Chancellorsville is a rural area known for its rich Civil War history, but a Reston developer hopes it has a future as
a "real town."
Dogwood Development Group filed plans and a rezoning request Friday for its village project, which would transform nearly
800 acres of rolling farmland on State Route 3 in western Spotsylvania County into a thriving town.
The company says it is trying to be respectful of the area's history, and will set aside 34 acres for what it is calling
Battlefield Park and additional acreage for a buffer along Route 3. Preservationists say that isn't enough of the ground where
thousands died on the first day of the pivotal Battle of Chancellorsville.
Dogwood's plans call for up to 2,350 homes--apartments, townhomes and regular houses--which the developer says would be
balanced by 2 million to 3 million square feet of offices and stores.
The concept is designed to "create a real town where people can live, work, shop, play," Dogwood President Ray Smith Jr.
The developer's economic forecast predicts 7,000 jobs in the new town, and an annual net financial benefit to the county
of more than $11 million. Dogwood says it will contribute land for a school, a fire station, a police station, a library,
battlefield preservation and other public uses worth about $19 million.
County planners will evaluate the proposed town over the next few months, and state and federal agencies will weigh in
as well. August is the earliest the Planning Commission could hold a public hearing on the rezoning.
The land is currently zoned for shops and offices and up to 225 homes, but the rezoning would allow a much denser development.
Dogwood would leave nearly half of the property--including existing stream beds--as open or green space.
Spotsylvania generally looks favorably on projects that combine homes with businesses to offset the cost of providing services
to the residents.
And county officials have complained for years that the Civil War battlefields at Chancellorsville, Wilderness and Spotsylvania
Court House have limited economic benefit to the county because visitors tour them and then drive to Fredericksburg to spend
Dogwood's proposal responds directly to that frustration with the promise of hotels, shops and up to 15 restaurants, which
would give tourists a place to stay in Spotsylvania.
Chancellorsville--designed by the planners of Disney's Celebration town in Florida--would feature a town center similar
to downtown Fredericksburg. Walking would be encouraged, and free public transportation would be offered along the main street.
The architecture would harken back to designs from the 19th century, with an emphasis on the Victorian period. "We want
to create a place where people will love living," Smith said.
Chancellorsville--Dogwood plans to keep the historic name--is similar to other town centers proposed in the area: Courthouse
Village in Spotsylvania, Embrey Mill in Stafford County and Haymount in Caroline County. None of them has been built, but
the site for Courthouse Village was graded last fall.
Dogwood also has a contract on 400 acres behind Home Depot in Fredericksburg. It plans to turn the site--which includes
the historic Idlewild mansion--into a village resembling the city's downtown. The $200 million project would include offices,
retail stores, a mix of housing types, a park and nature trails.
In Chancellorsville, the portion closest to the Outer Connector--a proposed beltway around Fredericksburg--would be developed
as an office campus, which is what the county calls for in its comprehensive land-use plan.
Traffic is one of the concerns the National Park Service has about Chancellorsville. If the town is built, the number of
vehicles traveling through Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park is expected to nearly triple.
"This project has the potential to have a bigger impact on the park than any we've ever seen," said John Hennessy, the
park's acting superintendent.
"Ultimately, this is a question about where to locate a new city in this region. And we'd argue that it's dubious public
policy to juxtapose a new city in a national park."
The park service owns 1,600 acres in the Chancellorsville battlefield. The land slated for development is outside the park's
congressionally mandated boundary. But it was the site of fighting on May 1, 1863, the first day of the famous Civil War battle.
By the end of that day, 2,000 men were dead or wounded.
Ultimately, Chancellorsville would bring the South its most decisive victory and set the stage for a march north to Gettysburg.
But it also resulted in the devastating death of Confederate Lt. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson.
Dogwood's Smith said he understands the desire to keep traffic away from the park. He supports the idea of bypassing through-traffic
via the Outer Connector.
Smith said he has tried to alleviate concerns raised by battlefield preservationists when funeral-home owner John Mullins
first proposed developing the site. But those groups aren't satisfied with the plan by Dogwood, which has a contract to buy
the land from Mullins.
The Civil War Preservation Trust, which boasts nearly 40,000 members worldwide, is building a coalition to stop the development,
spokesman Jim Campi said.
"This is so huge, it's like putting a mini-Disney in the middle of the battlefield," Campi said. "This would be its death
"I know our members will be extremely engaged in trying to fight this, and eventually commit the resources to protect it."
The Central Virginia Battlefields Trust is taking a more conciliatory approach. It wants to buy 300 acres slated for development.
"We hold out hope of working with the developer," said trust member Erik Nelson. "You're not going to get there if you
beat them over the head."
The developer's plan to set aside 35 acres for a battlefield park comes as little consolation to Campi.
"When you're talking about 780 acres and the developer tosses 35 at you, it's almost meaningless," he said.
Preservationists talked about buying the property earlier, but Mullins said they never made an offer.