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Opponents: Supercenter in wrong spot
National Park Service, preservation groups dismayed Wal-Mart is going ahead with retail complex at The Wilderness

Date published: 12/10/2008

By CLINT SCHEMMER

Critics of Wal-Mart's proposed development at The Wilderness had hoped the world's largest retailer would move its project to avoid a clash with preservationists.

Now, they're preparing for a full-scale battle over a planned Supercenter less than a quarter-mile from the Civil War battlefield.

Russ Smith, superintendent of Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park, said yesterday that he is frustrated that Wal-Mart stuck with its Wilderness Corner site.

"I am very disappointed they didn't consider other sites and didn't listen to the feedback they got that this site is too close to the Wilderness battlefield."

Smith met with Wal-Mart officials about the project last summer, and expressed the National Park Service's opposition to its proposal.

In July, the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition wrote Wal-Mart CEO H. Lee Scott Jr., expressing its concerns that the Supercenter "would pave the way for desecration of the Wilderness with unnecessary commercial growth."

Other partners in the coalition--which includes the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the National Parks Conservation Association and the Friends of Wilderness Battlefield--met two weeks ago with Wal-Mart's Richmond lawyer and the tract's Vienna developer, reiterating their opposition.

"We're greatly concerned about the visual impact of what intensive commercial development will do to the entrance to this national park," Smith said, "the traffic that it will generate, the pressure it will bring to widen Route 20, and the precedent Wal-Mart will set for other development in that area of Orange County."

He said the developer's plan shows four pad sites for additional stores on the tract.

Smith said the tract is part of the battlefield, as defined by a congressional blue-ribbon panel. The Wilderness is one of the nation's most historically significant battlegrounds, the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission said, giving its the highest designation for preservation.

The Wal-Mart tract was directly behind the last line of Federal earthworks that extended across the Germanna Turnpike (now State Route 3). The Union Army's 6th Corps had field hospitals in the vicinity, said Eric Mink the park's cultural resources officer.

Daniel Holmes, state policy director with the Piedmont Environmental Council, said coalition members believe Wal-Mart will anchor other high-traffic retail stores, all of them "pouring more traffic onto Route 20, which is the heart of the battlefield."

Holmes said Orange County should evaluate the development proposed near the Route 3/Route 20 crossroad as a whole, not piecemeal.

"When you combine Wal-Mart's plan and the Wilderness Crossing scheme, you're looking at roughly 2.8 million square feet under roof," he said. "Central Park in Fredericksburg is zoned for 2.4 million square feet, and currently has 2.2 million square feet. These two developments would be about a half-million square feet larger than Central Park."

Jim Campi, policy director for the Civil War Preservation Trust, said that group continues to believe the Wilderness Corner tract is "extremely inappropriate for any kind of big-box commercial, especially a Wal-Mart.

"We're not telling Wal-Mart 'No way.' We're just telling them, 'Not here,'" Campi said.

Efforts to reach Wal-Mart and its Virginia attorney for comment yesterday were unsuccessful.

Clint Schemmer: 540/368-5029
Email: cschemmer@freelancestar.com