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Mullins parcel's new fate

September 17, 2004 1:10 am

Civil War trust plans easement

Preservationists will now control the fate of some of the rolling green hills along State Route 3 in Spotsylvania County--land that was a battlefield soaked in American blood more than 140 years ago.

The seemingly relentless growth of suburbia won't engulf about 140 acres of farmland where Union and Confederate troops fought on the first day of the Battle of Chancellorsville.

It was a hard-won campaign, but keepers of the past will chart the future of land once slated for development.

In a multiplayer land deal, the Civil War Preservation Trust will pay Spotsylvania-based Tricord Inc. $3 million for the property, which includes a 1,000-foot strip along Route 3. Tricord is buying the tract and an additional 87 acres from funeral-home owner John Mullins. A source said the company--which will seek a rezoning to allow age-restricted houses on the 87 acres--is paying Mullins $12.5 million.

The trust plans, first of all, to place a conservation easement on the land to protect it in perpetuity, said trust spokesman Jim Campi.

"At some point, all the Civil War battlefield land in the country will have been either saved or developed, and there won't be a need for the CWPT," he said. "Therefore, we need to be prepared so that--50 years, 100 years from now--this land is still protected."

The trust may leave its new treasure as is. Motorists rave about the beauty of the open land, and the glimpse it offers of the mountains to the west.

Or the nonprofit group could plant trees along the back of its strip of land, which would partially restore the parcel's heavily wooded Civil War-era appearance. The trees would also screen from view the age-restricted homes.

Campi said yesterday that the trust plans to develop a preservation plan with county officials--who helped negotiate the deal--and the National Park Service, which manages the nearby federal battlefield park.

"Everyone had a share in this, and we want to make sure that everyone has a say in how it's protected," he said.

Campi added that the trust wants to develop educational signs and walking trails that cater to both tourists and residents of the planned Tricord community. He also said limited re-enactments might be allowed.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Bob Hagan, who played a key role in brokering the deal, would like to see a museum on the property.

"The best way to preserve it, probably, is to honor those who fought there, perhaps with an interpretive center," he said.

Hagan would model such a facility on the privately owned Pamplin Park near Petersburg, which features costumed interpreters and interactive exhibits on the lives of actual Civil War soldiers.

For years, area preservationists were pessimistic about the prospect of saving the land.

Mullins considered a variety of options for the farmland he purchased for about $2.8 million in the mid-1990s.

The most controversial was a developer's plan to build the Town of Chancellorsville--a leviathan containing nearly 2,000 homes and up to 2.2 million square feet of shops and offices. The supervisors rejected the project in 2003.

Earlier this year, Mullins sold the bulk of the land to luxury-home builder Toll Brothers Inc.

To reach GEORGE WHITEHURST: 540/374-5438

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