Two members of the Board of Supervisors are expressing reservations about the county’s ability to buy the historic Salona property in McLean, which is being offered for sale at a reduced price in order to turn the nearly 50 acres into a park. If the county were to decline to buy the large tract of land, it is possible that it could be sold to developers.
Board of Supervisors chairman Gerald Connolly (D) and Dranesville District supervisor Joan DuBois (R) both contend they are “troubled” by some segments of the proposal and that current budget constraints may doom the project before it starts.
“There are some issues. This is something you can’t just do unilaterally, and I need to talk with my colleagues about it . One issue is that the house, and the historic land surrounding it, are not included,” said DuBois.
“I’m keeping an open mind, but it’s a bit of a disappointment for the county to not get the house,” said Connolly.
Co-owner of the property, Dan DuVal said a recent meeting with Connolly to discuss the possibility of the county purchasing Salona went well and that Connolly was “hopeful there was a way it could be worked into the budget process.” DuVal said, however, that “we are firm on not selling the house.” There is a permanent historic easement with the property, according to DuVal.
Salona is steeped in American history. The house was constructed between 1790 and 1810, making it one of the oldest in the area. In August 1814, as the British attacked Washington, President James Madison was forced to flee the capital. He came to Salona, making the property “White House for a day” and was later met there by his wife, Dolley, hence the name “Dolley Madison Boulevard” for the road in front of Salona. The house also served as the headquarters of the Union Army during the Civil War.
The Northern Virginia Conservation Trust worked up some preliminary financing for the county on how it could purchase Salona. Federal funding, supported by Sen. John Warner, R-Va., from federal transportation enhancement funds of up to $6 million could be used for the property. On top of that, state monies from the Land and Water Conservation fund of up to $2 million could be tapped into. State and federal funding are contingent on assurances of public ownership.
The DuVals have made the exceptional offer to self-finance the acquisition over a 10- to 15-year period and have arranged to have the first year's payment be kept under $1 million. Additionally, the family has offered the property at a price $7 million under its assessed market value.
Paul Gilbert, official with the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust, said, “A lot of that stuff is speculative at this point. It was written to show where funding might come from. We don’t have it nailed down yet.”
In a letter to the McLean’s Citizen’s Association, resident Bill Byrnes said, “I suggest, as others have concluded, in times of limited financial availability, that given the rapidly depleting land resources in the McLean area, our first priority should be land acquisition - with development, if necessary, deferred to the future.”
DuBois cautions that even if the county was able to find the money in the budget to purchase Salona, it would not stay as a vast open space. “There are those people out there who say that every large piece of property out there should be saved. That’s not realistic. The community should not expect it to look the way it does now. We can’t just let it sit there as it is now. Besides, I don’t think it’s very attractive the way it looks now,” said DuBois.
The bottom line, according to Connolly and DuBois, is that the money would have to come from an already constrained budget. “We have to put it in the context of the budget. We, right now, are looking at school funding, public safety and some sort of homeowner relief. I don’t know if that’s going to leave much room for anything else,” said Connolly. DuBois said Salona “merits further study” but says the issue is not up to her and says she has to enroll her peers in the idea if progress is to be made.
She doesn’t rule out creative public measures in getting the money. “If someone wants to give me $15 million for [Salona], I’d gladly take it,” said DuBois. The community would have to rally around the project in order to purchase the land. Meanwhile, the DuVals’ offer expires this year.
“This is truly a legacy kind of issue. This won’t be here forever. A year from now it won’t be here” if the county doesn’t buy it, said Gilbert.
Byrnes, in his letter to MCA, went so far as to suggest that other projects could be downgraded in priority in order to acquire Salona for the community. “I would suggest that the MCA Board name Salona as its top priority and Clemijontri Park as its second priority,” said Byrnes in the letter.
Clemijontri Park, until Salona came to light, was considered a top priority in the county because it will be the only county park designed for children who are handicapped. “Even if the acquisition of Salona were to exhaust the Park Authority funds otherwise available for developing Clemijontri Park, the Park could still be developed,” said Byrnes.
Gilbert said that Connolly likes the Salona Park idea and “knows it’s important” but said that it all comes down to the budget. “It’s dependent on a whole range of budgetary issues,” said Gilbert.
“We’re in budget time now, and we have to discuss it. In all honesty, I seriously have to think about it,” said DuBois of the feasibility of going forward with purchasing Salona.