It is a battle that has gone on longer than the Civil War itself.
On its surface, the dispute is over whether 172 private parcels that lie outside the official boundary of Manassas National Battlefield Park should be part of the battlefield's historic district.
Proponents say the designation is mainly honorary, would not put restrictions on property owners and could increase the value of the land. Properties in a historic district also might be eligible for certain tax breaks and incentives.
But nothing is simple when it comes to development around the Manassas battlefield. Some neighbors and elected leaders remain deeply skeptical of the plan, fearing that it is a backdoor effort to expand the de facto territory of the park. They worry that development on any property included in the district would be prevented, or at least discouraged.
Virginia is moving forward with the designation effort, which began in 1997. On Oct. 6, the state commission responsible for bestowing historic designations will vote on the plan. That schedule is forcing residents and county officials to take a stand.
The landowners will have the last word. If a majority of those in the proposed historic district expansion oppose being part of it, the effort will fail.
Some nearby residents are worried that the expansion of the historic district would affect the route of a proposed battlefield bypass, a highway that would take Route 29 and Route 234 traffic out of the battlefield. Some residents are counting on selling their land for the road, supervisors and battlefield officials said, and they don't want anything to impede that.
No problem, said Park Superintendent Robert K. Sutton and Prince William County planning staff members, who describe the effort as an almost pro forma update of a 1997 historic plan for the battlefield park. The 975 acres in question are mostly on the park's western and northern boundaries.
"This has nothing to do with any expansion of the battlefield," Sutton said. "We have no control over what they do or don't do" on their property.
At a meeting of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors yesterday, Supervisor W.S. "Wally" Covington III (R-Brentsville), who represents some of the residents who would be affected, asked county staff members to analyze the effect of expanding the historic district on the battlefield bypass and the road's prospects for approval. After all, Covington said, official designations of historic significance and road building are rarely used in the same sentence.
State historic officials said that the designation does nothing to change the road-building process and that, regardless, a historic study would be required before a road is built.
Even the voting process is controversial. Each parcel of land gets one vote, regardless of its size or the number of owners.
"That sounds inherently unfair to me," Covington said. "You could have a farmer with 100 acres being forced into this by several small landowners."
"What if a husband and wife disagree?" asked Supervisor John T. Stirrup Jr. (R-Gainesville).
Board Chairman Sean T. Connaughton (R) said he was confident that residents and lawmakers would support the measure once the facts are explored. He said the effort would not endanger property rights and would not discourage or slow any road proposals.