Two days ago the Board of Supervisors in Virginia’s Orange County approved a Wal-Mart. Whether the 55-acre tract was within or just near the Wilderness Battlefield where up to 30,000 Union and Confederate troops were killed or wounded, was a key issue placed before the board. According to news reports, several historic preservationist groups had already hired legal counsel to overturn the likely approval, and their lawsuit challenging the decision was filed yesterday, the day after the decision. [Disclaimer: I have represented Wal-Mart on three occasions and sued it on another]
You know that the lawsuit wasn’t hastily prepared when it begins with a quote by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian James McPherson: “The Battle of the Wilderness was a great turning point in the Civil War — the first clash between Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant and the beginning of the end for the beleaguered Confederacy.”
According to Wikipedia, the “Wilderness” was a 70 square mile area of tangled woods where the Battle of the Wilderness was fought just a few miles from the Battle of Chancellorsville. The Battle to Stop Wal-Mart actually began in 2008 when the Civil War Preservation Trust began a campaign to halt the development, aided by, among others, actor Robert Duvall, a descendant of Robert E. Lee.
Commentary: Changes in the neighborhood landscape always evoke emotional responses, often out of proportion to the change. If we could turn back the calendar’s pages and apply, instead, for zoning approval for an upscale lifestyle center or even a Target in the same location, I suspect the preservationists’ response would have been remarkably different. Wal-Mart has for years been a lightening rod for neighborhood groups opposing not a land use but a business concept that Wal-Mart, being the best known, had come to personify. When it comes to Wal-Mart and local governmental decisions, it’s unfortunately not a fair or level playing field.