Plans for Wartime Museum in Dale City set off skirmishes

By Jennifer Buske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 3, 2010

For 21 years, Dale City resident Bill Houston looked out his Ashdale Circle townhouse window to trees and green space -- a nice selling point if he ever wanted to put his house on the market, he said.

Now, however, not only is his pristine view about to change, but so could his property value and quality of life as the county works with officials from the National Museum of Americans in Wartime to build a $50 million museum with outdoor reenactments and demonstrations behind his community.

"We are only 38 homes . . . but they are impacting our standard of living tremendously," he said. "When you try to sell a home, you write, 'Backs to the woods.' What am I going to write? It backs to a battlefield? Who is going to want a battlefield in their back yard?"

Houston is one of several concerned neighbors who plan to attend Tuesday's Prince William Board of County Supervisors meeting, at which officials are scheduled to vote on a map amendment needed for the project to move forward. The map amendment will basically be a rezoning, county officials said, changing 40-plus acres from mostly office and high-density residential to commercial.

The Wartime Museum has been in the works for nearly a decade and is scheduled to open Veterans Day 2014 on a 70-acre plot donated by the Hylton family just off Interstate 95 and Dale Boulevard. The museum is expected to draw about 300,0000 visitors annually and have an economic impact of $15 million to $25 million a year, according to county documents.

Although the nonprofit organization that will run the museum will raise the $50 million, the county has contributed about $721,500 over the past seven years to secure the museum in Prince William, county officials said, noting that museum officials almost settled in nearby Stafford County.

"Prince William has contributed over the years seed money to the museum because it is important to the county to keep the museum in Prince William," said board Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R-At Large). "Securing the museum for Prince William is a major accomplishment and benefit for the county, and it's a major shot in the arm for the Dale City area."

The museum will cover each major era from World War I to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars through interactive displays and docents who will explain their personal experiences in war. The museum will be indoors and outdoors, where people can participate and watch reenactments, touch and climb aboard military vehicles and hunker in the trenches, according to county documents.

"My back yard will back up to the aircraft hangar, and some of my neighbors will see the reenactments from their windows," Houston said. "The noise it is going to generate will be tremendous. We live about 10 miles from Quantico, and we can hear when they have target practice. . . . Imagine what it will be like 200 feet from your house."

Ashdale Circle resident Bob Moore, who has lived in the townhouse community since 1985, said that as a Navy retiree who was on a ship during the Vietnam War, he doesn't need to hear the sounds of battle.

"I would be reliving all of the guns on board the ships and the missiles on board the ships," he said. "If they have cannons going off all the time, that would upset me."

Besides the noise from reenactments and running military vehicles, Moore and others said that the traffic on Dale Boulevard will be a mess -- it can already take 20 to 40 minutes to go half-a-mile during rush hour -- and that property values and quality of life might decline.

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