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June 25, 2002 Park Neighbors: 2,350 homes
Spotsylvania Battlefield Education Association
Published in The Free Lance-Star June 25, 2002
by Betty Hayden Snider
and Elizabeth Puzzullo
Developer unveils plans for the new town of Chancellorsville in western Spotsylvania County, on part of Chancellorsville battlefield.

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. said.

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 money.

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 knell.

"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.

Save Chancellorsville Battlefield!!

For more information contact:

John F. Cummings, SBEA Director