Arcadia: Proposing a Restaurant at Woodlawn Plantation?

Are the founders of Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture planning a 100-seat restaurant at Woodlawn?

The founders of Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture reportedly have plans to expand their agricultural services at Woodlawn Plantation with proposals for a restaurant that would eventually take over space now occupied by Woodlawn Stables.

Among those plans, Arcadia could be planning to create a restaurant at Woodlawn to make the National Trust for Historic Preservation property more financially feasible for the struggling property. Woodlawn has laid off a number of employees due to budget constraints.

Although the people behind Arcadia would not comment about any possible restaurant plans, Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerry Hyland told Patch he thought Arcadia wanted to partner with Woodlawn in order to help Woodlawn's bottom line and bring in much-needed revenue.

“Arcadia wants to partner with Woodlawn to help their bottom line, because they need all the revenue they can get,” Hyland said.

In its 2011 annual report, the National Trust states that "lack of funding" is a threat to the historic property, which sits on 126 acres. Woodlawn was opened to the public in 1952 as the National Trust's first historic site. The trust's goal for the property is to provide "a sustainable future for the estate through new and non-traditional uses and development." 

Ross Bradford, associate general counsel for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which owns and manages the property and is headquartered in DC, said the Trust has not yet made a decision regarding Arcadia's proposal to add a restaurant to the property.

According to Bradford, the Trust's main priority is focusing on the Mulligan Road construction and Route 1 widening and their impact on Woodlawn.

"We're just getting started on the Route 1 widening, and we don't know the construction schedule," Bradford said. "There are so many different aspects and until we have a better idea of the direction of the project, we're not making any decisions."

Since it was founded in 2010, Arcadia has been successful in its community outreach efforts. Arcadia brought more than 3,500 local students to Arcadia Farm for school programs and launched its Mobile Market to deliver local produce and meat to underserved communities in the D.C. metro area.

The Neighborhood Restaurant Group owns Arcadia, a non-profit, and has 11 restaurants in the D.C. metropolitan area. NRG is planning on opening five new restaurants and a production center within the next year and a half. 

The proposed $3.4 million, 100-seat restaurant would be located on the grounds of Woodlawn Plantation, according to plans put forth in National Trust documents. The 4,000 sq. foot facility would reportedly comply with Fairfax County HOD design guidelines and LEED standards.

Arcadia has approached the National Trust for Historic Preservation with plans to expand their services at Woodlawn. The expanded services would include an event space, food hub, kitchen and classroom, and the restaurant.

Plans for the restaurant were initially proposed in 2011. The Woodlawn Annual Report from that year states: “The objective is to create history-based experiences … that will also generate revenue for the site.”

The 2011 report suggests that the southern end of the first floor of the mansion should be turned into a restaurant. The larger room could be the main dining room, and the mansion’s original dining room could become an exclusive dining room. The report also recommends that select areas of the property on the west side of Richmond Highway could be used for fruit and vegetable gardens to supplement the restaurant; the gardens could be expanded to the east side of the road after Woodlawn Stables’ lease expires in 2016.

The farm buildings on the section of the stables’ current property may also be utilized for alternative uses, the report states.

“Upon the expiration of the stables’ lease, Woodlawn will be able to re-assert control of the farm buildings on that section of the property," the report reads. "This would provide Woodlawn the opportunity to expand its educational offerings by establishing a center for sustainable agriculture and historical landscapes. Depending upon the center’s needs, the existing barns and stables would either be restored for their original agricultural purposes or rehabilitated for new uses, such as classrooms."

The 2011 plan also explores the possibility of establishing community gardens, which could be rented by Mount Vernon residents who lack sufficient space at their homes for gardens.

"The community gardens’ per square foot rental rate could potentially exceed the current lease rate for Arcadia’s Woodlawn gardens,” the report states.

Save Woodlawn Stables issued a statement to equestrian groups this week:

"As you know, Save Woodlawn Stables greatly compromised with the Trust, the County and Federal Highways when we agreed to move forward with their alternative bypass proposal that would keep an equestrian center on the approx. 20 acres that will be left after the bypass splits the horse farm," Save Woodlawn Stables asserted.

