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State criticizes Wal-Mart report

May 21, 2009 3:45 am


Virginia officials want "to set the record straight" about a proposed Wal-Mart's impact on the Wilderness battlefield.

Kathleen Kilpatrick, director of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, wrote the Orange County Planning Commission yesterday after learning that the county's planning staff "appears to suggest" that the Wal-Mart site "is not historically significant."

The Orange Planning Commission will hold a public hearing tonight on JDC Ventures' request for a special-use permit to build a 138,000-square-foot Wal-Mart Supercenter and other retail stores north of State Routes 3 and 20.

"Construction of a Wal-Mart facility at the scale and on the site proposed will, in our professional judgment, have a serious adverse effect both on the Wilderness Battlefield and on the National Park," Kilpatrick wrote in a letter to commission Chairman Will Likins, who could not be reached for comment last night.

The staff report, which recommends granting the permit, says staffers reviewed VDHR files and maps and confirmed with VDHR that "there are no known significant resources" on the Wal-Mart tract. The report states the site is in "the near vicinity" of the Wilderness battlefield.

Kilpatrick took issue with those conclusions. "Please be advised that the proposed Wal-Mart site is located entirely within the boundaries of the Wilderness Battlefield," she wrote.

Of 10,500 sites identified by the federal Civil War Sites Advisory Commission, only 45 were ranked "A" as having decisively influenced a military campaign and directly affected the course of the war, Kilpatrick noted. Wilderness, "is counted among this very elite class of national battlefields for possessing the highest level of historical significance and meriting the highest priority for preservation."

The 51.6-acre Wal-Mart site is "clearly eligible" for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places, along with the rest of the battlefield, she said.

Orange Board of Supervisors Chairman Lee Frame said last night that he didn't see the letter until after the close of business yesterday.

"I'm really not in a position to say anything about it until I have a chance to go over it and discuss it in detail with [Community Development Director David] Grover," he said. "I'll be talking with him [today]."

Grover could not be reached last night.

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

WHAT: Orange County Planning Commission public hearing on proposed Wilderness Wal-Mart

WHEN: 7 tonight, Prospect Heights Middle, 202 Dailey Drive, Orange. Building opens at 6 p.m.

RULES: Speakers must sign up and will be called on in the order in which they signed up. They will have three minutes to speak. Commissioners will not answer questions or engage in conversation with speakers.

ONLINE: Check out details at, Wal-Mart's views at and preservationists' views at wilderness

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