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Walmart case set for trial midweek
Wilderness Walmart trial scheduled to start Wednesday


Date published: 1/24/2011

BY ROBIN KNEPPER

A lawsuit challenging Orange County's approval of a Walmart Supercenter in the Wilderness battlefield area is scheduled to go to trial this week.

Circuit Judge Daniel R. Bouton will hear arguments on motions filed by both the plaintiffs and the defendants tomorrow, and opening arguments are set to begin Wednesday. He has set aside eight days for the bench trial.

Friends of Wilderness Battlefield and six local residents are suing the county Board of Supervisors over the board's approval of a special-use permit for a 138,000-square-foot Supercenter on a 51-acre commercially zoned parcel a quarter-mile from the intersection of State Routes 3 and 20 near the Wilderness battlefield. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and the owners and developer of the property also are defendants.

The plaintiffs allege that the supervisors failed to comply with the county's comprehensive plan, that the county's zoning ordinance doesn't follow state law on protecting historic sites, and that there were procedural defects in the Planning Commission's votes on the permit.

The county contends that all legal requirements were met.

The Wilderness battlefield is part of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, but the area where the proposed Walmart is planned is not within the park boundaries.

The defendants say the issue is a local land-use matter, but it has gained national attention through the efforts of historic-preservation groups. They say the store and the traffic it will bring will detract from the site where armies led by Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee first clashed almost 150 years ago.

Critics of the supervisors' actions have urged Walmart to find a location farther from the park, but company officials say no other property met its criteria for location, size or accessibility.

Supervisors who approved the permit on a 4-1 vote in September 2009 say the giant retailer will bring jobs and tax revenue to the county. They note that the intersection of Routes 3 and 20 already has two gas station-convenience stores, a fast-food restaurant and several other businesses.

They also point out that the land selected by Walmart has been zoned commercial for almost four decades, and could be developed for smaller businesses without any oversight or conditions from the county. The special-use permit for a big-box retailer let the county impose conditions for roads, landscaping, design and location.

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