Walmart gets nod on Va. battlefield site

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Orange, Va. Despite active opposition from historians and preservationists, Wal-Mart Stores received approval early Tuesday to open a Walmart Superstore on the site of a central-Va., Civil War battle.

The Orange County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to grant the special permit to Wal-Mart after a majority of more than 100 speakers said they favored bringing the superstore to Locust Grove, near Wilderness Battlefield, where generals Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee first met in battle 145 years ago and where 145,000 Union and Confederate soldiers fought and more than 29,000 were killed or injured.

Historians and Civil War buffs are fearful the Walmart store will draw traffic and more commerce to an area within the historic boundaries of the Wilderness.

But their pleas fell on mostly deaf ears.

"I cannot see how there will be any visual impact to the Wilderness Battlefield," supervisor chairman Lee Frame said, casting a vote for the special-use permit the retailer needs to build. "I think the current proposal ... is the best way to protect the battlefield."

Wal-Mart said construction could begin in a year.

Nearly 400 people crowded into Orange County High School to attend the board's hearing. Many residents cited three reasons for supporting the Walmart proposal: jobs, tax revenue and a cheap shopping option for the 32,000 residents of this farming community about 60 miles southwest of Washington.

Speakers who urged the board to reject the special permit said they were not anti-Walmart, but simply worried about the sanctity of the battlefield.

Wal-Mart Stores countered that the site is zoned for commercial use and the store will not be within sight of the battlefield's 2,700 protected acres. The retailer has also said the store will create hundreds of jobs and generate $800,000 in tax revenue for Orange County.