Can the Stables Be Saved?
Route 1 widening options will affect Woodlawn Stable's day-to-day operations.
Over the years here in Mount Vernon, we’ve heard a number of rallying cries. Who could forget “Save the Mount Vernon Hospital” or “Save the Gum Springs Pool?” Then there was my personal favorite: “Save Wanda’s Nail Salon!” And now there is a new cause to rally around: “Save Woodlawn Stables!”
The issue is that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has plans to widen Richmond Highway near Fort Belvoir to help alleviate an expected increase in traffic because of the Base Realignment and Closure Act (BRAC). There are three options on the table: a no-build option, a southeast bypass option, and a widen-in-place option. The southeast bypass option is attracting the most attention because it would construct a road right through that property that is currently being rented by the Woodlawn Stables or as some call the property, “the horse farm.” If this option was adopted, the stables would be gone.
Last week at Hayfield Secondary School, hundreds of interested parties packed the cafeteria, most of them clad in blue t-shirts indicating their support for preserving the stables. Among the attendees were many children who have been getting a good lesson in civics as they have circulated petitions, held bake sales and performed other duties, all designed to “Save Woodlawn Stables.” It’s a true grassroots effort and to some extent it appears to be working in that the vast majority of our elected officials are supporting the widen-in-place option. As a strong believer in the power of organizing, I want to applaud these kids for their work.
But here’s my concern. The fact is that, no matter what option is selected, Mount Vernon will probably lose the stables anyway. You see, that property is owned by the National Historic Trust for Historic Preservation and the owners of the stables are renting the property from the Trust. The lease is up in July, 2016. If you talk to the Trust and others, it is practically common knowledge that the Trust does not want to renew the lease. The owners of Woodlawn Stables are very aware of this possibility. Meanwhile, the irony is that if the southeast bypass option is selected, by law the owners of the stables would be given relocation assistance. That puts them in an interesting position. If they decide to hang in there and fight this southeast bypass option and win, they will probably still move out anyway but they would not get the financial assistance. It’s a sticky wicket.
Here’s the other thing that is bugging me. We all complain (for good reason) about the traffic here in the Mount Vernon area, particularly along the Richmond Highway corridor. Then, thanks to Congressman Jim Moran, we get a check of $180 million to widen the highway through Fort Belvoir all the way up to Woodlawn Plantation. Sure, it’s not enough. The road should be widened all the way up to the Beltway. In the meantime, however, we should grab this money and run with it. When you widen a road, especially one as well travelled as this one, someone is gonna get hurt. For example, if they widen the road at its current spot, the Old Quaker Church and the historic cemetery will be endangered. The southeast bypass will obviously hurt as well. The no-option option is clearly not an option.
So, there is going to be some pain in this process in the name of “progress.” And I am clearly no expert when it comes to traffic flow options. My concern goes back to the kids. If the widen-in-place option is chosen, they will think they have “saved” the stables. What happens a few years later when the owners of Woodlawn Stables pack up and move?