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The Danville Industrial Development Authority (IDA) conducted a public hearing on Wednesday as part of its effort to relocate a burial ground at an industrial park it is developing on Gypsum Road.
If the Virginia Department of Historic Resources allows the relocation, the IDA would create a memorial park at a more accessible area of the industrial site, and then move the burial ground there.
Six citizens spoke at the hearing. Each opposed the relocation of the burial ground. Their comments — along with written comments received at the hearing and during a 30-day comment period leading up to the hearing — will be sent to the state office.
The state office must issue a permit as part of the process for relocating the burial ground.
The IDA believes the industrial park will play an important part in the community’s economic transformation. The site is one of the few large tracts of land remaining within the city limits that meet the criteria needed to be an industrial park. The acreage is zoned for industrial development, served by utilities, and located adjacent to existing industries and the city’s industrial wastewater treatment facility.
The city’s current industrial parks have few graded pads remaining, and it is anticipated that those pads will be occupied in the near future.
The 165-acre site on Gypsum Road was once part of a plantation owned by Thomas Fearn, one of the trustees when Danville was formed as a town in 1793. What remains on the site are foundations of five buildings, including what is believed to be the main house, and the burial ground, which is believed to be a slave cemetery.
The IDA plans to use bricks and stones salvaged from the house site to construct memorial park elements. Parking and pedestrian access off Masonite Drive will be provided to the memorial park. Signage will inform visitors about the history of the home site and those who lived there, including the slaves owned by the Fearns and subsequent residents before the Civil War.
Opponents to the relocation of the burial grounds say the layout of the industrial park can easily be modified to preserve the Fearn house site and burial ground. Opponents believe the ruins and the burial grounds are historically important and should remain untouched.
The IDA maintains that topographical and wetland constraints do not allow alternative building site locations. Only 73 acres of the 165-acre site are suitable for development. To preserve the house site and burial ground in place would require elimination of up to 500,000 square feet of industrial building capacity from the industrial park.
The Virginia Department of Historic Resources has ruled that the ruins and burial ground do not meet the criteria for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
The IDA has received wetlands disturbance permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to develop the first phase of the industrial park, which is the area that includes the ruins.