"We have always felt we can work and partner with Arcadia while sharing Woodlawn’s historic district, but we are terribly disappointed and saddened that Babin and his organization now want to take this tiny portion that we have fought so hard to save too. The one thing about Woodlawn Plantation that has never changed since George Washington has owned Woodlawn’s land was that the property the stables sits on has always been open pastures and a working livestock farm."

Michael Babin is the founder and chairman of Neighborhood Restaurant Group.

(Editor's Note: Michael Babin is the Founder of Arcadia and Chairman of Arcadia's 6 member Board of Directors. The Neighborhood Restaurant Group does not own Arcadia. Arcadia is an independent organization awaiting its nonprofit designation from the IRS. The Proposed Restaurant (nor an entity that would operate that restaurant) would not take over the grounds currently occupied by Woodlawn Stables.  We regret this error. At the time this article was written, representatives of Arcadia declined to comment, however, after the article was published, Arcadia sent a letter to the editor. )

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Jaimee February 01, 2013 at 02:03 PM
I'm all for the idea of a restaurant at Woodlawn PLANTATION, but not at the expense the site of the stables remaining open pastures and a working stables. We've been through all the reasons that this property should remain a working schooling farm so many times. Isn't this small, woman owned business that provides a unique and beloved service to the community and makes for better citizens exactly the kind of business we've been encouraged to support? And wouldn't keeping a working livestock farm on the site be in keeping with the original intention of the property - thus the historical aspect of the property. It's not like we're talking about charity here, we're talking about a business that is bringing revenue in and will hopefully be able to team with Arcadia and Woodlawn Plantation to bring in even more! Besides, I'm not sure I'd want to eat produce coming out of land right next to a thoroughfare that gets so much traffic that we need to spend this much money in order to allow for even more traffic and the emissions that traffic produces. But that's just me.
PennyP February 01, 2013 at 03:01 PM
"event space, food hub, kitchen and classroom, and the restaurant." What does any of that have to do with the history of the property? What about the stables? What about all the reassurances given to the community by Fairfax County and others that commercial development would not happen?
Susan McKinney February 01, 2013 at 06:09 PM
As a resident of the Woodlawn community, I will tell you that I will never spend a penny at that restaurant, and will also never take visitors to Woodlawn Plantation. There are plenty of other available spaces to locate the restaurant that won't impact such an important part of our local heritage, and since the Trust (ha) is supporting it, Woodlawn will be part of my boycott.
Autumn Clayton February 01, 2013 at 06:40 PM
It just seems to me that there is more than enough land for both Arcadia and Woodlawn Stables, to ignore the hundreds/thousands of people who clearly want to preserve some sort of equine facility on a SLIVER of the property would seem almost greedy and short sighted. Working with the stables operator to create an atmosphere where both businesses (and I have no doubt that Arcadia is a business at its core) can mutually benefit one another seems like a win win. I'd also like to add that Aracdia has been benefitting from the stables already, filling up their trucks with horse manure to use on their gardens. They have not been quite the same good neighbor in return it seems. Lets just hope they can work it out.
Ruth Garrett February 01, 2013 at 06:56 PM
R Garrett I am a resident in the Mount Vernon area and my granddaughter takes riding lessons at the stable. The children love these wonderful animals. It would be a shame to take away such an interesting and historical site for another restaurant. There is no real innovation along the Route 1 corridor - we have too many eateries, hotels and motels. It seems that the same people go behind closed doors, make decisions and we wind up with the same old stuff! Leave Woodlawn Stables! With all of the stress in our lives, it's nice to drive by and see horses peacefully grazing. We don't see that everyday, but we see many restaurants.
John Evans February 01, 2013 at 08:32 PM
The article doesn't say where any of these services would be located, but primarily talks about placing things on the West side of Rt1 - which is not where the Stables are. The only mention of the affecting the stables grounds are after the Stables lease ends in 2016. It doesn't seem like the proposed Restaurant is pushing the stables out. It seems like the expiration of their lease is. I would think if Woodlawn could make enough money through the Stables lease, they wouldn't be looking for other ways to keep the place out of the red.
Shirley Cauley February 01, 2013 at 08:46 PM
