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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? 

PennyP June 12, 2012 at 05:27 PM
Ron, I understand the point you are making. It reminds me of all the hard work that went into preventing Disney from purchasing that land in NOVA to construct their history-theme park. They were eventually dissuaded through heavy political pressure, and then most of the land was sold to developers and built on anyway. What was "saved" in that case? Not the land certainly. One thing Save Woodlawn Stables is asking is why remove a leasholder that has support built up for 60 years and has deep roots in the community? Isn't this business, and the equestrian use of the property, something that matters and is worth retaining? 2016 is still a ways off, and the Trust could have a different plan for Woodlawn by then. Regardless, the Bypass would destroy the landscape and make it very difficult for any number of uses to continue on that side of the road. The mitigation plans are vague, at best. Speaking for myself, and not the Stables, once you destroy this landscape, once you damage the views from the plantation, once you remove the forests and the hillside and the Otis Mason House, and completely reorient the property on the east side, all that damage is forever. The widen in place option would allow more of all the historic properties to be preserved, and there are ways to help lessen the impacts to the cemetery. The position of one landowner vis-a-vis their lessee should not be the deciding factor for whether people get involved.
PennyP June 12, 2012 at 05:30 PM
Besides, the National Trust stands for creating, " ...places where we can go to explore our heritage, learn about our past, and grow a bright future for the next generation." They are about saving history, and places that matter. I think you would agree that after seeing the hundreds of people at the hearing, that the Stables is indeed a place that matters. How could we not fight for it?
DAVE June 12, 2012 at 07:15 PM
For all the chest thumping and flowery talk, the fact is Woodlawn Stables is a business, period. It's not a historic site and the community won't shrivel and die when it closes. It's a horse stable and riding center, period. It has "deep roots" in the community? The only thing the community knows of W.S. is when they drive by it on their way to Belvoir or Springfield. So let's not paint it as Churchill Downs or Belmont Park.
STEPHEN June 12, 2012 at 07:38 PM
RON: YOU HAVE EXPLAINED THE PROS AND CONS FACING THE STABELS VERY WELL. IF THE $180,OOO,OOO IS NOT SPENT NOW, THERE IS NO GUARANTEE IT WILL BE THERE IN 4 YEARS. THIS A NO-WIN SITUATION ON BOTH SIDES. LOOK HOW LONG IT IS TAKING TO COMPLETE MULLIGAN ROAD.
Tag June 12, 2012 at 07:53 PM
You're right, Dave, Woodlawn Stables is not Churchill Downs or Belmont Park. It's not a place for the affluent to play with their horses (as much as I love a good race), but a place where little girls and boys of everyday families learn responsibility, learn the value of hard work, and learn the value of life itself (regardless of the size of that life or the importance of it to other people). If you haven't stopped to enjoy something that Woodlawn Stables has to offer on your way to Ft. Belvoir or Springfield, that's a sad decision you made yourself.
PennyP June 12, 2012 at 08:07 PM
Actually Dave, if you take the time to read the documents, you would see that the Otis Mason House and the Sharpe Stables Complex are designated as historic. Secondly, your claim that people cannot be invested in a business, or that a business cannot have roots in a community is spurious. Perhaps it has no meaning to you personally, but you do not speak for the thousands that signed the petition or the hundreds who came to the meeting.
Captain Crunch June 12, 2012 at 08:11 PM
Ron, please use your pulpit wisely. Like you, I'm no expert when it comes to traffic flow options. But that also seems to be the case with regard to many urban planners/civil engineers who regionally have turned out one awful road after another. My go-to point of comparison: the abundance of outstanding roadways found in a certain car-obsessed country in Europe. German roads are generally planned/engineered to a "T", and often respect historical sites, incorporate animal underpasses, viewshed preservation, etc. The price for all of this: taxes reflected in exorbitant pump prices. Where am I going with this? 1. I don't want a higher gas tax. Pave less=widen in place=pay less. 2. Neither our old-timer elected officials nor our pols of more recent vintage took much of a stance on the present issue in a timely manner. When you were a part of the machine, what was done to prepare for the nascent perfect storm then? REX came about. Good, but not enough. Epic fail, otherwise (giant “CAUTION-PEDESTRIANS” signs, anyone?) 3. We need open space. Route 1 is a disaster in so many ways, and always will be. At least the stables provide a buffer to Dogue Creek. 4. The Trust property is a “viewshed” entrance to Mount Vernon. Slicing it up with the southeast bypass would be like adding an eyebrow piercing to the Gilbert Stuart portrait of Washington. 5. While the stable lessees may be facing a “sticky wicket”, they appear uninterested in taking financial assistance. Only my $0.02
JoeB90 June 12, 2012 at 09:37 PM
Good, fair article. Not all the pasture land will be lost. is it an option to simply move the stables to the east by several hundred yards and continue with a smaller footprint?
