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Balancing the past and future in Wilderness

October 7, 2011 12:15 am


Tree-lined Vaucluse Road in eastern Orange County is part of the Wilderness Gateway Visioning Study, which suggests a mix of village-style development and parkland. lo1006wildernessram1.jpg

The gateway study by the Wilderness Coalition examines possible land uses on the north side of State Route 3 near its intersection with State Route 20 in Orange County.



A new vision is emerging for future development of land north of State Route 3 and the Wilderness battlefield in Orange County in the wake of Walmart's withdrawal of its Supercenter plan there.

Orange residents received their first look at what might happen there during an open house Monday night.

The concept plan developed and presented by Hill Studio, a consulting team hired by the Wilderness Coalition earlier this year, suggests that the 3,300 acres of privately owned real estate become a regional park interspersed with villages or hamlets.

Some 1,000 housing units would be built within the first 20 years, as would small specialized retail and recreational opportunities using the parkland and the Rapidan River.

Titled the Wilderness Gateway Visioning Study, its purpose is to suggest arrangements that balance development and conservation with historic preservation and tourism.

The study was presented as a draft, and the public is asked to comment on it. The full report may be found online at wildernessgateway .org

The Wilderness Coalition is composed of the Civil War Trust, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the National Park Service, the National Parks Conservation Association, the Piedmont Environmental Council and the Friends of the Wilderness Battlefield. The groups have reportedly paid $100,000 for the six-month study.

The coalition was originally established to fund a study of the area around the Wilderness intersection of State Routes 3 and 20 when Walmart wanted to build a Supercenter nearby. It offered the study to Orange County officials on the condition that they not approve any development in the area until the study was complete.

A majority of the supervisors decided the preservationists were trying to derail the Walmart project, and the study was turned down.

Members of the coalition eventually sued the county after it approved the Walmart, but the lawsuit ended when Walmart withdrew its plans and selected a site farther west on State Route 3, four miles from the battlefield.

About 50 people attended the open house at the new Locust Grove school on Flat Run Road and heard presentations from consultants on cultural resources, transportation, economic development, conservation and recreation in a mixed-use structure.

Lee Frame, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, said most people had questions and comments about transportation.

"I think people were interested," he said, "but they were waiting to digest what they'd heard."

Zann Nelson, president of the Friends of the Wilderness Battlefield, agreed.

"There was a tremendous amount of information to absorb in one sitting," she said. "There were some positive questions and some concerns."

Suzanne Brady, who is challenging Frame for the District 5 seat on the Board of Supervisors, noted that the Route 3 corridor was "zoned and poised for growth."

Brady said that when the consultants were asked who owned the land they were planning for, "they wouldn't or couldn't say. The questions weren't hostile, but skeptical."

The consultants didn't have much regard for local history either, according to Orange County historian Frank Walker.

"The Wilderness Coalition and Hill Studio are going to be the latest recipients of the 'I'm From Out of Town and This Is Your History' award," he said.

He was particularly irked by what he calls "drag-and-drop history." He defines this as including things in a study that didn't happen in the defined study area.

"The Rapidan River and Fort Germanna are not in the study area," he noted, "but even more importantly, the new Walmart isn't in the study area."

The development suggested by the study is in the area bounded by State Route 3 where it intersects State Route 20, north to the Wilderness Shores subdivision, then east and south along the Rapidan River and Wilderness Run at the Spotsylvania County line.

According to Glenn Stach, project manager for Hill Studio, the consultants will study the comments from the public and present a finished product in four to six weeks.

Robin Knepper: 540/972-5701

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