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Omitted ad forces Orange to postpone Wal-Mart hearing
Orange cancels public hearing on proposed Wilderness Wal-Mart


Date published: 7/28/2009

BY ROBIN KNEPPER

Barely four hours before the public was to be heard yesterday on a proposal to build a Wal-Mart in the Wilderness battlefield area, Orange County officials canceled the hearing because of a technicality.

Wal-Mart personnel found that one of two legally required notices advertising a May 21 public hearing before the county Planning Commission had not been published by the local weekly newspaper. County officials were notified of the problem yesterday morning and decided to cancel last night's hearing "out of an abundance of caution," acting County Administrator Julie Jordan said.

"We regret the inconvenience to everyone," she said, "but the proper publication requirements were not met."

County Attorney Sharon Pandak said the legally required advertisements had to be published once a week in the two weeks before the hearing. She said the Orange County Review ran the first ad, but not the second.

Nancy Embree, advertising manager for the 78-year-old weekly paper, apologized for the error.

"It's embarrassing that a mistake like this occurred on such a high-profile public hearing as the Wal-Mart special-use permit. We apologize to the Orange County administration, Wal-Mart and the community," she said.

Keith Morris, Wal-Mart's director of public affairs, said the delay wouldn't change the retailer's plans.

"Whenever the next round of hearings is scheduled, we'll go forward," he said. "In every instance we want to be sure we have full public participation and follow all legal procedures."

Wal-Mart has proposed building its 138,000 square-foot Supercenter on a 51.6-acre tract a quarter-mile from the intersection of State Routes 3 and 20 and the Fredericksburg-Spotsylvania National Military Park.

Historic-preservation organizations have mounted a national campaign against the plan, saying the store and the traffic it would bring would desecrate the Civil War battlefield.

Those who support the Wal-Mart proposal cite the jobs and tax revenue it promises. Company officials have said the store will generate 622 jobs and $800,000 a year in revenue once it is in operation.

Orange County supervisors will discuss the situation at its regularly scheduled meeting tonight, Pandak said. The Planning Commission has called a special meeting Thursday to discuss the Wal-Mart situation.

"It's in our interest to try to remedy this as quickly as possible," Pandak said.

The Planning Commission, which voted 5-4 June 25 to recommend that supervisors approve the permit, could start again from scratch. They could advertise and hold another public hearing, then vote again on a recommendation.

Or, Pandak said, the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors could advertise and hold a joint public hearing on the proposal.

"It hasn't been the tradition in Orange County to hold joint public hearings," Pandak said, "but they can if they want to."

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