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June 26, 2002 Village People
Spotsylvania Battlefield Education Association

Published by The Free Lance-Star, June 26, 2002


There would be many, many of them

2,350  HOMES. More than 6,000 new people. Maybe 5,000 more personal vehicles. That's what's in store for Spotsylvania County if it rezones
to accommodate a developer's plans for a Chancellorsville "village" on battlefield land. A spoonful of sugar may make the medicine go down, but this 780-acre project isn't medicine so much as poison to the county's professed new slow-the-growth philosophy.

So the project's author--Dogwood Development Group of Reston--is supplying sugar by the shovelful. Along with the usual proffers, the Chancellorsville village would come with several embodiments of core smart-growth principles:

Mixing land uses. Dogwood envisions a "town center" in its new Chancellorsville and offices, too. This approach contrasts with that of the car-dependent suburb, whose residents are far removed from a place where they can buy a roll of toilet paper, much less punch a time clock.

Building master-planned communities. Yes, there is something a little sterile and overmanaged about such places--they are, literally, artificial--but the only other choice is countenancing the all-engulfing sprawl blob that knows no rules or boundaries.

Providing transportation choices. Dogwood would make walking easier with sidewalks (which should be sine qua non to any new residential developments in our area) and would provide free transportation--something "playful" like a San Francisco-style trolley or a London-style bus--along the town center's main street. It also would establish its own "park and ride," thus keeping commuters off the public roads.

Applying high-quality design techniques. Dogwood's designated project planner comes with a good rep, having built Disney's Celebration, a new urbanism community in Florida. Disney is one of those "association" words: Some environmentalists hear it and think "big" or "bad." But no informed person would blurt out "shoddy."

Conserving open space. About half the development would stay green, while the whole project would be dotted with recreation areas and striped with nature trails.

Besides all this, Dogwood says it would offer "public use" land (for a historical park, school, fire station, etc.) worth $19 million. And the cherry on top of this parfait of proffers and progressive design is that Dogwood's Chancellorsville would violate Spot-sylvania's recently adopted guideline requiring low-density development. This is a variance to cheer. A lot of people living in the same place deters sprawl; the county's new policy of permitting fewer homes per tract exposes more pristine land to the bulldozer as home-hungry people move ever-farther out.

Yet this tractor-trailer load of Domino doesn't neutralize the essential poison of the sheer numbers. The people occupying those 2,350 homes would make infrastructure demands that can't be proffered away. The older subdivisions, like the people now living in them, aren't going anywhere. Traffic on State Route 3 would become insufferable absent an Outer Connector, which thousands of suburbanites already ask for in their bedtime prayers. (A connector with a "parkway" design, limiting motorist access and thwarting new development, actually could enhance popular appreciation of the river and the battlefields, just as rural roads in England lend a vantage to the charms of English country life.)

The developers of the proposed Chancellorsville village would do a lot of things right. The problem isn't quality but quantity: The sheer size of the project is jolting. Solution? The Central Virginia Battlefields Trust wants to buy 300 acres--nearly 40 percent--of the Dogwood site. That would mean a scaled-down project--not everything for which the developer hoped, but not the land-use equivalent of a skull and crossbones, either.

Preservation is the answer....

Contact: John Cummings, Director

(540) 582-7469