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Battlefield homes plan draws fire from neighbors

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It looks like the hard part of the Silver Cos.’ Chancellorsville development will be mending fences with the neighbors.

That’s the impression left this week after the firm briefed adjacent landowners on the 250-home subdivision that Silver proposes for the 1,152-acre Binns Tract on a portion of one of Spotsylvania’s Civil War battlefields.

So far, the greatest criticism of the plan is coming from those homeowners, who have grown accustomed to the quiet, wooded expanse next door and don’t relish seeing 3,000-square-foot, $500,000 homes sprout on part of the property.

Silver plans to protect the most historically significant part of the tract, which figured in Confederate Lt. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s famous flank attack during the Battle of Chancellorsville in 1863.

The Fredericksburg development company is willing to sell 44 acres to the National Park Service or a private preservation group, perhaps the Civil War Trust or Central Virginia Battlefields Trust. Those acres, on the tract’s southeastern edge, lie within the congressionally designated boundary of the park, land that U.S. lawmakers want protected.

Silver would put another 375 acres in the tract’s southern half under conservation easement, preventing its development and preserving a wooded buffer next to battlefield land north of State Route 3—property held by the National Park Service, the Civil War Trust, CVBT and private owners.

In all, 45 percent to some 50 percent of the tract, not including the Park Service-sought acres, would be preserved in historic areas and stream and perimeter buffers, Chris Hornung, Silver vice president of planning & engineering, said Thursday.

Because the Park Service is dead-set against the entrance road being built into the Binns Tract from Route 3 near its already congested Elys Ford Road intersection, Silver plans to put that access road a third of a mile to the west, just shy of Black Meadow Road, Hornung said in an interview.

He acknowledged that the tract’s 44-acre park-boundary pocket is of “tremendous historic significance.” Silver has been negotiating with preservationists since 2007, he said, out of respect for their desire not to see the battlefield fragmented.

Silver bought the Binns Tract in 2007 for $4.25 million from Gallaudet University in the District of Columbia, which was bequeathed the land by local resident Virginia Binns in memory of her sister, who was deaf, he said.

Now, with the residential real estate market slowly improving, Silver and its partners—incorporated as Chancellorsville Investment Co. LLC—want to recoup their six years of investment, interest and carrying costs, Hornung said.

The owner is allowed to build only 10 homes on the tract “by right,” because of a 2002 anti-sprawl rule. The rezoning sought by Silver would allow one lot per 3 acres, but requires 40 percent of the property to be set aside. The homes would have wells and septic fields.

Hornung anticipates that winning approval of the rezoning request and obtaining permits may take 24 months, with build-out of the subdivision taking eight years.

First, though, Silver is focused on trying to resolve some of the concerns of the neighbors. Many hundreds of people own lots next to or near the Binns Tract.

About 90 of those landowners turned out Monday night for the firm’s “community meeting” on its project, and none appeared to be in favor. Dozens raised their hands in a show of opposition.

After an illustrated presentation by Hornung and several consultants, a sometimes-rowdy dialogue ensued. Residents expressed concerns about the development’s impacts on Route 3 traffic, access to their subdivisions, well water, noise, tree cover, wildlife and pollution from runoff.

Hornung pledged that Silver’s team would meet, individually if possible, with landowners to try to ease fears about buffers and well water.

Next week, a traffic engineer employed by Silver will start a field survey to investigate what could be done to address neighbors’ worries about their safe access to Route 3, he said Thursday.

Hornung said Silver will share many of it planning documents with landowners, perhaps via a website.


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Clint Schemmer: 540/368-5029