Court challenge to Wilderness Wal-Mart heard
A Circuit Court judge for Orange County, Va. is expected to decide in about a month whether to dismiss a suit brought by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and others to overturn the Aug. 25 decision of the county's Board of Supervisors to allow construction of a Wal-Mart Supercenter on the Wilderness Battlefield. The county maintains the case has no merit.
Judge Daniel R. Bouton listened to three hours of wrangling by lawyers representing both sides of the issue last week. Prior to the board's split vote last summer, preservationists had mounted an intense lobbying effort against a Wal-Mart at that location because they said it would desecrate an unprotected part of the battlefield.
Elizabeth Merritt, deputy general counsel for the National Trust who attended the hearing, called the event dramatic and said Judge Bouton allowed each side's lawyers to argue their points fully. She said the judge had with him a thick briefing book and acknowledged the controversial and historic nature of the suit.
She said for the Trust's suit to go forward, the judge will have to find that at least one of the plaintiffs in the suit--the Trust, the Friends of Wilderness Battlefield or any of the six county residents--has legal standing to bring suit. In addition, he will also have to find that at least one of the issues raised in the suit, including whether a Planning Commission vote was valid and the statutory obligations of the Board of Supervisors, has merit.
Orange County attorney Sharon E. Pandak, who represented the board at the hearing, said in a telephone interview she could would not comment on a matter before the court.
The National Trust got additional support for its suit in late January when the Civil War Preservation Trust and the National Parks Conservation Association filed a brief based on the groups' long shared interest in preservation of national battlefields and national parks. Included in the brief were comments made by National Park Service director Jonathan B. Jarvis, who said the proposed Wal-Mart store "would directly and significantly impact the battlefield [and] major development in this area would also impair the historic rural character of the park gateway and would increase traffic tremendously."
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