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Dropping a hint
The Spotsylvania Board of Supervisors plays a little hardball to save more of the Chancellorsville battlefield

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Date published: 8/27/2004

So tell us--how does well and septic strike you, Mr. Mullins?

THE CIVIL WAR defined--one might say, definitively defined--the kind of country America would become: a strong federal union or a collection of autonomous states. The Noah Websters in this struggle wrote their conflicting ideas of nation in blood on battlefields such as Chancellorsville, where their sacrifices, and the republic those sacrifices wrought, deserve commemoration until the ending of the American story.

That presumably will take place sometime after 2004, which, alas, is when Spotsylvania businessman John Mullins intended to develop "by right" his 789 county acres, a tract including the scene of first-day fighting during the Battle of Chancellorsville. Spotsylvania County's Board of Supervisors, whose members believe that growth and intelligence are not mutually exclusive, now threatens to withhold county sewer and water services from the district that includes the Mullins land. This hardball seems to have put Mr. Mullins in a more conciliatory frame of mind.

Some may lament the use of raw government power to bring a private citizen to heel, but the Board's water-sewer gambit is rational. The county designated the area encompassing the Mullins Farm a Primary Settlement District (PSD), to which it is obliged to provide hookups, when building an Outer Connector appeared viable. The Outer Connector now looks only slightly less of a long shot, anytime soon, than a manned Mars mission. So, quite apart from the county's legitimate interest in preserving hallowed ground, redesignating this section of State Route 3 property a Rural Development District (translation: dig a well, Pilgrim) reasonably reacts to changing facts.

The country has made no bones about its plans: If Mr. Mullins cuts a deal with preservationists, the county, and developers of the more sensitive sort that safeguards significant historic acreage, he will get water and sewer privileges for his commercial visions; if he balks, he may not. How this ad-hoc tit-for-tat would hold up in court in a property-rights state is anybody's guess. Let's hope it doesn't come to that.

The best outcome, regarding Chancellorsville, would be everyone giving a little to get a lot of what each party wants. If, in addition, the "down districting" of present PSDs proves another shell in Spotsylvania's sprawl-fighting cannon, so much the better. Maybe the American nation is still being defined--certainly there are battles still worth fighting.