Spotsylvania County supervisors voted last night to rezone 137 acres for senior housing, part of a complex, four-party deal that will protect a key portion of the Civil War battlefield at Chancellorsville -- and part of increasing efforts in the area to court residents over 55.
The vote ended a five-year fight between preservationists and the landowner, John Mullins, who initially optioned much of his 790-acre farm south of Fredericksburg to a Reston firm with plans for a commercial and residential development called the Town of Chancellorsville. That proposal was swamped last year by public opposition.
The mood at last night's meeting contrasted with the protracted battle that had been waged over the proposed 2,000-home development.
"I believe God has been the director of these events," said Karen Dameron, who owns property that is being sold as part of the development.
Other speakers and officials made hopeful speeches before the vote about how the Chancellorsville fight would change the tone of discussions in the county and prove that development and preservation can coexist happily.
As a result of last night's rezoning, Tricord Inc. of Spotsylvania will include nearly 300 single-family units for people over 55 and 500 assisted-living units in a larger development on land bought from Mullins and adjacent landowners.
In addition, Tricord has agreed to sell 140 acres of the Mullins farm -- the site of the 1863 battle in which the South came closest to winning the war, historians say -- to the Washington-based Civil War Preservation Trust for $3 million, according to trust spokesman Jim Campi.
Preserving the core of the battlefield augments the county's efforts to raise its profile as a tourist destination and attract visitors whose vacation spending would help offset the cost of so many new residents. In approving age-restricted housing, the supervisors were taking steps to attract newcomers who will not need schools and other services for children.
"It's a new phenomenon that's coming," said Spotsylvania Supervisor Henry Connors. Housing for seniors "puts less of a strain on capital costs and brings more people with disposable incomes," he said. "You'll see more of that."
With some of the fastest growth rates in the country, Spotsylvania and Stafford counties are following the example set elsewhere in Northern Virginia in encouraging large developments for seniors. Falls Run by Del Webb, a 783-unit development in Stafford, was the fastest-selling age-restricted project in the Washington area, according to Hanley Wood Market Intelligence, an independent, D.C.-based researcher. Stafford supervisors recently approved 1,400 age-restricted units a few miles from Falls Run.
Central Virginia is attracting more seniors simply because it is attracting more people overall, including large numbers of young, commuting families. According to Kevin Byrnes, demographer for the Virginia Department for the Aging, people over 60 have made up 11 percent of the area's population for years -- a departure from much of the rest of the state, where the population is getting older as baby boomers age.
In the wake of the rezoning vote, there is now a 30-day appeal period, after which the land transactions can be made. The Tricord project is expected to be finished between 2007 and 2009, county planning director Ric Goss said.