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Preservationist Groups Upset About Development Plans

June 30, 1986

MANASSAS, Va. (AP) _ Some people are calling it the third Battle of Manassas.

This time, instead of fighting northerners, stalwarts for the rural ways of the old South are pitched against urban developers who want to build high rise offices on land adjacent to the Manassas National Battlefield Park.

The proposal has outraged some local conservationists.

″Let’s have some class, not a bunch of rinky-dink stuff staring down at us,″ said Dean McDowell, a member of the Izaak Walton League, an environmentalist group.

Douglas Harvey, a local historian and curator of the Manassas City Museum, said conservationists are upset about development plans to construct office buildings. These edifices, he said, would be visible from the 3,660 acres of national parkland that is virtually unchanged from the time the Confederates in 1861 and again 1862 repulsed the Union army.

But a spokesman for the Holladay Corp., a Washington, D.C.-based office development firm, said architectural models of the area show the high rises will not be visible from the battlefield’s tourist center.

″To view them from the park you would have to build them up to 400 feet. We are proposing 100 feet,″ said Mike Olney, a Holladay Corp. director.

The firm has applied to Prince William County for special permission to build five office buildings up to 10 stories high on its 133-acre tract between Interstate 66 and the battlefield park.

The conflict in Prince William County is nothing new.

According to the Sierra Club, a leading environmentalist group, relentless pressure for commercialization is threatening the natural harmony of many national parklands.

″Declining budgets for park protection make it harder to protect them from development,″ Douglas Wheeler, executive director of the Sierra Club, said in a recent letter to members.

In Prince William County, the dispute has opened festering wounds over the rate of growth in the rapidly urbanizing county, located 30 miles from Washington and less than half that distance from the high technology corridor next to the Washington-Dulles International Airport.

On the one side, some county residents fear high rise development will destroy their quality of life.

″We don’t want to be hemmed in by high rises,″ said Roland Swain, the battlefield park supervisor. He also fears the offices will increase traffic volumes on narrow, two-lane roads that bisect the park.

On the other side, county officials and developers say Holladay Corp. is proposing the type of upscale office campus that Prince William for years has struggled to attract. The high rises will form a landmark announcing to travelers that they’re arriving in a vibrant market, said John Gessaman, county economic development officer.

″That particular site warrants it. It’s one of the prime sites for office activity, and if you are going to do something that creates an identity, that’s the place to do it,″ Gessaman said.

County Supervisor G. Anthony Guiffre, who represents the battlefield area, said he will support the proposal as long as the developers keep the buildings beside the interstate highway, not abutting the park.

The board of county supervisors is scheduled to consider the proposal at its Tuesday meeting.

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