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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) 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 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, , 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, 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? 

Shelley June 13, 2012 at 12:25 PM
Stephen: You are incorrect, this money was an earmark and already appropriated rather than a budget line; it is there and guaranteed to be spent on this project only.
Cynthia Mitchell June 13, 2012 at 01:21 PM
Mr. Fitzsimmons, As the operator of Woodlawn Stables, I am deeply offended by your cavalier comment that the National Trust for Historic Preservation does not wish to renew my lease and that it is "practically common knowledge". Either it is common knowledge or it isn't. You must have some inside information which I am not privy to in making this remark. If that is true, I find it objectionable that information is not being disseminated to the correct parties (lessee). If it is not true, then you should look into the motivations behind whomever is feeding you this erroneous information. I have met with the Trust and at no time have they confirmed that they will not renew my lease in 2016. That should give you a clear indication of my opinion as to which is the more accurate of the above scenarios. To the thirty people employed by the stables, this is a big deal. This is their livelihood and what they do to keep a roof over their heads and food on their tables. My staff work very hard to keep not only the program running safely and smoothly but also to keep a strong reputation in our community. I have been heartened by the outpouring of support from the Mount Vernon community, that speaks volumes in favor of the work we do. While you seem to think it is frivolous, to the folks who would lose their jobs, I assure you; it is a very big deal. Sincerely, Cynthia Mitchell/Woodlawn Stables
Steve Chaconas June 14, 2012 at 01:18 AM
While I don't have a horse in this race, I find the cavalier attitude of the author (not intended to offend authentic writers) toward business and responsible journalism (no offense to professional journalists) to be amiss. A track record of his fascination with spreading false rumors about businesses and business people and false accusations relating to pornography demonstrate his lack of community decorum. Businesses are part of the community. They provide a service and in the case of the stables contribute to the quality of life. This column does neither.
Don Carr June 15, 2012 at 11:27 PM
As the Polyanna in the room who always sees the glass half full, I for one continue to hope that folks will quit trying to pin the traffic on Fort Belvoir. No one has yet provided any measureable analysis of an increase based on BRAC, even though the jobs have been at Belvoir since BEFORE the 15th of last September. "Traffic caused by BRAC" is such a general statement that seems to ignore the facts, chief among them the reality that a LOT of "BRAC traffic" was already on the road, just headed to other places. As shown yet again at the Hayfield meeting, the plans to widen Route 1 to six lanes from Telegraph Road north to the GW Memorial Parkway are basically the plans that have been on the books for more than two decades. What does that tell you? The original plans, "Route 1 Corridor Revitalization," are based on pre-BRAC projections of residential and commercial growth from Woodbridge, through Lorton and South County, to the beltway. The only real connection to BRAC 2005 is that it prompted funding that had for so long eluded the state and local community. Even then it was not BRAC growth but the new medical facilities at Belvoir and Bethesda that enabled the Virginia and Maryland CODELs to make the case that the roads MUST be improved in order that our nation's Wounded Warriors and others entitled to military medical care not be prevented from getting to it.
Don Carr June 15, 2012 at 11:27 PM
The idea that BRAC brought any significant number of new employees to the part of Belvoir straddled by Route 1 is most often touted by those who simply have not been paying attention. Only 3,400 jobs were moved there. That is well WITHIN the 3,000-6,000 limit VDOT has said for years by which Belvoir could grow without putting Route 1 at "Level F." The more important consideration is with patient traffic coming to the new hospital (thus the congressional earmark), as well as eventually traffic to the Army museum (coming to Belvoir after a very hard-fought campaign by the local community to have the Army put it there). Officials at Army, county, state and federal level continue to work very hard on the overall issue of what may be needed as a result of Belvoir's development. But, it is only fair to remember that Belvoir is not the only part of South County that is developing. We all live and work here, so we all share - fairly equally, when you get right down to it - in the civic responsibility to make our community "user friendly” as we work to grow it.

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