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"Wilderness Wal-Mart" Near Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park Gets Go-Head From Virginia Officials


Planning officials in Virginia have given Wal-Mart permission to build a sprawling Supercenter near the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. Kurt Repanshek photo.

An effort to keep Wal-Mart from building a Supercenter on hallowed ground near Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park has failed, with Orange County, Virginia, officials saying, "(T)his was a private deal between a private landowner and private business."

The vote brought quick condemnation from both the Civil War Preservation Trust and the National Parks Conservation Association, with both groups pledging to continue to try to stop the project.

The long-running battled that pitted Civil War preservationists against a corporate giant ended early Tuesday when the county's Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to approve plans that call for a nearly 140,000-square-foot Supercenter with accompanying retail outlets on land that historically was part of the Wilderness Battlefield.

“I am deeply disappointed by today’s vote. The Orange County Board of Supervisors had an opportunity to protect the battlefield by embracing a reasonable compromise approach to the Wal-Mart superstore proposal. Instead, they ignored rational voices on the national, state and local level encouraging them to work with the preservation community and local landowners to find a more suitable alternative location," said the organization's president, James Lighthizer.

“Today’s vote is not just a setback for preservationists. Orange County residents are losers as well. If the county had embraced the preservation planning process first proposed by the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition in January, there would have been an opportunity to mitigate the transportation and development impacts of the proposal. Instead, the board voted to repeat the mistakes made by other localities, who are now struggling to address the problems created by similar piecemeal development and rampant sprawl.

“The ball is now in Wal-Mart’s court. Wal-Mart better understands the nationwide anger generated by its proposal to build on the doorstep of a National Park. It is in the corporation’s best interests to work with the preservation community to find an alternative site. After all, building a big box superstore on the Wilderness Battlefield would belie recent attempts to portray Wal-Mart as environmentally sensitive. We are optimistic that company officials will see the wisdom of moving elsewhere," continued Mr. Lighthizer.

"The Civil War Preservation Trust and the other member groups of the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition will now carefully weigh options for continued opposition of this misguided proposal. This battle is not over yet.”

At the NPCA's Virginia office, Catharine Gilliam said she was not surprised by the vote.

"This commercial development is improperly sited on land that is critical to understanding the National Park Service's interpretation of the Battle of the Wilderness for the American people. NPCA has actively participated and offered constructive suggestions to find alternatives that would protect the neighboring national park and allow a Walmart to be built on less sensitive land," she said. "It is not necessary to desecrate the land where a horrific battle took place less than 150 years ago in pursuit of profit and pavement.

"Although members of the Orange County Board of Supervisors announced repeatedly that they would vote to approve Walmart's application, even before the public process began, NPCA and our members, and other organizations in the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition, participated in the public process at every stage available," Ms. Gilliam added. "Despite last night's disappointing vote, we will continue to explore options to protect this important national park. This battle is not over yet. We continue to hold out hope that Walmart will do the right thing by relocating its business, and respect and protect Americas heritage and history."

Among those who urged Orange County to choose another location for the proposed Wal-Mart were U.S. Senator Jim Webb (D-Va.); Virginia Governor Tim Kaine (D) and House of Delegates Speaker Bill Howell (R); actors Robert Duvall, Richard Dreyfuss and Ben Stein; and more than 250 historians, including Pulitzer prize-winning authors David McCullough and James McPherson and acclaimed documentarian Ken Burns.

According to the National Park Service, the Battle of the Wilderness was fought on May 5-6, 1864, with troops under both Union General Ulysses S. Grant and Confederate General Robert E. Lee engaged. "It was the beginning of the Overland Campaign, the bloodiest campaign in American history and the turning point in the war in the Eastern Theatre," notes the agency.


Too often it's all about business, LASMHHTLIM.


Ah, but what about good ole Kelo vs. New London , 2005?

Supreme Court upheld the forced sale of private property as emminent domain even if the resulting development was not for public use.

Why can local government seize private property to help the profitability of corporations, but not to preserve areas of concern to the public? If emminent domain can be streched to help housing developments, why can it not it be used help a battlefield where thousands of Americans died in our own country? I guess this is not a good enough "public puropose"

Hi Bat,

I'm not sure of the legal protocol--I think it depends on if what they find are human remains or just artifacts. If they found human remains, that would definitely put a temporary halt on the project until they could be studied and removed, but I don't think it would be a permanent stop. As for artifacts, I know of an instance near Harpers Ferry where a developer was digging a trench and dug up some artifacts--they were removed (and probably sold) but no archaeological study was done--they just kept right on digging.

WOW...someone else with some brains and thoughts.. I totally agree with you. Greed and power and patriotism is dead. No respect for this country and its past and heritage. Shame on you Virginia for letting something like this surface much less be approved.

Wow, this is a good debate! [On another board, I would be clicking the popcorn-eating smilie icon at this point].
Well spoken on all sides, but I stick to my opinions posted earlier.

I certainly sympathize with not wanting to lose historic areas, but my question is, if it was part of the battlefield, why was this property never made a part of the park site? If so many people didn't want it developed, why not band together and purchase the site from the owner and donate it to the park? It seems very easy to villanize Wal-Mart and say "how dare they develop here" when in fact, they have just as much right to build as anyone else. I read an earlier article on this on a news website, and it mentioned that many in the county spoke in front of the officials in favor of the Wal-Mart.

"So, if your neighbor sells his land next door and the new owner is going to build a sewage treatment plant, that is OK? Its a private deal after all!"

You bet it's ok if the buyer is the government (as many sewage treatment plants are government utility monopolies) and forced your neighbor to sell his land using eminent domain.

Don't forget, People, the government claims a monopoly of the use of violence. Your possessions, your land, your life are property of the State and can be taken--through violent force--at anytime to serve to the State's whims.

How appropriate this topic is related to the "Civil" War, just one example of the State's claim on its citizens' lives.

From my understanding of Wal-Mart's business practices, they will often scoop up land before they have any assurance that they can build on the site. That's usually contingent on a good price.

This was the store site I was talking about, in Hercules, California. The city had originally setup up this shopping area for a 64,000 square foot building, but Wal-Mart's initial plans were for a 143,000 square foot store. The city even tried using eminent domain to buy the land back for $16.6M, but apparently that got overturned by a judge; it was something about the city not demonstrating that it could achieve higher tax revenues which is key to a city being able to enforce eminent domain. As of now I don't think ground has broken. I haven't really heard anything recently other than it being stuck in court.

They're fighting really hard with this one. Even though here's a case where the city and the local population have made it clear they don't want it, I think they're spending all this money on legal fees simply because they don't want to be told they can't build it.

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