Disingenuous and unethical. Clearly this has been in the works, & on the NTHP's agenda, for quite a while before coming to light in this manner. It is disingenuous & unethical. Both Arcadia & the NHTP should be embarrassed & ashamed of themselves for taking advantage of the base realignment process to promote the interests of what is essentially a commercial enterprise, instead of what is best for both the community as a whole & that of the stables' supporters.
John Evans February 01, 2013 at 09:15 PM
I don't think its disingenuous or unethical for the National Trust to look into various commercial enterprises that may enable them to maintain the property, especially since it looks like they included it in their publicly available annual report. If you've visited historic Woodlawn, you can see they have not been able to maintain the historic houses and property to a high standard, and the article says they are laying off staff. It looks like they haven't made enough money from the current commercial enterprise (the stables) to maintain Woodlawn, so they're looking for other possibilities. I would love to have a nice local restaurant that serves local food. Sounds like it could be more like a real restaurant rather than most of the fast food, strip mall places around here. Some of the other programs proposed seem like they'd benefit the community as well. If they can work together to help preserve Woodlawn, isn't that better than the Trust ultimately letting Woodlawn go into disrepair or selling it to a developer? From their website, Arcadia seems to focus on sustainable agriculture, educating kids, and getting locally grown food into low income neighborhoods. Sounds like a worthy organization to me. I don't understand the sentiment against Arcadia, other than you seem to like the stables more.
Victoria Dunham February 01, 2013 at 10:18 PM
As a chef whose business is based on local sustainable ingredients, and who also happens to be the co-founder and president of a non-profit for historic preservation, I strongly oppose this move if it in any way squeezes out the stables. Co-existence is critical here. The way this has transpired makes gives the distinct appearance of a sleazy rope-a-dope on the part of National Trust and Arcadia. If there's been any collusion between these two entities to push out an existing and much-loved tenant, then that makes a mockery of Arcadia's feel-good mission. If Arcadia can't get what they want without crushing someone else, then they need to take a hard look at their own mission statement. Do you really want to emulate the tactics employed by the big agri-bullies? Although the stable's lease may be up in 2016, there's absolutely no reason that it can't be renewed. Use your noggins and you'll come up with a way to have a food element and the stables. It will probably mean that Arcadia can't have ALL the marbles they want, but if they truly understand and embrace sustainability, they will do everything possible to make it work. Many of my happiest childhood memories were spent at Woodlawn, and I'm incredibly disappointed at how all of this has been handled.
Shelley February 02, 2013 at 12:32 AM
@John, please see the PDF that is attached to the article. It outlines Babin's plans for the stables side of the property. It includes a cafe, conf. centers, greenhouses, etc.. While I agree that Arcadia's stated mission seems admirable, I can't say this plan is…Especially for a National Historic Landmark. I want to address some assumptions you have made. The Trust’s problems have nothing to do with them not being able to make “enough money” from the stables. The stable owners have run a highly successful business and rent only one-fifth of the of the entire 128 acre Woodlawn museum & estate...Woodlawn is one of 28 historic sites the Trust owns. Respectfully, your blame on the tenet for a national organization’s financial problems is sorely misplaced. FYI: The Trust has negotiated multiple leases with the stables for over 30 yrs and at any time could have raised the rent accordingly if this was the problem. Please give their many DC lawyers a little bit of credit for their negotiating skills. Also, terms of the lease agreement were negotiated to greatly to benefit the Trust so that they would not have to bear the huge financial burden of the care and maintenance of the historic buildings and land on stables property; WS has done a wonderful job at doing that. Also, FYI, the Trust was deeded Woodlawn to keep and preserve its history as one of our national treasures…As part of that deed, they can’t “sell it to developers” or anyone else.
Mary Dove February 02, 2013 at 12:39 AM
Wow, this article contains more redactions than Manti Teo's 2012 Valentine's day card! And since when has the Save Woodlawn Stables clan "always felt we can work and partner with Arcadia". Aren't they the same people who tried to create a huge quazi-controversial stink regarding a possible brew pub on the property years ago? I've been looking forward to a cold beer ever since, but all I got was more whine.
Shelley February 02, 2013 at 01:49 AM
