Disney, Critics Disagree Over Whether Impact Can Be Managed

IF the Walt Disney Company builds its theme park in Haymarket, Va., urban sprawl will surround nearby Manassas National Battlefield Park and``squeeze it to death,'' Princeton University historian James McPherson predicted last week at a Senate hearing.

Assistant Interior Secretary George Frampton Jr. testified that ``the Park Service is frankly concerned that development pressure is going to bust the zoning, and we're going to have high-rise hotels next to the park.''

Development has already reached the field in the form of a Holiday Inn and some service stations near the park entrance. But is choking, ugly sprawl inevitable?

Not necessarily, says Bruce McClendon, director of planning and development for Orange County, Fla., home to Disney World and miles of strip developments. Mr. McClendon agrees that the strip development around Disney World is low quality, but he argues that the Virginia development does not have to follow the same pattern.

If the local jurisdictions put proper zoning in place now, they can plan for ``high quality development'' that matches Disney's standards, McClendon says.

But ``Disney needs to provide the financial and technical support ... to strengthen those standards,'' he argues.

Proper development, McClendon says, would include preservation of open space near the battlefields and the creation of village-like clusters that would keep some spaces undeveloped.

EARLIER this month, Disney coordinated a development conference in Virginia.

``We want to make sure that what we do will be a catalyst for quality development,'' says Dana Nottingham, director of development for the propsed Disney's America park.

But anti-Disney historians don't buy the ``quality-development'' argument. Pavement is pavement, and once the countryside is torn up, it's gone forever, they argue.

``The key here is the automobile,'' says biographer David McCullough. Disney projects 77,000 car trips a day, and that, he says, means parking space, gas stations, and food.

``They are saying, in effect, we are going to drop a granite boulder into the pond, and it's going to be a nice boulder, and we're going to drop it nicely,'' he says, ``and that may all be true, but the ripple effect is going to be devastating.''

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