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State agency faults county staff report to Orange Planning Commission on Wilderness Wal-Mart
|View COMPLETE coverage of the Wal-Mart / Wilderness battle.|
Late yesterday, Kilpatrick said VDHR recognizes that it's up to local officials to decide the Wal-Mart land-use issue, but the department wanted to make sure Orange has accurate data. She responded after DHR became aware Monday of statements in the planners' report.
"The property is important, it is historic, and we felt that information was absolutely critical to the decision-making," she said.
Robert Carter, director of DHR's Community Services Division, said Orange officials "did not send us information about this project and ask us to comment."
But County Attorney Sharon Pandak said Orange officials did talk with DHR.
"The county staff met with DHR in Richmond months ago," she said, "and it's my understanding that DHR didn't raise any issues in respect to Wal-Mart at that time.
"We have a real sense of dismay since we initiated contact with them. It's very troubling that they are only now bringing this to the Planning Commission, but if DHR wants to come up and meet with our staff, the county is receptive."
Kilpatrick said a senior DHR staff member will attend tonight's meeting should the commissioners have questions, she said.
Bill Speiden, a longtime Planning Commission member and its former chairman, welcomes that.
"The land has been zoned commercial since 1973 and apparently known to be part of the battlefield since 1993," he said. "Why has it not been put on the National Register? These are questions that need to be answered."
Last night, Wal-Mart spokesman Keith Morris repeated the company's prior statements that its store site isn't on the battlefield and won't harm the nearby national park.
"It gets into a matter of semantics," he said. "Are we talking about the Wilderness battlefield park or a 1993 study that was done?
"What that fails to take into account is that there are 4,000 homes in Lake of the Woods that are abutting the battlefield, 1,800 homes in the other direction that are abutting the battlefield, and all of the other commercial strip development that's there right now."
Staff reporter Robin Knepper contributed to this story.
Clint Schemmer: 540/368-5029