'Win-win-win' on farm
Deal brokered to preserve portion of Civil War battlefield
By GEORGE WHITEHURST
Date published: 9/15/2004
Developer will preserve 140 acres at Chancellorsville
Negotiators have agreed on a plan to end the decade-long fight between developers and historic preservationists over farmland that abuts the Chancellorsville battlefield.
Tricord Inc. of Spotsylvania County is serving as peacemaker by purchasing and preserving 140 acres of the Mullins farm along State Route 3.
Under the deal unveiled at last night's Spotsylvania Board of Supervisors meeting, Tricord has a contract to buy 227 acres of the farm east of Lick Run.
The land includes 55 acres zoned for commercial development. Tricord has agreed to not to develop any of that land.
Instead, it will sell the property--plus 85 acres of residentially zoned land--to the Civil War Preservation Trust for $3 million. Tricord will put age-restricted housing on the remaining 87 acres of residentially zoned property.
The deal will create a 1,000-foot-wide historic buffer stretching from Corter Avenue to Lick Run on the north side of Route 3. Fierce fighting occurred on the land during the first day of the Battle of Chancellorsville.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Bob Hagan expressed satisfaction when discussing the deal.
"It has been a real roller-coaster ride, as with anything that's worthwhile," he said. "This truly was an array of people coming together to preserve this battlefield."
Hagan won unanimous board passage of a motion making the county government the co-applicant on the rezoning application Tricord must submit in order to develop the portion of Mullins farm it will retain.
Civil War Preservation Trust spokesman Jim Campi praised Tricord's "community-minded" actions.
"I think that speaks to the generosity and community spirit of Tricord," he said. "We are very pleased at how this deal has turned out."
Mike Stevens, president of the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust, lauded all of the players in the deal--preservationists, county officials and, especially, Tricord's Mike Jones.
"It's a great day for the community, where we've saved open space and hallowed ground," Stevens said. "It's a great day for the country, where we've saved a piece of our nation's history and heritage."
Jones said he and other Tricord officials feel a duty to help preserve the county's heritage and quality of life.
"We're just glad to be part of something that's a win-win-win for the community and the preservationists," he said.
Tricord already has a contract with local property owner John Mullins for the 227 acres that front Route 3.
Company president Doug Jones declined to reveal the purchase price, saying only that Tricord is paying "full market value."
Mike Jones said the CWPT has agreed verbally to buy the 140 acres allotted for preservation for $3 million. He hopes a contract will be ready next week.
Given Spotsylvania's soaring property values, the sale to CWPT is a financial sacrifice for Tricord, but Doug Jones likes the deal.
"We're citizens of Spotsylvania County. We intend to complete our careers here, probably retire here, and we want to do what's best for the community," he said.
"I think we feel that that means preserving both the sacred battlefield and the viewscape as you drive Route 3 west. If we don't do that, we, as a community, have missed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
Tricord plans to put a 294-home age-restricted subdivision on the 87 acres of residentially zoned land. Current zoning rules permit only 62 homes on the property, so the Board of Supervisors will have to rezone the acreage.
Tricord also has purchased 48 acres behind the Mullins farm, where it wants to develop a 500-bed continuing-care retirement center. That also will require a rezoning.
Controversy has enveloped the Mullins farm since the mid-1990s, and passions have spiked in recent months.
Mullins--owner of Covenant Funeral Services in Fredericksburg--purchased nearly 800 acres for about $2.8 million in 1995.
In 1999, a lame-duck Board of Supervisors zoned 55 acres of the tract for commercial purposes. Critics accused the board of doing a favor for Mullins, a charge he denies.
In 2002, a subsequent board placed the farm in Spotsylvania's Primary Settlement District as part of a countywide zoning overhaul.
Mullins has floated various development plans over the years.
The most controversial was a Northern Virginia company's proposal to build the Town of Chancellorsville--nearly 2,000 homes and up to 2.2 million square feet of shops and office space. But supervisors nixed that in 2003.
Mullins later sold or placed under contract a majority of the property to luxury home-builder Toll Brothers Inc., which is already building homes on some of the land it bought.
Earlier this year, supervisors ordered the Planning Commission to submit a proposal to remove all of the land between Spotswood Furnace Road and Route 3 from the growth zone.
The board voted last night to table that proposal.
Hagan--in whose Courtland District the Mullins farm lies--played a key role in brokering the deal, earning praise from the negotiators and his board colleagues.
"This piece of property has bedeviled this board for years," Supervisor Gary Jackson said. "And it appears that through your persistence and hard work, we've got a deal that's going to satisfy everybody."
To reach GEORGE WHITEHURST: 540/374-5438 email@example.com