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Orange Planning Commission narrowly endorses Wilderness Wal-Mart proposal

ARCHIVE: The battle over the Wilderness Wal-Mart
Date published: 6/26/2009

RELATED:Orange builder offers Wal-Mart 75 acres west of battlefield


A split Orange County Planning Commission last night endorsed a Wal-Mart retail center proposed in the Wilderness battlefield area.

The 11-member advisory panel voted 5-4 to recommend that the Board of Supervisors approve a proposal by JDC Ventures of Vienna for the 51.6-acre commercial development. JDC must obtain a special-use permit for the center because of the size of Wal-Mart's proposed 138,000-square-foot store.

The tract, one-quarter mile from the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park, has been zoned for commercial use since the early 1970s. Last year Orange adopted a big-box ordinance requiring a special-use permit for stores of more than 60,000 square feet.

JDC's development plan, of which the Wal-Mart Supercenter constitutes about 60 percent, has generated national controversy over its impact to the park and the Wilderness battlefield where Gens. Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant's forces first clashed in May 1864.

The proposed retail site is outside the national park boundary but within the area defined for further study for possible historical significance.

A coalition of local and national groups has been battling the proposal since last summer. The issue, the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition has said, is not Wal-Mart, but its location near the park and the traffic and additional development it would spawn.

Commissioners Cory Hefner, William Speiden, David Kovarik, Donald Brooks and Will Likins, the panel's chairman, spoke in favor of JDC's proposal. Commissioner Elliott Fox Jr. could not attend the meeting but issued a statement supporting the project.

Likins said that though he doesn't like Wal-Mart per se, Orange County needs the tax revenue and jobs the store will provide.

At a commissioner's request, Wal-Mart presented an economic impact study last night asserting that its store and the associated retail stores on the site will generate $800,000 per year in tax revenue for Orange and 622 jobs once they're built and operating. Months earlier, Wal-Mart had told county officials the Supercenter alone would create $500,000 in annual tax revenue and 300 jobs.

Likins urged his colleagues not to let the emotions raised by preservationists carry the day.

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