos. within its Celebrate Virginia South tourism complex, just west of Interstate 95.

Zoning for Celebrate Virginia South and the adjoining Central Park retail complex limits building heights to 90 feet.

The replica slave ship, the Dos Amigos, would stand 118 feet tall, according to documents Foster filed with the city.

The peak height of the museum as designed by architect Chien Chung Pei of Pei Partnership Architects of New York is 150 feet, 3 inches. In its special-use permit request, the museum sought a variance of about 29 feet because of the way height is calculated for city planning purposes.

City staff recommended approving the permit.

The council's approval includes several stipulations, three of which were part of the Planning Commission's recommendation when it voted in June.

The commission recommended setting the height at 118 feet, 6 inches, as requested; requiring the museum to adhere to the plans outlined in the permit application; and that lighting of the upper portion of the atrium be a "subtle flow of light" as described by a member of the architectural team.

In addition, the council stipulated that the permit "does not generally or broadly authorize any other museum" on the site--a concern of some commissioners as well. The approval also requires construction to begin before Aug. 1, 2008.

Last month, Foster sent City Manager Phillip Rodenberg a letter stating that work on the foundation should begin this year if the city permit process goes smoothly. Wilder, in a news conference July 29, said he hopes to have the museum finished in October 2007.

The museum is to stretch over 250,000 square feet, include 100,000 square feet of exhibit space, and feature a glass atrium through which the ship would be visible.

At a public hearing two weeks ago, eight of 11 people who spoke voiced support for approving the special-use permit.

To reach PAMELA GOULD: 540/735-1972pgould@freelancestar.com