Battlefield Coalition Unveils Findings of Year-Long 'Wilderness Gateway Study'

After more than a year of public meetings and intense research, the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition today announced the findings of its study of the Wilderness Battlefield gateway region.  The study, the result of a cooperative effort between local officials, landowners, and the preservation community, offers a mutually beneficial blueprint for balancing conservation with economic development. The study was unveiled at Germanna Community College during a series of meetings with local partners and members of the media. 

“We began by lobbing volleys at each other,” said county Board of Supervisors chairman Teel Goodwin. “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.”

In recent years, Orange County made headlines due to a controversial proposal to build a Walmart superstore on part of the historic Wilderness Battlefield on the eastern edge of the county. Members of the preservation and conservation community advocated that an alternate site further from the battlefield would protect the battlefield’s historic resources and still meet the county’s goals for economic growth.  Ultimately, Walmart decided to pursue an alternative location three miles from the battlefield – a decision that was supported by the preservation community and unanimously approved by the board of supervisors.

Believing that advance planning and better communication would prevent future conflict, in March 2011 the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition began work on a study investigating opportunities for broadly beneficial land use strategies in the Wilderness Battlefield gateway region.  With the study now completed, the member groups of the coalition — including Friends of the Wilderness Battlefield, the Civil War Trust, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Piedmont Environmental Council and National Parks Conservation Association — have officially endorsed its findings.

“This study was born out of our longstanding vision that Orange County’s combination of scenic beauty, historic connections and strong sense of identity combine to make a one-of-a-kind community,” said Friends of Wilderness Battlefield president Zann Nelson.  “These unique attributes have informed our past and, if embraced, can continue to shape our future in profound ways.”

The Wilderness Battlefield Gateway Study was underwritten through generous grants from the National Park Service, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and member groups of the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition. The group contracted with Hill Studio, a consulting firm with considerable experience in land-use and development, transportation, community design and other related areas, to begin the work.  The project’s goals were ambitious: determine how to establish the area around the intersections of Route 3 and Route 20 as a gateway to the region’s cultural and natural resources; define appropriate development patterns that encourage development supportive of heritage tourism, and provide opportunities to grow businesses that can thrive with minimal impact to natural, cultural and scenic resources.  The findings of the study are opinions and conclusions of the consulting team and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of the Interior, the coalition, or individual participating stakeholders

“This study unequivocally demonstrates that preservation and development need not be mutually exclusive,” said project manager Glenn Stach, RLA. “Nor is there ever a single ideal solution for achieving this balance.  Instead, we sought to provide a framework and array of options for the community to weigh as it develops a cohesive path forward.”

Through a series of stakeholder meetings with residents, landowners, developers, county officials and other relevant parties, the team weighed many potentially competing interests, looking for common ground and shared vision. The goal was to provide a widely acceptable vision that would avoid situations whereby important land use decisions were contemplated in isolation, resulting in a patchwork of growth that neither meets the community’s underlying economic development goals or address its one-of-a-kind assets.  This process of building consensus was an important step in a community that had previously been bitterly divided on questions of appropriate development.

One area of particularly broad appeal within the study is its emphasis on finding opportunities for Orange County to strengthen its financial footing.  According to the report’s findings, currently the county experiences a retail and restaurant sales leakage — meaning the amount that residents are spending at business outside their immediate community — of $87.3 million.  There is room for improvement in this category through the creation and expansion of business catering to residents and visitors alike.

To fill this retail need, the Gateway Study advocates pursuing conservation of  significant lands, that protect sensitive cultural resources and create a framework of open-space and outdoor recreation. These patterns reserve land set back from Route 3, to accommodate appropriately-scaled development, keynoted by a mixed-use village that brings together visitor-focused retail and support services, second-floor residential, and local goods and services important to residents. These and other patterns represented in the study focus infrastructure and reinforce the address of east Orange County as it looks to the future, while protecting its history.

“The gateway study has taken steps to reflect the priorities of local stakeholders, and shows how a range of services and industries can co-exist to create a vibrant growth area that is compatible with its surroundings,” said County supervisor Jim White.  “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.”

With careful planning related to siting, screening and other considerations, additional residential hamlets of single unit homes and major business campuses may also be appropriate, following the establishment of the village. All told, the report estimates that even the most aggressive forecast for development would only absorb less than 30 percent of currently undeveloped land in the gateway area, but would still address the varying desires of residents, landowners, historians and outdoor enthusiasts.

To demonstrate the many avenues and opportunities available to Orange County as it weighs strategies for continued growth, the study includes three scenario concepts illustrating various compositions of the development patterns and tools recommended in the report.  But those involved in the process emphasize that the next step need not necessarily be the wholesale adoption of any single concept plan — elements from each scenario may be combined to create a mutually beneficial consensus plan compromise.  Using the findings of the Gateway Study, stakeholders will now embark on a second phase in the process, moving toward a single, comprehensive preferred alternative. The continuation of the planning process will center on a two-day work session, where experts will be on hand to help the diverse interests at the heart of the Gateway Study draft a detailed, consensus-based design blueprint for the project area. Once complete, this cooperative effort will evolve still, as the participants begin the work of transforming shared ideas into shared realities.

“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,” said local landowner Chip King.  “I feel the options for growth, that were explored during the gateway study, offer a rare opportunity toward reaching a WIN-WIN solution that will benefit all the residents of Orange County.”

The Battle of the Wilderness, fought May 5–6, 1864, was one of the most significant engagements of the American Civil War.  Today, the battlefield is protected and administered by the National Park Service.  Orange County’s rich heritage also includes sites significant to earlier Native American inhabitants and the one-time western outpost of European civilization in Virginia, a German settlement established by early British colonial leader Alexander Spotswood, as well as the 19th century gold mining industry.

The full text of the Wilderness Gateway Study, as well as additional supplementary materials and endorsements from the preservation community, is available online at www.wildernessgateway.org

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About the Civil War Trust

The Civil War Trust is the largest nonprofit battlefield preservation organization in the United States.  Its goal is to preserve our nation’s endangered Civil War sites and to promote appreciation of these hallowed grounds through education and heritage tourism.  To date, the Trust has preserved more than 32,000 acres of battlefield land in 20 states.  Please visit the Trust’s website at www.civilwar.org, the home of the Civil War sesquicentennial.

About the Friends of Wilderness Battlefield (FoWB)

Friends of Wilderness Battlefield, Inc. is a non-profit, all volunteer organization devoted to assisting the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park in efforts to preserve the Wilderness Battlefield in Orange and Spotsylvania Counties.  The Friends provide advocacy, educational programs and service projects for the battlefield.  Learn more by visiting www.fowb.org.

About the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA)

Since 1919, NPCA has been the leading voice of the American people in protecting and enhancing our National Park System. NPCA, its more than 600,000 members and supporters, and many partners work together to protect the park system and preserve our nation’s natural, historical, and cultural heritage for generations to come. For more information, please visit www.npca.org

About the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC)

The Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) is a grassroots nonprofit emphasizing the links between city and country, nature and people, conserving and creating.  PEC works to safeguarding the landscapes, communities and heritage of Virginia’s Piedmont region by involving citizens in public policy and land conservation.  PEC has facilitated the permanent conservation of 300,000 acres across its nine-county region.  The organization actively advocates on behalf of air and water quality, wildlife habitats, energy solutions and sustainable communities.  Learn more by visiting www.pecva.org

 

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The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded nonprofit organization, works to save America’s historic places.
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