Walmart foes get reinforcements
Area residents, National Trust for Historic Preservation receive support from Park Service director, two nationwide groups in lawsuit against Orange County's planned Wilderness Walmart
Date published: 1/28/2010
By CLINT SCHEMMER
This week brings a double-barreled development in the legal battle over a Walmart in the Wilderness battlefield area.
Two other U.S. groups seek to join the National Trust for Historic Preservation and six local residents in their fight to overturn Orange County's approval of a 240,000-square-foot retail development anchored by a Supercenter.
On top of that, the director of the National Park Service has weighed in, expressing that agency's support for the litigation and dismay at the Aug. 25 decision by the county supervisors.
The Park Service "is deeply concerned about the development at issue, and the NPS does not believe the County has taken actions necessary to address our concerns," NPS Director Jonathan B. Jarvis wrote the National Parks Conservation Association and the Civil War Preservation Trust.
It's unusual, but not unheard of, for a Park Service director to involve himself in such a land-use or legal issue, David Barna, NPS chief of public affairs, said yesterday. This is the first time that Jarvis, who became director in October, has done so, he said.
Yesterday, the NPCA and the CWPT asked Orange County Circuit Court for permission to file a friend of the court brief supporting the National Trust's pending lawsuit.
Orange County has asked the judge to dismiss the NTHP challenge, which aims to block construction of the retail center near the intersection of State Routes 3 and 20, a quarter-mile from the entrance to Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.
The project, Jarvis said, would directly harm the Wilderness battlefield. "Although there is some commercial development in this area already, this complex would be many times larger and transform the character of the landscape," he wrote. "Hills would be leveled and roads widened to that the Piedmont landscape would be unrecognizable."
The development would impair the park gateway's "historic rural character" and tremendously increase traffic, heightening pressure to widen Route 20--the historic Orange Turnpike--to four lanes through the park, Jarvis wrote. Route 3 would be widened as well, he said.
National Park Service spokesman David Barna: "This is our director backing up the park superintendent, and showing he feels this issue is that important. This is a local issue that has national implications for preserving the parks, viewsheds and visitors' experiences."
Orange County Attorney Sharon E. Pandak declined to comment on the nonprofit groups' friends of the court brief or Jarvis' letter. She said she will a file the county's response to the legal brief today.
James Lighthizer, president of the Civil War Preservation Trust: "We are pleased to have the support of National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis in this fight. No one has articulated better than he did in his letter the historic significance of the Wilderness and the threats that confront the battlefield."
By 2016, the project would generate 10,667 new vehicle trips on an average Saturday, with 20 percent of them along Route 20 through the park, he wrote. "In a single peak Saturday hour, there will be more than 1,000 new trips" from the retail center, not counting traffic from spinoff development likely to occur, Jarvis wrote.
The development would degrade park visitors' experiences at several sites--including historic Ellwood Manor, the Wilderness exhibit shelter and the historic crossroads where Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant turned his army south toward Richmond, setting the war's future course, the director said.
Traffic would increase noise, pollution and safety issues on Route 20--and "compromise efforts to interpret the role of the road in the battle," Jarvis wrote.
He noted that Ellwood--an early 19th-century house within a mile of the Walmart site--is being restored by the Park Service.
At the nearby crossroads, the Union army set up artillery, tents, hospitals, headquarters and supply and ammunition depots. Jarvis said the agency hopes to restore that crossroads area to the way it appeared in May 1864, when it was one of the few bits of open farmland in the tangled woods of the Wilderness.
"The Walmart complex would foreclose that option," he wrote. "Even if no landscape restoration is done, the lights from the complex would be visible at Ellwood at night."
The project would be built within a few hundred feet of Union earthworks the federal government owns, and within two-tenths of a mile of the park itself, which abuts the Route 3-Route 20 intersection, Jarvis noted.
In closing, Jarvis expressed hope that the CWPT and NPCA will "succeed in raising these important historic issues in your litigation."
His letter is addressed to Trust President James Lighthizer and NPCA President Tom Kiernan.
In their amicus curiae motion, the 213,000-member NPCA and 55,000-member CWPT urge the court to reject Orange's plea and "to preserve the Wilderness Battlefield for future generations."
Virginia attorney Scott D. Helsel, who is with the Reston law firm of Walton & Adams, filed the brief.
The Circuit Court is scheduled to hear the case next Wednesday.