LoVegas June 12, 2012 at 10:19 PM
Moving the stables is more complicated than one may think. You have to move the 50-some horses to another location, take down and rebuild the barns, move the horses back in, then continue construction of the bypass. That would cost more money and stress on the land/horses in the long run.
Rebeccah Ballo June 12, 2012 at 11:25 PM
Moving to the east puts you in protected wetlands closer to Dogue Creek.
Fiona June 13, 2012 at 01:21 AM
Here's a question - how much money does the National Trust get if the bypass goes up? I suspect that has a lot to do with why they are supporting the bypass option that essentially ruins their own viewshed. Have you seen what a mess that place is lately? I am sure they could use the money, but selling off historic land and kicking out a local business seems pretty much the opposite of their motto "‎'Helping people protect, enhance and enjoy the places that matter to them". Whether or not that stables is a business has nothing to do with it's value, I mean honestly since when is being a small, locally owned business a bad thing? At least the stables takes care of the land they occupy.
Scott B June 13, 2012 at 02:17 AM
Rather than thank Congressman Moron as if he gave us the money out of his pocket, or actually did something that was not going to happen anyway - we should throw eggs at him!! He probably made sure part of the funds were earmarked for specific large donors of his, to continue his practice of fleecing the taxpayers to benefit his friends! --- and what the hell took so long? it is not as if BRAC just snuck up on us last week, it has been 7 years!!! Any politician in our area who has been in office more than 2 years should be fired!!!!
Miss Liff June 13, 2012 at 02:22 AM
Personally, I don't want the FHWA or the National Trust for Historic Preservation making land and life altering decisions about my community without my input. That is exactly what has happened here. This by-pass proposal has been pushed through so quickly and without proper procedures being followed you have to ask why. The fact of the matter is this IS historic land, the community DOES care and it will have a hugely negative effect on the Mt. Vernon community. Don't think for a moment that the by-pass is going to solve the Route 1 traffic concerns. You don't have to be an engineer to realize that when 6 lanes merge back to 4 there will be a problem. Going back to a widen-in-place plan will not slow this process down 4 years. The work has been done and with some thoughtful realignment and alternatives to spare as much of the Woodlawn Historic district (which includes the stables and the land it occupies) as possible everyone can walk away happier. Hopefully the Trust and the FHWA will realize just how valuable this land and the community that supports and fights for it are!
Shelley June 13, 2012 at 07:32 AM
Ron, you can ease your concerns, neither the kids, or the rest of us, are disillusioned that defeating the bypass means the Stables is safe. It's disappointing that the NTHP has fostered Woodlawn’s equestrian history since taking over Woodlawn's stewardship over 60 years ago, but is now willing to endanger it. The NTHP repeatedly states Woodlawn's uniqueness is due to all the eras represented throughout its' property and historic buildings: Washington and the Mansion; the Quakers and their “free labor colony”; the Civil War era Otis Mason House and the property he gave the Baptist Church; the century old Sharpe Barn Complex that is home to Woodlawn Stables ...I guess NTHP doesn’t believe in preserving Woodlawn's most recent era of history. Someone must have had enough forethought to question the NTHP’s stewardship of this era, because Fairfax Co records state that Woodlawn’s land records require the stables property must be used as equestrian property in perpetuity. As far as relocation assistance...Since FHWA can’t figure it out, maybe you can explain where the stables can relocate and run a viable business in the area? FYI, the NTHP refuses to be upfront what they are planning to do with the property and unwilling to discuss the lease until 2 yrs prior to it ending. Let’s hope that 2 yrs changes many things, including the NTHP realizing that they have overlooked a tremendous untapped market of supporters in their own backyard.
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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