Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Second Battle of the Wilderness will be litigated in Judge Daniel Bouton's court . . .

image from Walmart Watch

It's not Confederate vs. Union, but historical preservationists vs. the worlds largest retailer. The question to be decided: Was the process granting Walmart permission to build a Supercenter at the intersection of Routes 3 and 20 in Orange County strictly on the legal up-and-up?

And why should I write a vivid, scene-setting opener for this post, when I can just cut and paste the opening of AP reporter Steve Szokotak's piece in Sunday's Westport (Connecticut) News?

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Nearly 150 years after Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant fought in northern Virginia, a conflict over the battlefield is taking shape in a courtroom.
The dispute involves whether a Walmart should be built near the Civil War site, and the case pits preservationists and some residents of a rural northern Virginia town against the world's largest retailer and local officials who approved the Walmart Supercenter.
Both sides are scheduled to make arguments before a judge Tuesday.
The proposed Walmart is located near the site of the Battle of the Wilderness, which is viewed by historians as a critical turning point in the war. An estimated 185,000 Union and Confederate troops fought over three days in 1864, and 30,000 were killed, injured or went missing. The war ended 11 months later.
The 143,000-square-foot space planned by the Bentonville, Ark., retailer would be outside the limits of the protected national park where the core battlefield is located. The company has stressed the store would be within an area already dotted with retail locations, and in an area zoned for commercial use.

So what, exactly, is being addressed this week in Judge Bouton's courtroom? According to the The Orange County Review: "In a suit that could dictate the county's economic development for decades,"
  ... Judge Daniel Bouton will determine whether the Orange County Board of Supervisors was right to approve a special use permit for a Walmart Supercenter at the intersection of Routes 3 and 20. The Friends of the Wilderness Battlefield and six local individuals claim the board did not properly weigh the historical significance of the land, which sits near the Wilderness Battlefield, when approving the Walmart. 
Dan Holmes of the Piedmont Environmental Council (who've joined the group opposing the Supercenter's construction), pointed out to me yesterday during a long phone conversation that there's also some question about the probity of the decision-making process used in granting the special use permit needed for such a Big Box of a store. For example, according to the PEC website, on Thursday, August 20, 2009:
 The [Orange County] Planning Commission held a Public Hearing on Wilderness Walmart at 7pm in the Orange County High School Auditorium. The Planning Commission voted 4-4 at this meeting [which was then formally adjourned].The Planning Commission convened a special meeting on Friday evening to deal with unresolved issues -- and to our dismay, they held a surprise vote on Wilderness Walmart. Only 6 out of 10 planning commissioners were able to attend this special meeting, and the vote to approve was 5-1
Pulitzer Prize Winning Historian James McPherson expressed his aesthetic opposition to the "Wilderness Wal-Mart"  in a  May 3, 2009 Washington Post Op-Ed

 . . . Preservationists are not opposed to Wal-Mart opening a superstore in the region. A coalition of national and local conservation groups has merely asked Wal-Mart to choose a different location. Together with more than 250 other historians, I signed a letter to the company in support of that idea. We wrote that "the Wilderness is an indelible part of our history, its very ground hallowed by the American blood spilled there, and it cannot be moved. Surely Wal-Mart can identify a site that would meet its needs without changing the very character of the battlefield."
"Wilderness Wal-Mart" supporters argue that because the proposed store site lies just beyond the park, it lacks historic significance, a profound misunderstanding of the nature of history. In the heat of battle, no unseen hand kept soldiers inside what would one day be a national park. Such boundaries are artificial, modern constructions shaped by external factors, and they have little bearing on what is or is not historic. To assume the park boundary at the Wilderness encompasses every acre of significant ground is to believe that the landscape beyond the borders of Yosemite National Park instantly ceases to be majestic.
With Civil War battlefields we have a true tool for determining historic value: the findings of the congressionally appointed Civil War Sites Advisory Commission. I was privileged to serve on this distinguished panel of historians and lawmakers, and I stand by our decision to include the area Wal-Mart is considering within the battlefield's historic boundary. . . .
part of projected Supercenter site(?)
County residents have mixed feelings about having that store in that particular location. Supporters site jobs, economic development, increased tax revenue, and a landowner's right to develop his land as he sees fit. Barbara Banner,  Executive Director of the Orange County Chamber of Commerce, frankly doesn't see what the fuss is about. She e-mailed me yesterday:
It’s sad that so much focus has been placed on a piece of property that no one was interested in for years – including the preservation organizations - and now it has attracted national attention. There is a great misunderstanding of this location in regards to the Wilderness Battlefield. Yes, it is part of a “greater” gateway but the real gateway is after you have turned up Rt. 20 & begin to approach the battlefield area. The area in question is already commercialized and will continue to be regardless of whether Wal-Mart builds here. Zoning has been in place for over 20 years with this as a designated commercial growth area. ”
Ms. Banner added, "this is really a simple matter of property rights that has been blown all out of proportion and; made to be very complex! It will be really interesting to see what happens this week."

Amen to that!

Today several applications will be made for summary judgment for the plaintiffs. If those fail, the Second Battle of the Wilderness will commence in earnest.

Got any opinion about whether or not the "Wilderness Walmart" Supercenter should be built?

1 comment:

  1. When I got into the office today, found this e-mail from Ms. Banner:

    Martha – may be too late but an important piece of info I left out.

    People have to be careful of what they wish for. If Wal Mart goes away, we still have a piece of property that is zoned commercial. That piece can hold about six 59,999 square foot commercial buildings that DO NOT have to go to public hearing. By right they can build with no design input, no lighting controls, no landscaping, etc. The big box ordinance gives us all of that plus more. So maybe Wal Mart goes & then we have just as much traffic, a mis mash of stores and no controls whatsoever.

    Food for future thought this week!!

    Barbara Bannar
    Orange County Chamber of Commerce