Opponents of a large-scale housing development near historic Oatlands Plantation are gearing up for another battle to block the project.
"We are leaving no stone unturned to find another way to stop it," said Chris Miller, president of the Piedmont Environmental Council.
The council, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Audubon Naturalist Society already have filed suit in U.S. District Court to overturn a wetlands permit issued by the Army Corps of Engineers. Courtland Farms Loudoun LLC owns the proposed 200-acre subdivision, Courtland Woods, which is adjacent to the protected 1,000-acre Oatlands Historic District and the 700-acre Banshee Reeks Nature Preserve. The owner has begun grading and clear cutting trees on one of the six sections of the property. The county is expected to grant grading permits for two more sections by the end of the week.
Brad Kline, a managing member of Courtland Farms Loudoun LL, said Tuesday that the developer would continue grading and clear cutting to make room for 75 houses with the new permits. He said the developer made concessions early on, dedicating 600 acres of conservation easements, increasing buffers and developing 200 acres of wetlands.
THE VIEW from the Oatlands Plantation, which is celebrating its bicentennial, is now bulldozers, earthmovers, red clay and downed trees, according to opponents.
David Williams, who owns Little Oatlands, private property next to the plantation, is chairman of the Campaign to Save Courtland Woods. He said the opponents will file a motion in court, but they are not disclosing its substance until it's actually recorded.
Campaign members are still interested in raising enough money to buy the land and donate it to Loudoun County, he said. The price tag was too high, however, during the last discussions with the owner, he added.
Stella Koch, Virginia conservation associate with the Audubon Naturalist Society, said the opponents are especially concerned about the development process "There are a lot of problems with the development, the most of which is it shouldn't be happening in the first place," she said.
They question the impact of treating the sewage and spraying it on fields that will ultimately drain into Goose Creek, which provides the county's drinking water. "It's more than appropriate to have serious questions about what is going on," she said.
ANOTHER CONCERN is the wildlife at Banshee Reeks and the Dulles wetlands, she said. Koch and Joe Coleman, president of the Friends of the Banshee Reeks Nature Preserve, saw two river otters last week. Coleman said the preserve manager has seen other otters in the ponds and rivers. "He has seen them not just looking for food, but playing," Coleman said. "We also see bald eagles there quite frequently."
Andrea McGimsey, manager of the Campaign to Save Courtland Woods, said she was in awe when she saw two bald eagles. "It thought it was a sign that our fight is worth it," she said.
The Friends of the Banshee Reeks Nature Preserve also has identified 225 bird species in the area. Coleman said wildlife needs a large natural area to thrive, but the development would be in the middle of it.
Miller said the Courtland Woods property is not just another suburban area. "All of us are committed to making this property sort of a Central Park for Loudoun County so all suburban kids can have access to it."
He said the opponents are not fighting the developer. "We're challenging the policies that allowed this to happen," he said. "We don't blame the guy who bought the property."