Virginia: Development of Ashley Farms Project, Chancellorsville Battlefield
Agency: Army Corps of Engineers
Criterion for Council Involvement:
- The proposed development would occur on a portion of Chancellorsville Battlefield, destroying the integrity of the site of the heaviest fighting of the first day of this important Civil War battle (Criterion 1).
In August 2000, the Council provided views to the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) on a plan to mitigate the impact of a proposed commercial and residential development to be located on a portion of the Chancellorsville Battlefield. While the developer had considered and rejected relocation of the office and commercial area away from the central area of the battlefield, the Council found his arguments against relocation not compelling and the mitigation measures inadequate.
Proposed mitigation included creation of three viewshed corridors through the office park and maintenance of a buffer zone near the existing adjacent highway. This zone would, however, still be subject to development for access roads, underground utilities, and the construction of a proposed “outer connector” highway. The Council’s letter stated that such “mitigation measures would do nothing to preserve the center of the First Day Battle of Chancellorsville, much less give future generations a visual appreciation of this seminal event.”
A month later, Council staff met with representatives of the Corps, the Virginia State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO), the National Park Service (NPS), Spotsylvania County, the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust and the project developer to review a revised plan for the battlefield property. In addition to the previously proposed buffer, a new buffer zone would be placed along a creek that runs through the property.
The developer asserts that this would preserve the area where the first day’s fighting occurred. However, another area (which will be disturbed by the project) has traditionally been seen as the core area of the first day’s fighting, and NPS historians maintain that evidence supports this as the correct location. The revised project plans will now be formally submitted to the Corps for study, and the Corps will again request the views of the Council and the Virginia SHPO.
The Norfolk District of the Corps is reviewing a request for Section 404 permits under the Clean Water Act for the Ashley Farms Project. Preliminary plans are to develop the approximately 800-acre, privately owned parcel with homes, a golf course, and an office park. (Corps permits are required for placement of fill in approximately three acres of waters and wetlands necessary for the commercial development and golf course.) The property lies along a busy corridor west of Fredericksburg and is adjacent to one of NPS’s major Civil War parks, Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.
The proposed development includes the site where the heaviest fighting took place on the first day of the battle of Chancellorsville: May 1, 1863. The three-day battle stopped the Army of the Potomac from wresting Fredericksburg with its vital rail, road, and river connections from the Confederates.
Chancellorsville was the last battle where Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson fought together against Union forces; on the second day of the battle, Jackson was mortally wounded. Nearby Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park includes portions of the area of the climatic second and third days’ fighting. Because of development pressures, NPS has designated Chancellorsville a Priority 1 Endangered Civil War Battlefield.
In January, Council staff met with representatives of the Corps and the consulting parties to review project plans. Another important purpose of the meeting was to ensure that all consulting parties understood the project’s scope and the requirements for its review under Section 106.
This project underscores the need to integrate historic preservation considerations at the local level, since the property in question is privately owned. Since residential and commercial development on private land guided by local planning initiatives threatens Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, the challenge is to find a balance between redevelopment in the area and NPS’s goal to interpret the battle in its entiretyincluding significant areas outside park boundaries.
Private ownership of the land raises questions regarding the role of a Federal agency in a permit review activity on private land and the need to carefully consider the balance between private property rights and the need to preserve our historic past. In this case the Corps only has jurisdiction over a very small portion of the entire parcel slated for development, limiting the ability of the Federal government to promote preservation of the site through the Section 106 process.
Staff contact: Tom McCulloch
March 2000 report on this case
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