Mary, you must be thinking of some other group…We only formed Save Woodlawn Stables in April of 2012 when we found out that there had been no public meetings to inform the community that the plans to widen Rt. 1 had changed to a bypass proposal cutting through Woodlawn Stables. We have never advocated what you are accusing us of. To make it clear, we have been working closely with the Trust to develop several equestrian models that could possibly work within their future plans to find a more sustainable house museum model for Woodlawn. We have always advocated for ways this could be done so as to preserve Woodlawn’s equestrian history and intended setting, benefit the Trust’s financial needs and coexist with, if not, enhance Arcadia’s concepts. In this highly public fight to save and protect the equestrian property, we have shared that information very publically. I’d be more than happy to give you one of my cold beers, it sounds like you may need it. Shelley Castle Co-Founder Save Woodlawn Stables
John Evans February 02, 2013 at 02:51 AM
@Shelly Yes, national organizations have large budgets, but they still need to raise enough money on each site to cover the expenses of that site. From this article, and the look of the rest of the site, it appears that Woodlawn does not have enough revenue to match expenses, so it appears that the decision not to renew the lease was financially driven. I can understand the interest in maintaining a local business, but all of this criticism of the Trust seems to ignore the fact that the Trust seems to be honoring their current lease agreement, just not renewing it. Considering all of the criticism they have received, if it was financially viable to renew the lease, at a rate that makes doing so sustainable, I would think they would have done it. I don't hold the Trust responsible for keeping any tenant if they cannot afford to do so. I looked at the pdf. There were some components proposed for the current stables property, but it looks like mainly farming operations were proposed on the land that will be east of Rt. 1 after realignment. Most of the remaining components proposed to re-use the existing buildings, and I thought the realignment would put the buildings to the West of Rt. 1. The schematic does look pretty vague but it also seems like the proposal is not very far along the planning process. I'm glad I looked at the PDF, because there was much more in it than just a restaurant as the headline suggested. There are some good ideas that I could support.
Jill February 02, 2013 at 05:09 AM
What does Arcadia know about managing a historic site? How does their "co-stewardship" and all that they have planned have anything to do with history? Regardless of how it affects the stables it's bad for the history of this area. So Woodlaen Plantation isn't "selling" out to a developer, they are doing the next best thing and "co-stewardshipping" out to a developer. It all smells of big business.
Jeannie Pratt February 02, 2013 at 02:18 PM
I hope readers are aware that the Save Woodlawn Stables people do NOT represent the OWNER of Wooflawn Stables, who I understand is reconciled to the deal that has been struck by the parties involved , including her. The Save Woodlawn folks continue to try to give the impression that they represent something other than parents who are, understandably, attached to the lovely site or who, understandably don't want to drive their privileged darlings to PG county or somewhere else for their equestrian experience. Things change, this is not a bad use, and it has many advantages to recommend it to the rest of the community whose daughters don't ride horses.
Mary Dove February 02, 2013 at 03:55 PM
Shelley, I am sorry that I accused you of not trying to partner with Acadia and implying that you had been posting nasty things about them in the Mount Vernon Patch for many many months. I am also sorry that you were blindsided by these plans this week. I must have had you confused with a different Shelley who already knew about the plans and posted the following comments nearly a year ago: Shelley 6:03 pm on Saturday, April 14, 2012 I find it rather disheartening that an organization like Arcadia--who's mission is to provide education to children, sustain the environment and practice farming principles--is attempting to displace another working farm
PennyP February 02, 2013 at 05:54 PM
Jeannie I think you are mistaken in your impressions. I do not have a child that rides at Woodlawn stables, nor do any of my neighbors. We support SWS because we support the equestrian use and historic setting of the property, not a particular owner or users.
Shelley February 02, 2013 at 10:30 PM
