Struggle Against Mega-development at Wilderness Battlefield Continues
A decade after one headline-grabbing threat was amicably resolved, preservationists are again fighting insensitive development in the Wilderness Battlefield’s gateway.
Although the Orange County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 in favor of this devastating rezoning proposal, we believe that decision was fundamentally flawed, with failures in both substance and procedure. As such, the Trust, joined by other regional nonprofits and private citizens has filed a legal challenge in Orange County Circuit Court. Read our official announcement here.
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A massive residential and commercial development – the largest in Orange County history – has been proposed at the gateway to the Wilderness Battlefield where it would impact adjacent core battlefield land and loom over the Congressionally authorized boundary of the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania Battlefields National Military Park. At stake is the rezoning of more than 2,600 acres that could result in: more than 5,000 residential units, 200,000 square feet of mixed-use commercial development, and 732 acres of data centers and distribution warehouses.
It isn’t just the battlefield that stands to suffer. If this mega-development is allowed to move forward, growth will come at the cost of current residents’ quality of life. Already congested roadways will be utterly overwhelmed by nearly 50,000 new vehicle trips along the area’s major arteries each day. Resident services will be stretched to the breaking point and beyond.
Once again, we ask local residents and preservationists advocates to take a stand against this massive development project near the Wilderness Battlefield. Please speak out today to demand the county adhere to its own guidance for development in this sensitive area.
Worse still, the current controversy is centered on a site we’ve fought for before. For several years, preservationists engaged in an advocacy campaign urging Walmart to relocate a proposed supercenter away from the gateway area. In 2013, that situation was fully resolved in win-win fashion when Walmart opened a store a short distance away and even donated the original 50-acre site to the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Instead of being satisfied with that result, the preservation community decided to be proactive. The Wilderness Gateway Study – a multi-year community discussion spearheaded by the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition and undertaken by the Hill Studio consulting firm – sought to establish a clear vision for the land surrounding Wilderness Battlefield, blending preservation and development as a gateway to the battlefield, associated landscape, and the community of Eastern Orange County.
In 2015, Orange County created its own Germanna Wilderness Area Plan that outlines need for a higher standard of design — centered around the community’s connectivity. Similarly, the Wilderness Battlefield Gateway Study — developed on behalf of the Trust and its partners — advocated for a model of development that would emphasize preservation of open space while allowing development to the Route 3/Route 20 intersection that would preserve the county’s rural lifestyle while minimizing damage to the battlefield.
Unfortunately, the current Wilderness Crossing proposal abandons the goals, philosophies and hard-won wisdom that underpin these documents.
In April 2012, after more than a year of public meetings and intense research, the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition announced the findings of its study of the Wilderness Battlefield gateway region. The objective of the study was to present potential, preservation-friendly development patterns and strategies that support heritage tourism while simultaneously providing services for residents, improving economic vitality in the Wilderness Region.
Throughout the course of a year, the team – full of landscape architects, planners, economists, transportation engineers, public and private stakeholders representatives – discussed land development and preservation issues in the area. Led by Virginia-based consulting firm Hill Studio, the team met with the entire group of stakeholders three times over the course of the project, and held two larger gatherings open to the general public. Additionally, the team also held a series of individual meetings with local leaders and members of the media to provide updates on the project’s progress.
The recommendations of Phase I were diverse and multi-faceted and included three scenario concepts that illustrated different combinations of the development patterns recommended in the report by Hill Studio.
In November 2012, Phase II of the Wilderness Battlefield gateway report was released. The report was a result of the continuous intensive discussions among participating stakeholders and provided a consensus-based Preferred Development Plan for the Wilderness Battlefield gateway area.
The Preferred Development Plan recommended a more specific, desired location for a traditional, mixed-use Wilderness Village, planned business campus, guideline commercial area for Route 3, supported public infrastructure, and a regional park along the Rapidan River. The collaborative work refined the three scenario concepts that were presented in Phase I of the study and established focused direction for managing development in the gateway area. The Plan integrated the cultural resource, economic and transportation analysis of the initial study and used a recommended “kit of parts” to promote desired conservation and development patterns. The vision outlined in the Phase II report represented an important milestone in advancing land planning for the gateway.
The collaborating parties intended the Preferred Development Plan to be a document-of-reference for the Orange County Comprehensive Plan, to encourage planned, compatible develop appropriate to the gateway’s historic setting. Elements of the Gateway Study were ultimately incorporated into the County’s Germanna Wilderness Area Plan.