The Associated Press is reporting that a deal has been struck in Chancellorsville between Civil War Preservation Trust and local developer Tricord. A long version of the story is here; this link gives a short version but contains an aerial photo of the surrounding mess. CWPT's press release is here. A letter from CWPT to the Spotsylvania Preservation Foundation gives additional information.
The outline of the deal is as described previously in this blog. CWPT is contributing $3 million dollars to Tricord to help Tricord buy what CWPT calls "core battlefield land." In addition, Tricord will receive special government permission to build higher density housing than the law currently allows (a nursing home or something like it is planned). In exchange for CWPT's $3 million and the government's higher density zoning, Tricord will "set aside" 140 of its acres (no details), "preserving" it from additional construction. The acres will remain in Tricord's possession.
CWPT's comments on the deal are worth parsing. From the release:
"Two years ago, few believed that the Mullins Farm could be saved," remarked CWPT President James Lighthizer. "Now, thanks to this unusual partnership, an irreplaceable part of Chancellorsville Battlefield will be protected for future generations of Americans. It is no exaggeration to say that this is the most significant battlefield preservation victory in a decade."
Two years ago, CWPT antagonized the seller by mobilizing public opinion prior to opening land price negotiations. CWPT might have bought outright the entire tract of land ("Mullins farm") if it had behaved prudently and negotiated a market price (CWPT holds over $15 million in assets, according to its IRS tax filings, and has an income stream of millions per year). Instead, we now have two projects going up on that land, on what CWPT calls "core" battlefield. The first is a done deal - Toll Brothers residences. The second development project - Tricord's - will be partially financed with CWPT's own $3 million dollars, if the county board of supervisors approves the deal. CWPT is paying Tricord to put high-density housing up in exchange for preserving some land from additional new construction. More from the CWPT release:
"Tricord is able to build quality housing for seniors, the county is getting open space for its citizens, and preservationists are getting a battlefield of enormous historic significance."
Absolutely no details for this set-aside (undeveloped) land have been announced, so one cannot say "preservationists are getting a battlefield." It could be that nursing home residents are getting a lawn. And the idea of CWPT helping finance "quality housing for seniors" on battlefield land is quite an interesting twist on their public charter, one that their members need to consider very carefully before making another donation to this group. From the CWPT release:
"Tricord recognized early on that preserving the battlefield was the path, not the obstacle, to a deal at the Mullins Farm," [CWPT] stated.
This suggests to me again that Tricord could not have built on battlefield land without the financial help of CWPT, nor without CWPT's influence over the zoning board. Another clue comes from CWPT's letter to Spotsylvania preservationists:
Once Tricord learned about the historic significance of the Mullins Farm, they became a enthusiastic partner in our efforts, as eager as the preservation community to see the most historic parts of the farm protected.
They saw that they could receive $3 million dollars and get a rezoning to enable them to construct facilities on expensive battlefield land. They couldn't have done it without CWPT, is how I read that passage.
Meanwhile, in the history department, we seem to have some ambiguity about "core" battlefield land. From the AP:
Although the 140 acres are outside the boundaries of Chancellorsville National Battlefield, preservationists say parts of it are nonetheless historically significant. [...] Russell Smith, the park's superintendent, said Tuesday the land provides "a green gateway to the battlefield."
Could lukewarm historic significance provide the key to understanding this half-cocked preservation push?