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Posted at 2:38 PM ET, 01/26/2011

Wal-Mart drops plans for building on Virginia battlefield site

By Linda Wheeler

Wal-Mart has walked away from a much contested building site on the Wilderness Battlefield just as a long-anticipated trial was about to begin in Orange County, Va. It pitted the world’s largest retailer against some residents and the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition made up of six major preservation organizations.

The surprise announcement came as the trial was about to start this morning. At issue was a legal challenge that sought to overturn the 2009 special use permit given to Wal-Mart to build a super-center on land where action took place during the 1864 battle. The site was outside the boundaries of the military park established by the National Park Service.

Civil War Trust Communications Director Jim Campi said, “This was the toughest fight we ever had. We are still amazed at the outcome.”

Trust president Jim Lighthizer said he was very pleased with Wal-Mart’s decision and, as he and others had said in the past, the opposition was not to the retailer but to the location of the proposed store.

“We stand ready to put this controversy behind us and protect the battlefield from further encroachment,” he said. “We firmly believe that preservation and progress need not be mutually exclusively.”

Wal-Mart spokesman Bill Wertz said there was no one trigger that lead to the decision.

“Internally we went back and forth on this, on the pros and cons, on a reasonable economic development and the need to preserve an historic site,” he said. “We made this decision not to develop the property near the Wilderness Battlefield in order to preserve the site.”

He said the retailer is looking at other sites in Orange County and hopes there will be wide-spread support for a new location.

Before the special permit was approved, there were months of contentious public hearings before the Orange County Board of Supervisors where various preservation organizations testified about the damage that would be done to the Wilderness Battlefield if the 143,000-square-foot super center was built. Wal-Mart contended no significant military action took place at the proposed site. Many county residents supported a Wal-Mart at that site.

Campi said the victory would not have been possible without the coalition of preservation organizations that jointly opposed the Wal-Mart site. They are the Civil War Trust, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Friends of the Wilderness Battlefield, the Piedmont Conservation Council, the National Parks Conservation Association and Preservation Virginia.

By Linda Wheeler  | January 26, 2011; 2:38 PM ET
Categories:  News  | Tags:  Wal-Mart  
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