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Planners, miffed, delay action on Mullins farm
Spotsylvania commissioners say they're upset by supervisors keeping them in dark on deal to preserve battlefield land.

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Date published: 8/19/2004

By GEORGE WHITEHURST

Tricord Inc. is negotiating to preserve a historic portion of Spotsylvania's Mullins farm while planning limited residential and commercial development on another part of the property, a county planning commissioner revealed last night.

Commissioner John Gustafson mentioned the Spotsylvania developer's name during the Planning Commission's discussion of a proposal to remove all of the land between State Route 3 and Spotswood Furnace Road--including the Mullins farm--from the county's primary growth zone.

During a recess in the commission's meeting, Gustafson told reporters he had discussed the ongoing negotiations with Tricord. Members of the Board of Supervisors had acknowledged the talks last week but declined to divulge the name of the developer, citing concerns about torpedoing a deal.

At the behest of Gustafson and commission Chairman Hugh Montgomery, the panel voted 5-1 last night to table the change in the Primary Settlement District boundary until the Board of Supervisors gives the panel more information about the negotiations.

"The public has a right to explore [the matter] fully," Gustafson said.

But Commissioner Robert Taylor Jr. argued the panel should vote on the matter and let the supervisors deal with the fallout. He expressed frustration that they didn't alert the Planning Commission to the Mullins talks.

"We know nothing. We're just pawns," he said. "I think we should vote, send it and let them decide."

Montgomery replied that the commissioners should table the matter and get all the details of the negotiations before they vote on adjusting the settlement district's boundary.

"There's no reason we have to vote [now]," Montgomery said. "We deserve to be as well-informed as the staff and the public."

Last week, The Free Lance-Star reported that county officials, developers, the Civil War Preservation Trust and Mullins are discussing the future of the land between Lick Run and Corter Avenue. It includes 179 acres zoned for rural residential development and 55 acres zoned for commercial use.

The tentative deal would preserve between 80 and 120 acres along Route 3--site of fierce fighting on the first day of the Civil War's Battle of Chancellorsville.

Tricord would develop a subdivision of age-restricted homes, a three-step continuing-care center and low-impact retail and office space.

John Mullins, who originally owned nearly 800 acres along Route 3, hinted at the deal last week while speaking before a joint public hearing of the supervisors and the Planning Commission.

If the supervisors remove the land between Route 3 and Spotswood Furnace Road from the settlement district, developers would have little chance of getting county water and sewer service.

But Board of Supervisors Chairman Bob Hagan said last week that the supervisors will have no reason to remove the land if a deal is reached to preserve part of the acreage Mullins still owns.

Mullins already has sold 555 acres west of Lick Run to Toll Brothers Inc., which is building 163 homes on that tract. Toll Brothers also has first rights on the 179 acres of residentially zoned property east of Lick Run, but hasn't yet exercised its option.

To reach GEORGE WHITEHURST: 540/374-5438 gwhitehurst@freelancestar.com