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Store appears a go in Orange THE COALITION

January 12, 2009 12:35 am




It can only be called unintended consequences.

Reacting strongly, and negatively, to pressure from groups of historians and preservationists, a majority of Orange County supervisors have thrown their support behind a Wal-Mart supercenter in the northeastern corner of the county.

At a weekend retreat supervisors Mark Johnson, Zack Burkett and Teel Goodwin declared their backing for the 138,000-square-foot store planned for a 19.5-acre site a quarter mile north of State Route 3.

Newly elected Board Chairman Lee Frame said he was undecided and his constituents were divided 50-50. Supervisor Teri Pace steadfastly opposed Wal-Mart's building at that location.

The supervisors were reacting to a five-page memo sent to Frame and Pace on Friday from Katharine Gilliam, Virginia Programs manager for the National Parks Conservation Association. She forwarded a proposal from the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition, a group of eight organizations opposed to Wal-Mart's building in the vicinity of the Wilderness Battlefield.

The group offered to pay for a "Gateway Vision Planning Process" to "protect the character and integrity of the national park."

(The Wilderness Battlefield, part of the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, is on the opposite side of State Route 3 from the proposed Wal-Mart and is already home to a Sheetz, McDonald's, used-car lot and strip mall.)

"This is nothing but a cheap ploy to slow down Wal-Mart," said Burkett, "and we need the jobs and the tax revenue."

"I vigorously oppose this," said Johnson. "It's just a delaying tactic."

Pace objected, saying that her fellow supervisors were "throwing away an incredible opportunity for the county."

Burkett replied, "If we give our blessing to this, it's guaranteed they'll use it against us."

"I don't want to give that group any standing," added Johnson. "They've got a specific agenda they're pushing."

When Supervisor Teel Goodwin was asked whether he supported the coalition's offer, he quickly replied, "Hell, no."

It's not only Wal-Mart that's under fire from preservationists and Civil War buffs. The coalition has declared the agriculturally zoned land located in a 1,000-acre area designated by the county for economic development to be too close to the Wilderness Battlefield.

A condition of its offer was that the county not act on any development proposals in the study area (the Route 3 corridor between Wilderness Run and Vaucluse Road and east to the Rapidan River) until the study was completed.

Charles "Chip" King, whose family owns 2,000 acres on the north side of Route 3 and has planned Wilderness Crossing, a 900-acre mixed-use development there, has been meeting with preservation groups and the representatives from the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park to develop an alternative route from Route 20 to Route 3.

King has hoped to have Wal-Mart locate in the Wilderness Crossing development to shield it from view from Route 3 and to expedite traffic into the larger development area.

Although traffic from routes 3 and 20 into the Wal-Mart site (between the existing Wachovia Bank and 7-Eleven) would further degrade that intersection, Wal-Mart officials have not been part of the discussions between King and the coalition. Sources say that Wal-Mart officials have recently been contacted, however, and have agreed to discuss the situation with King, Orange County officials and members of the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition and the National Park Service.

The present intersection is failing, according to officials of the Virginia Department of Transportation, who have to approve a traffic-impact analysis from Wal-Mart before the county can grant a special-use permit for the store.

According to County Administrator Bill Rolfe, Wal-Mart's application for a special-use permit (required for retail construction larger than 60,000 square feet) will be subject to administrative review this month.

A public hearing on Wal-Mart's application will be held before the county Planning Commission in March. A public hearing before the Board of Supervisors is expected in April or May.

Robin Knepper: 540/972-5701

The members of the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition are: Central Virginia Battlefields Trust; Civil War Preservation Trust; Friends of Fredericksburg Area Battlefields; Friends of Wilderness Battlefield; National Coalition for History; National Parks Conservation Association; National Trust for Historic Preservation; and the Piedmont Environmental Council.

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