VOF’s first easement in Norfolk protects a cultural and natural gem

For more than 75 years, the Hermitage Foundation has been cultivating art in the City of Norfolk through its collections, exhibitions, and classes. With its museum, studio, gardens, trails, public playground, and acres of undeveloped green space surrounded on three sides by the Lafayette River, the foundation has provided an opportunity for thousands of families to not only fulfill the educational mission of its founders, William and Florence Sloane, but also to connect with nature in one of Virginia’s most developed regions.

Thanks to a partnership with the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, that opportunity is now preserved for generations to come.

After three years of hard work between staff and trustees at both foundations, a permanent VOF conservation easement was recorded on June 11. The announcement was made at a concert on the property’s waterfront with hundreds of families, supporters, and local officials in attendance. The project adds to Governor Terry McAuliffe’s goal of protecting at least 1,000 cultural and natural Virginia treasures before the end of his term.

The donated easement is VOF’s first in the City of Norfolk, raising the number of localities in which VOF protects open space to 107 (the Commonwealth has a total of 133 counties and independent cities). Among other things, the easement prohibits future division of the property and limits new building and structures that could destroy the property’s scenic waterfront, sacrifice its delicate riparian boundary or compromise its important habitat for wildlife, birds, and native plants. It also requires that most of the property be open to the public for recreational, educational, or cultural activities for at least 100 days each year-reflecting the Hermitage’s commitment to managing the property as an invaluable community asset, natural resource, and open green space for the city of Norfolk, the people of Hampton Roads and all citizens of Virginia.

Consideration of an easement was suggested by Emeritus Board member, John Meek, and initiated by the Hermitage’s Strategic Planning Committee in early 2012, as one option to secure the future of its unique urban waterfront while adhering to its mission and vision for the future. The Long Range and Master Site Plans identified many benefits of protecting the property with a conservation easement. A dedicated team of board members led by Pam Combs, Chairman of the Strategic Planning Committee and members Alex Erving and Steven Blashfield, along with the Hermitage staff and Stokes Environmental Associates guided the nearly three-year application process.

Past President Bob Garris stated when the Board voted to pursue the easement in the summer of 2014, “We are thrilled that the property founded and developed by the Sloane family more than 75 years ago will be preserved and protected for future generations to enjoy and experience.”

In addition to the benefit of protecting the property from over-development in perpetuity, the easement may result in financial benefits for the Hermitage from the sale of state land preservation tax credits. An application will be submitted to the Virginia Department of Taxation proposing credits be granted to the Hermitage Museum & Gardens in consideration of its gift of easement on its property. If the credits are approved, any funds realized from their sale would be used in fulfilling the mission and vision of the Hermitage.

Said Executive Director Brett Christina Glymph, “VOF is honored that the Hermitage asked us to be partners in the fulfillment of its mission, and we are proud that our first easement in Norfolk protects one of the region’s most vibrant natural and cultural treasures.”

To learn more about the Hermitage, including information about hours, exhibits, and classes, visit thehermitagemuseum.org.

Jason McGarvey is VOF's communications and outreach manager. He is based in the Richmond office.