Building on a dream

12/28/2023, 6 p.m.
Despite the nearly 1,000 signatures and letters of support Shiree Monterio obtained for a proposed Essex Point at Mt. Clement, ...

Despite the nearly 1,000 signatures and letters of support Shiree Monterio obtained for a proposed Essex Point at Mt. Clement, the Essex County Board of Supervisors denied her efforts to have her family’s land rezoned for a housing development property.

“We are disappointed, but we are not giving up,” Shiree Monterio, the owner of 7andM Development, told Richmond Free press reporter Debora Timms after the board’s Dec. 12 vote.

Ms. Monterio’s company, along with her mother, June C. Monterio, first brought the $80 million proposal to the Essex County Economic Development Authority in October 2022.

Essex Point at Mt. Clement was designed as a way to bring housing suitable for teachers, nurses and others who work in the community and 55+ active living for seniors to age in place with some resources and amenities around them. The need for affordable housing such as this was noted by those in support and those in opposition to the proposed development.

It is also a priority for Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who announced his Make Virginia Home Plan initiative last year. The governor called access to housing “not only a fundamental need, but also a strategic component for the prosperity of our state.”

Ms. Monterio reiterated during the meeting that the development, which also included retail, commercial and community spaces, would have contributed to the economic growth of the county by providing jobs, subcontracting opportunities and additional tax revenue.

North District Supervisor Sidney Johnson seemed to agree that the project was meeting an identified need when he moved to approve both the rezoning from B1 to PUD and the preliminary site plan with the proffers offered and the exceptions requested. It was the exceptions that were the sticking point for Central District Supervisor John C. Magruder. He spoke about his concern in granting an exception to the 15-acre minimum the zoning requires, as well ones that would allow for the development’s second access point to be an emergency access only and for its roads to be privately owned and maintained.

His motion to deny the application was passed by the board in a 2-1 vote as South District Supervisor Ronnie G. Gill had previously recused himself from the matter on legal advice because any decision could potentially lead to a direct or indirect benefit for his employer, Colonial Farm Credit.

Despite the setback, Ms. Monterio remains hopeful and committed.

“We are really confident and very proud of the work our team has done, and of the plan and the vision that was set forth,” she said. “We are working on the next steps going forward.”

When we hear of women such as Ms. Monterio, who face barriers as they seek to fulfill their dreams, we’re reminded of other Black women who have endured similar obstacles.

Maggie Walker, the daughter of a former slave, rose from her humble beginnings doing laundry to become the first Black woman to establish and lead a bank in the United States. As a community leader in Richmond and throughout Virginia in the early 1900s, her determination to create success for others led to her role as a principal leader in the Independent Order of St. Luke, a major African-American mutual aid social service organization. Hundreds of articles, texts and books detail Mrs. Walker’s story, although many people in this country still have never heard of her. Yet her words spoken to the Harlem Business Men’s Club circa 1931 bear repeating.

“We did not know much about banking, but we had confidence in ourselves, and we gradually overcame the many obstacles that faced us.”

Today there are many modern-day Maggie L. Walkers with Virginia connections, including Sheila Johnson, co-founder of BET, CEO of Salamander Hotels and Resorts, and the first billionaire African-American woman. Her accomplishments are numerous. If, like many, you’ve never heard of her, Google her.

In short, Ms. Johnson didn’t become a billionaire without struggle. If you read her new book “Walk Through Fire: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Triumph,” you will learn how, as a teenager, she had to support herself, her mom and brother when her father, a prominent neurosurgeon, walked out on the family.

Later, after marrying Robert “Bob” Johnson, building BET meant depending on her keen accounting, entrepreneurial and musical skills as a violinist.

After splitting with Mr. Johnson, Ms. Johnson overcame depression to become the first Black woman

to be an owner or partner in three professional sports franchises. And, in addition to Salamander Resort in Middleburg, Va., a town that did not care about her money or even want her there in the first place, her portfolio includes resorts in Florida, Charleston, S.C, Jamaica, the British West Indies and Washington, D.C.

“Don’t ever lose sight of who you are and your own power,” Ms. Johnson tells women everywhere.

We urge Ms. Monterio and her mother to continue pressing forward in their quest to build community housing on land that has been in their family for generations. If Maggie L. Walker could do what she did in the early 1900s, followed by Shelia Crump Johnson several strife-filled decades later, there is no limit to what women such as Ms. Monterio can achieve today.