@ Mary, first your accusations were..."Aren't they the same people who tried to create a huge quazi-controversial stink regarding a possible brew pub on the property years ago?" and "since when has the Save Woodlawn Stables clan" always felt we can work and partner with Arcadia"... Now you are changing your words saying you were implying that I have been "posting nasty things about them in the Mount Vernon Patch for many many months." Which is it? The Shelley you quoted is indeed me, I posted this when a reader pointed out that they had found statements from Arcadia saying they were actively persuing trying to take over the lease that Woodlawn Stables has held for 30 yrs. I'm not sure your point, but I still stand by my statement 100% I do find these actions dishearting and honestly, I think most people would. And so that everyone can read my full statement in context I will link to it. http://mountvernon.patch.com/blog_posts/will-richmond-highway-traffic-get-a-mulligan-ffe270e4 As you noted, it's been almost a yr. Since that time we have dealt with the road issue and turned our focus on working with the Trust on ways that an equestrian facility can be better modeled to benefit them financially and coexist with Arcadia. Seems to me that you are trying to turn this into something that it's not.
Meredith February 03, 2013 at 04:38 AM
I am a 9th grade student who rides at Woodlawn Stables every Sunday afternoon. I consider myself as part of Save Woodlawn Stables and have attended as many public meetings as I can, including the Mt. Vernon Town Meeting this morning (Feb. 2). I AM attached to Woodlawn Stables because I love the people who work there, the horses I ride there, and the friends I've met there. As a 'privileged darling who doesn't want to drive to PG county' as you put it, I instead carpool 30-45 minutes from Arlington to the nearest riding facility to my house. Although I agree that the Acadia restaurant is NOT a bad thing, I think it is wrong for the National Trust to claim their overall goal is to 'work to save America’s historic places' (quote taken directly from the Trust's website) and yet favor using the pastures that horses have grazed on and played on since George Washington's time for a NON-historic restaurant. Also, the stables is one of the few riding facilities left in the D.C. area and for any child (daughter OR son) or for even any PERSON who dreams of riding a horse but cannot afford one, this place is a little piece of heaven!! (At least that's how I feel). I hope your feelings are not against Save Woodlawn Stables because we are not a group trying to let the Trust lose money. We just feel that Woodlawn Stables is as much part of the HISTORIC PROPERTY as the house on Woodlawn Plantation is.
Mary Dove February 03, 2013 at 02:01 PM
Do you Stables people have any actual proof that the existing pastures have been used for horse grazing/stables, etc. since George Washington's time, or is that just another unsubstantiated myth that you are trying to perpetuate? Wouldn't it make more sense, based on the proximity to George Washington's mill and distillery, that George Washington actually used the property to grow grains? As far as I have read, based on historical documentation, the area has only been used exclusively for horses since the late 1900's. And since much of George Washington's whiskey is known to have been used to supply the various Inns, taverns, and restaurants during his time, I would say that a brew pub or restaurant is very much in line with George Washingon's historic intent. I can guarantee you that George Washington spent NO TIME WHATSOEVER taking horseback riding lessons on the property. If you truly support preserving the historic usage of the area, rather than your own personal selfish sentimental motives, then you should fully embrace Arcadia's plan to restore the non-equestrian-based agricultural uses of the site.
E. Jeffries February 03, 2013 at 05:13 PM
Methinks the lady doth protest too much! Mary, it sounds like you are part of NGR or their psuedo-nonprofit that wants to turn Woodlawn into some kind of restaurant theme park. I doubt you could look back and find that Washington ran cafes and grew carrots on the stables property either. I'm amused that with the idea of anyone wanting to eat organic salads grown in highway pollution and runoff. If I want organic lettuce, I'll go to the store or our local Mount Vernon Farmer's Market. While I have never ridden at Woodlawn, I have driven by its fields for 54 years of my life and seen nothing but horses grazing in them. I guess that part of history doesn't count. The horse farm is one of the special places on Rt. 1 that has brought joy and a unique wholesome experience to those I grew up with, and continues to provide that to the young people in our neighborhood. I don't see why you are criticizing those in this area that want to save and preserve that. Your unwillingness to see that there can be both, make it sounds as if you and NRG are the ones willing to change history for personal selfish motives--and lined pockets. If Arcadia is really being formed under the spirit this restaurant chain claims, then why don't they go farm on the many empty acres that are a couple miles up Rt. 1 at the former Lorton Prison? Fx Co. could use the help in finding good uses for the hundreds of empty acres on that property and it seems like a far more appropriate place for growing produce.
monkeyrotica February 13, 2013 at 12:02 PM
The restaurant sounds awesome. Definitely need more along Route 1. Bonus points if they serve sustainable horse meat.


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