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Plan to save Sherwood Forest

Plans are brewing to save about 1,190 acres from potential development in southern Stafford County.

A state conservation land specialist hopes to take advantage of the sluggish economy to give the developers of Sherwood Forest Farm what he described as a way out.

John Mitchell, a local businessman and conservation land specialist with the state, organized a meeting of Stafford County Historical Commission members and county staff on Wednesday May 28 to discuss his efforts to preserve Sherwood Forest, the site of a possible mixed-use development along State Route 3. Supervisor Bob Thomas, who represents the George Washington District where Sherwood Forest is located, also attended the meeting.

Walton International Group, a Canada-based real estate investment firm, bought the land in 2010 and 2011 and is the developer. Walton has other Asian investors in the project who have purchased shares in the project. Some of the investors are from Singapore and Hong Kong.

The company has not submitted a rezoning application to county staff, but held a community meeting last August at the White Oak Fire Station. Company officials then would only say that their proposal for the site will include retail fronting on Route 3 and a mix of detached homes, town houses and some apartments.

According to information received by the Stafford Planning and Zoning Office last year, plans showed 2,400 mixed residential units, 1.2 million square feet of commercial retail space, 350,000 square feet of office space, a public school site of roughly 50 acres and a fire station.

Walton officials have previously explained to Historical Commission members that their plans included the eventual restoration of Sherwood’s historic home and to preserve about 50 acres around it that include outbuildings and an old cemetery.

The property is currently zoned for agricultural and industrial uses.

“The only way to save this piece of land is to buy it. I do suggest taking the rug out from under them and putting it somewhere else,” Mitchell said at the meeting.

Mitchell said that he would talk with an investor he knows who has gotten involved in other preservation projects to see if he would be interested in purchasing the property. He added that the funding for a preservation project could come from many sources, including the state.

“That place cannot be obscured and obstructed by what [the development] we see today,” Mitchell said.

Because rezoning will be needed, the county is in the driver’s seat, Mitchell added.

Supervisor Thomas said he doesn’t know how the Board of Supervisors will react to the developer’s rezoning proposal at this point.

Many of the speakers at the August 2013 community meeting were skeptical of the project. Thomas said that since that meeting, the project is the main thing that residents of the area ask him about.

“If they [the developers] realize that it is not going to happen the way they want it to, the [preservation] option may seem attractive,” Mitchell said.

But, Mitchell said, the situation is made more difficult by the fact that the landowners don’t seem willing to sell.

“It’s all so preliminary. I don’t know any more than I what I said and I probably said too much. The players haven’t been introduced to the project,” Mitchell said.

Because Sherwood Forest is one of the last large agricultural areas remaining in Stafford, the development caught Mitchell’s attention.

“It is a rarity in a county like Stafford that it is not all cookie-cuttered up into 5-acre lots or 3-acre lots,” Mitchell said. “Generally, the Board of Supervisors and the staff would without a doubt welcome any preservation plans because they see the shortness of time before we get another tidal wave of growth.”

Historical Commission members are supportive of Mitchell’s idea. Commission member Ann Best–Rolls said that George Washington’s mother, Mary, inherited part of the land, 400 acres, from her father.

“That land was part of what she used to raise George Washington,” Best–Rolls said.

The Silver Cos., which sold the property to Walton, had previously proposed a 2,950-home active-adult community on the site. Those plans were dropped in 2005 along with others to give the Sherwood Forest home to George Washington’s Fredericksburg Foundation. The foundation oversees Washington’s Boyhood Home at Ferry Farm on Route 3 and Historic Kenmore Plantation in Fredericksburg.

Walton also has planned developments in Spotsylvania. Walton received approval in January for a 1,060-home subdivision off U.S. 1 near Cosner’s Corner.

Vanessa Remmers: 540/735-1975