- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 27, 2003

Spotsylvania County supervisors early yesterday morning overwhelmingly rejected plans to build a massive development on the site of the Chancellorsville Civil War battlefield.
After nearly nine hours of discussion and public comment, the board voted 6-0, with one abstention, against zoning changes that would allow for the development of the Town of Chancellorsville, a complex with about 2,000 homes and 2.2 million square feet of retail, office and hotel space.
The proposal by Dogwood Development Group of Reston drew significant local and national attention, sparking loud debate between preservationists and sprawl opponents on one side and development supporters on the other.
The development was designed to sit on a 790-acre tract known as the Mullins Farm. Historians said a portion of the land is recognized as the site of the first clash between Union and Confederate soldiers at the Battle of Chancellorsville. It is not part of the Spotsylvania State Park, where the majority of the battlefield is preserved.
Efforts to protect the site were led by the Coalition to Save the Chancellorsville Battlefield, an informal group of 12 preservationist groups.
Historians consider Chancellorsville one of the key Civil War battles. It was where heavily outmanned Confederate soldiers, led by Gen. Robert E. Lee, fended off an aggressive Union force. Confederate General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson was mortally wounded in the battle.
The Civil War Preservation Trust last month named Chancellorsville one of the most endangered battlefields in the country.
"This was an enormous threat to a very important Civil War battlefield," said Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. He compared the Dogwood Development to Disney's efforts in 1994 to build a theme park near Manassas National Battlefield Park.
Dogwood Development Group President Ray Smith declined to comment on the ruling or on any future plans for the site, but sources close to the discussions said Dogwood could take legal action against the county.
John Mullins, the owner of the property, did not return phone calls requesting comment yesterday. He had said that he would develop the land within current zoning regulations if the Dogwood plan was rejected. Current zoning allows for the construction of 225 homes and offers no protection for the battlefield.
Supervisors, many of whom were elected on slow-growth platforms, said they voted against the plan because resident opposition was overwhelming and because Dogwood did not offer guarantees of full development. Also, the developer did not offer to pay full contributions to offset costs like infrastructure improvements and school construction that the county would incur from the development.
Dogwood paid about $240,000 of the $13.1 million the county had requested for new schools, and did not pay anything to fund libraries, parks and transportation that would be needed, county officials said.
Dogwood said the development would generate $10 million for the county each year. The county estimated that it would bring in about $5 million, but noted that the figure was based on full development of the project. Mr. Smith said full development would depend on market conditions.
The development called for as much as 2,000 housing units, but Dogwood guaranteed fewer than 700.
"They were promising to build out about one-third of what they were building the bait on," said Robert Hagan, a county supervisor representing Courtland District, where the battlefield is located. Mr. Hagan, a Republican, was elected in November on a slow-growth platform.
Supporters of the plan said the county needed the development to improve the ratio of residential and commercial space. Mr. Hagan says some commercial growth is needed. The county's development is made up of about 84 percent residential and 16 percent commercial space; a 70-30 ratio is considered ideal.
Civil War preservationists said they have been in contact with Mr. Mullins to see if he would develop the land but keep the battlefield portions untouched.
"The reality is that there is another way to go about this a compromise with the landowner," said Jim Campi, spokesman for the Civil War Preservation Trust.

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