In agreement, builder to sell Chancellorsville land to Civil War trust

CHANCELLORSVILLE Civil War preservationists and Spotsylvania County officials have struck a deal with a homebuilder to preserve land where troops clashed at Chancellorsville, site of the South’s most decisive victory.

The agreement to set aside 140 acres of "core" battlefield marks a major breakthrough in the pitched two-year campaign to save part of the land, which the national Civil War Preservation Trust yesterday acknowledged as its "top concern" for the past few years.

"It easily could be called a bigger preservation victory than [defeating] Disney," trust spokesman Jim Campi said yesterday, referring to Walt Disney Co.’s abandoning plans 10 years ago to build a theme park near Manassas National Battlefield.

Ultimately, a developer built homes and golf holes where Disney had planned rollercoasters. "In this case, we’ve preserved land," Campi said.

Under proposed terms of the agreement, the trust will pay a developer, Tricord Homes of Spotsylvania, $3 million for 140 acres near Fredericksburg. Tricord Homes would forfeit its right to build retail space on its remaining property along heavily traveled state Route 3 and also would agree to set back homes 1,000 feet from the road, according to details of the deal disclosed yesterday.

In exchange, Spotsylvania officials would permit Tricord to build 294 "age-restricted" homes, for adults only, on three parcels, roughly 220 more homes than allowed under current zoning, said Robert Hagan, chairman of the Spotsylvania Board of Supervisors.

Hagan, who was instrumental in brokering the deal, estimated the county would save about $325,000 annually by not picking up the cost of educating children who might have moved to the site. He also said traffic studies show the number of daily car trips through the area would be slashed from an estimated 20,000 to 3,000 with the elimination of retail traffic.

Details of the agreement were to be presented to the Spotsylvania Board of Supervisors last night. The deal still needs to be aired before the county’s planning commission and requires final approval from the supervisors, Hagan said.

Campi described Tricord, which has about 227 acres under contract from landowner John Mullins, as "community-minded." He said the deal shows there is room for both developers and preservationists.

Since the summer of 2002, a coalition led by the trust has tried to prevent development of Mullins’ nearly 800-acre farm, about 12 miles west of Fredericksburg. The ensuing battle pitted preservationists and slow-growth advocates in the fast-growing county against developers and landowners who have staked their financial future on profiting from the land.

Although the farm is outside the boundaries of Chancellorsville National Battlefield, preservationists say parts of it are nonetheless historically significant. The property to be preserved includes an area east of what is known as Lick Run, where Union and Confederate troops clashed on the first day of the three-day battle, May 1, 1863.

Russell Smith, the park’s superintendent, said yesterday that preserving the land "provides an entry point . . . a green gateway to the battlefield."

In terms of acreage, the deal represents a partial victory for the trust. The group had initially tried to save nearly 800 acres, though it considered 300 acres key to the Battle of Chancellorsville.

"I would say this is as complete a victory as we could ask for," Campi said.

But Campi added the trust is still working to obtain another 100 acres of that core area from Toll Brothers Inc. of Pennsylvania, another developer, which plans to build about 160 homes on about 570 acres. Toll Brothers, which bought its property from Mullins, is the same company that eventually developed the land that Disney had eyed in Prince William County.

Preservationists focused their Chancellorsville negotiation efforts on Tricord and Toll Brothers within the past several months, saying a deal with Mullins seemed untenable.

In March 2003, Spotsylvania supervisors rejected a rezoning for a neotraditional town of nearly 2,000 people and 2 million square feet of commercial space. After that, Mullins pledged to press ahead with plans for a smaller development under the existing zoning, which allowed 225 homes and 600,000 square feet of commercial space.

Preservationists said Mullins at one point asked for $40 million for the entire 800-acre farm, which was assessed at $5.6 million. Mullins, a funeral-home director, bought the farm for about $2.8 million in 1995.

Efforts to reach Mullins were unsuccessful.

From May 1 to May 3, 1863, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s forces stopped the Union from wresting Fredericksburg from the Confederacy. Chancellorsville also was the last battle where Lee and Confederate Lt. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson fought together; Jackson was mortally wounded on the second day of the battle.