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Orange groups back Wal-Mart
Orange Economic Development Authority backs Wal-Mart proposal, but planning officials still waiting on needed plans


Date published: 3/19/2009

BY ROBIN KNEPPER

Local support is building for a Wal-Mart Supercenter in the Wilderness area, but the company is lagging behind expectations from Orange County's Planning Department.

The county Economic Development Authority is the latest group to endorse the store. On Tuesday night, it unanimously passed a resolution that says Wal-Mart would provide "needed tax revenues for the county" and "convenient shopping opportunities" for residents who now must leave the county to buy certain goods.

Both the town and county have representatives on the authority.

Last month, the Orange County Chamber of Commerce passed a resolution supporting the retail giant's plans. The resolution notes that the "location is already commercially zoned" in a designated growth area, is "substantially removed" from the Wilderness battlefield by many other businesses and that a Supercenter would create jobs and bring in sales taxes now going to surrounding counties.

"It's no surprise that our board would support Wal-Mart," said Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Barbara Bannar. "There are 300 jobs and half-a-million dollars in tax revenue at stake."

But certain plans for the store have not been submitted to the county as required. These are essential to complete the special-use permit application and schedule presentations and public hearings before the county's Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors.

"I don't want there to be a perception that we're holding this up," said Director of Community Development David Grover. "We expected the final responses from Wal-Mart weeks ago.

"I think they're trying to make it all perfect before they submit it, but I don't think that's ever possible," he added.

What's missing at this point are: plans for a million-gallon water tank needed to meet fire-flow requirements; design guidelines for the parcels of land adjoining the Supercenter; a buffering plan; and a viewshed analysis.

The viewshed analysis is "very critical" Grover said, "because it's a big issue."

Opponents of the Wal-Mart proposal say that the store will be a blight on the landscape near the Wilderness battlefield.

The store is planned for a 19-acre site a quarter-mile from the intersection of State Routes 3 and 20. It would be part of a 50-acre parcel slated for other retail development.

Other commercial establishments--Sheetz, McDonald's, 7-Eleven, Wachovia bank, a used-car lot and two strip malls--already exist in the area surrounding the Civil War battlefield.

What is not known is if the store will be visible from Route 3 in Spotsylvania County as motorists approach Orange County from the east. The viewshed analysis is expected to answer that question.

Wal-Mart spokesman Keith Morris could not be reached for comment.

Robin Knepper: 540/972-5701
Email: rknepper@earthlink.net