The president of the country's largest nonprofit battlefield preservation organization has urged the Fredericksburg City Council to vote against a subdivision plat for byright 79-home project off Lafayette Boulevard across from the entrance to Lee Drive and the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.
O. James Lighthizer, president of the Civil War Trust, said its mission is to protect the nation’s endangered Civil War sites and promote appreciation of these hallowed grounds through education and heritage tourism. He said the group is very concerned with the current plans for the subdivision, called Telegraph Hill. The developers of the project include Hunter Greenlaw Jr., David Horstick and Andy Garrett. The Planning Commission has already recommended approval of the subdivision's preliminary plat and City Council makes the final decision.
"Present plans call for the creation of an access road to Telegraph Hill that would intersect with the northern leg of Lee Drive, a principal entryway to Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park," Lighthizer wrote. "We believe that building the Telegraph Hill access road at this location would be inconsistent with both the City’s immediate goals as well as its longstanding tradition of thoughtful stewardship."
Lighthizer said the city's 2009 Lafayette Boulevard Corridor Study raised questions about “frequent driveways and intersections” on a road plagued by “peak-hour traffic back-ups.” This study also shows the need for 100 feet of right of way at the southernmost point of the Telegraph Hill project at the narrowest point to accommodate the four lanes of traffic plus the sidewalks. Since the city government can not "take" federal land, it may be forced to purchase or condemn the approximately 30 feet on the west side that it will need to construct a four-lane road if the current Telegraph Hill plat is approved.
"That study’s findings recommended “consolidat[ing] access,” “fewer driveways,” and a “sensitiv[ity] to context.” The Trust feels that the proposed Telegraph Hill access road runs counter to these recommendations and threatens to further congest an area already rated at a “D” Level-of-Service," Lighthizer wrote. "Additionally, such a road would have a dramatic negative impact on the natural beauty of what is arguably the most striking entrance to the Fredericksburg Battlefield. Moreover, Lee Drive’s long symbiotic relationship with the Park imparts it with historic significance beyond the aesthetic value that its trees and greenery provide. The new intersection that would result from construction of a Telegraph Hill access road would compromise these resources, as well as open the door for additional detrimental development in this portion of the park in the future."
The National Park Service has also expressed concerns about the project and doesn't want Lee Drive to be used more as a commuter road that it already is.
"The Trust urges the City Council to continue to act in accordance with that legacy by voting against the Telegraph Hill proposal in its present form," Lighthizer wrote. "Lee Drive is no ordinary road, and the battlefield it traverses no ordinary park. Until and unless a more suitable site for the Telegraph Hill access road can be found, the Trust stands together with the National Park Service and against this ill-advised encroachment on a local and national treasure."
Council Members Concerned
Councilman Fred Howe responded to Lighthizer's letter saying he will not support the project with an access road intersecting Lee Drive. Howe has been one of the more vocal council members against this project as proposed and has been critical of a city staff member who allowed the developer to use a city-owned third lane on Lafayette Boulevard for the access road to the development. Howe said the developers have been unwilling to negotiate with him on the use of the center lane heading south on Lafayette Boulevard.
"The subdivision is a by-right subdivision and therefore the entry / exit off Alum Springs as proposed will be all I will vote to approve, thus meeting our City zoning commitment without a lawsuit to protect the tax payers," Howe said. "I have been working for the past two years to bring attention to this project with the public. We definitely need to get more folks to take the time to speak up."
Councilman Matt Kelly also raised the question of if the city should sacrifice the Lafayette Boulevard Corridor Study road expansion for a single development.
"At one time developers paid for needed improvements to handle traffic," Kelly said in a July 16 email. "Now a locality is being asked to give-up right-of-way, a lane of traffic, for a developer. That is an issue itself. Lafayette Blvd. is already rated D for traffic movement.
"Remember we are trying to anticipate traffic needs (a novel approach in this day and age) on a major artery into the city. And the first project to come forward compromises that effort. And again, there is a preservation question here (critical to the future of the city) in that more traffic congestion will degrade the experience of visitors (whom we need to help pay the bills) to the battlefield. What the Lafayette Blvd Corridor Study did was to not only ensure the movement of traffic but also make this area more pedestrian/visitor friendly to enhance (a new approach) the visitor experience. Please think long-term, big picture, and throw in a dose of reality."
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