- The Washington Times - Friday, May 22, 2009

ORANGE, Va. (AP) | Wal-Mart officials asked planners in a rural Virginia county Thursday to approve a Supercenter near a rolling green expanse where Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant first met in battle in the Civil War.

The proposal was welcomed by residents who said the 138,000-square-foot store would bring jobs, shopping and increased tax revenues to Orange County, while preservationists said the retail center in Locust Grove would harm the Wilderness Battlefield less than one mile away.

Wal-Mart came with a cadre of lawyers, planning specialists and depictions of the proposed site, which is already home to a fast-food restaurant and strip malls. They argued the store would not bring undue traffic or disruption to the battlefield, where 29,000 Union and Confederate soldiers were killed or injured 145 years ago this month.

More than 200 people filled a middle-school auditorium to speak before the Planning Commission, which was not expected to vote on the special permit Wal-Mart will need to build. Planners will ultimately make a recommendation to county supervisors, who will have the final say.

Wal-Mart spokesman Keith Morris said the giant retailer settled on the Route 3 site after a 12-month review and deemed it the best location for its Supercenter.

“All the other sites didn’t work,” he said before the hearing. “The bottom line, there was not a viable alternative. This was the best site.”

The plan for the center has generated nearly 2,000 e-mails to county supervisors from across the United States and as far away as Australia.

Most of those e-mails have encouraged local leaders to reject the store planned within a cannonball shot of the battlefield, which was an especially brutal and critical chapter in the war.

As it stands now, a majority of supervisors favor the store in a split that some say reflects the county’s residents.

County Administrator William C. Rolfe puts the split among residents at about 60-40 in favor of Wal-Mart. He said that point of view has been “overshadowed by outside pressures.”

Mr. Rolfe and other officials said residents are mindful of the $500,000 in annual tax revenue the store is expected to generate, as well as 300 jobs.

Led by the Civil War Preservation Trust, the Wal-Mart proposal has stirred an outcry perhaps matching the stir created in 1994 when the Walt Disney Co. proposed a $650 million theme park within miles of the Manassas Battlefield. Preservationists won that battle.

More than 250 historians have written to Wal-Mart urging the retailer to select a different location for a store in Orange County, which is about 60 miles southwest of Washington.

Historians have a special reverence for the Wilderness because it was the first battlefield encounter between Grant and Lee - two towering figures in the war - in a May 1864 battle that hastened the South’s fall.

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