The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Wilderness Gateway land-use plan gains some fans
FORMER FOES IN WALMART FIGHT GET TOGETHER TO SEEK FUTURE GROWTH ALONG STATE ROUTE 3
BY CLINT SCHEMMER
THE FREE LANCE-STAR
Maybe economic development doesn’t need to lock horns with conservation values in eastern Orange County.
That’s what people are saying in reaction to a study of land-use possibilities along the county’s State Route 3 corridor.
That, in itself, is a big shift in a place where preservationists, elected officials and real-estate interests were fighting hammer and tong not long ago.
The big change comes from months of frank dialogue between the formerly warring parties, participants said Friday. They praised the fruit of their labors, the Wilderness Gateway Study, more than a year in the making.
“We began by lobbing volleys at each other,” said Teel Goodwin, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors.
“Now that the smoke has cleared, it is time to find common ground to meld a future that we all can share. The study sheds light on these opportunities. Economic development and preservation can find a harmonious path if we work together for the best interest of Orange County.”
Goodwin is among the stakeholders—local officials, major landowners and preservation interests—who have a keen interest in the 200-plus-page report by the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition.
Many of those individuals gathered Friday at Germanna Community College’s Locust Grove campus, where they’d first met exactly one year earlier. Then, feelings were still raw from the bruising battle waged over a Walmart-anchored retail center planned at the entrance to the Wilderness battlefield.
The body language is different now, participants in the meeting said. Arms aren’t crossed, and people are talking earnestly with one another, asking hard questions and exploring how to make things happen.
“The gateway study has taken steps to reflect the priorities of local stakeholders, and shows how a range of services and industries can coexist to create a vibrant growth area that is compatible with its surroundings,” Supervisor Jim White said.
“It is encouraging to see the gateway study’s vision for economic vitality and the study’s analysis of alternative ways to enhance a destination for visitors and residents.”
The study, prepared by a team led by Hill Studio of Roanoke, emphasizes finding opportunities for Orange to strengthen its financial footing.
Right now, the county is losing $87.3 million a year in retail and restaurant sales to Spotsylvania, Fredericksburg and Culpeper, the study found. Walmart, which scrapped its original proposal and now plans to build a store on Route 3 in Orange three miles west of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, will fill a large portion of that retail vacuum, the report says.
The study advocates blending clustered development with conservation of historic sites, forest and Rapidan River lands to meet the needs of Orange residents and create a high-profile “destination address” that will lure more overnight visitors and create better-paying jobs.
Focusing expensive infrastructure, avoiding sprawl and partnering with preservation groups will save tax dollars and make eastern Orange more enticing to new employers, team members said.
To achieve those ends, the study details three scenarios for the 3,000 undeveloped acres north of Route 3. All of them would set development back from the highway to help eastern Orange hold onto its unique atmosphere, and create a walkable, appropriately scaled village that mixes visitor facilities with local goods and services and town-style living spaces.
Forest buffers and attractive, low-impact signs can protect the Route 3 corridor’s rural character, creating a parkway feeling that appeals to residents and visitors alike, the team said.
After the village is developed, major business campuses and additional hamlets of single-unit homes may be warranted, if carefully planned, sited and screened, the study says.
At its current growth rate, eastern Orange will need 1,770 residences over the next 10 years, the study says. It already has 1,500-home sites platted but unbuilt.
Even the most aggressive predictions for growth would absorb less than 30 percent of undeveloped land in the gateway area, the study concludes. Properly managed development of that acreage would meet the diverse needs of residents, landowners, outdoor enthusiasts and historians, it says.
Participants stressed that no single one of the three concepts must be adopted. Elements from each can be combined to reach a consensus that benefits all. Project manager Glenn Stach, of Hill Studio, called the study a “kit of parts” with some interchangeable pieces.
After digesting the study’s findings and recommendations, the stakeholders will proceed with Phase 2—a three-month process to settle on a single, detailed blueprint.
On April 24, the Board of Supervisors has invited Hill Studio and Friends of Wilderness Battlefield to brief the board on the results of the study.
LANDOWNER LAUDS STUDY
“The gateway study has created a dynamic new dialogue among the many stakeholders who have a vested interest in the decisions which will shape the future of the Route 3 corridor,” local landowner Chip King said.
“I feel the options for growth, that were explored offer a rare opportunity toward reaching a win–win solution that will benefit all the residents of Orange County.”
Russ Smith, superintendent of the national park, endorsed the study and praised its potential to serve as a model for other communities and historic sites across the country.
Also endorsing its findings were the members of the battlefield coalition: Friends of the Wilderness Battlefield, the Civil War Trust, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Piedmont Environmental Council and National Parks Conservation Association.
Pam Holland of NPCA said the study offers hope that varied interests around a park gateway can head off conflicts and forge consensus.
Team member Evelyn A. Slone, Roanoke’s former planning director, said Orange’s current work to update its Comprehensive Plan offers an opportunity to advance the study’s goals.
The report suggests Orange adopt some new land-use tools and financial incentives for landowners and businesses, and includes model ordinances.
The study sprang from the idea that Orange’s “scenic beauty, historic connections and strong sense of identity combine to make a one-of-a-kind community,” said Zann Nelson, president of the all-volunteer friends group.
“These unique attributes have informed our past and, if embraced, can continue to shape our future in profound ways.”
ON THE NET:
Full report: www.bit.ly/wildgateall
Study manager: www.hillstudio.com
Clint Schemmer: 540/368-5029