For months, the debate at Woodlawn has been about which option for widening Route 1 is appropriate. Supporters of Woodlawn Stables supported widening in place, but the National Trust for Historic Preservation supported an option known as the Southern Bypass. Now, as the Federal Highway Administration gets closer to announcing a final decision, officials have signaled that the Southern Bypass will be the route that is constructed.
That meant that supporters of Woodlawn Stables lost one key battle. Then the National Trust announced that it would not renew the lease to Scanlin Farms, which operates the business, when its lease expires in 2015. That means that supporters of Woodlawn Stables lost two key battles. But they haven’t given up yet. They say that they are hoping the National Trust might change its mind and renew the lease or that the organization might find some other business to operate a horse stable at the location.
“This isn’t a pipe dream,” said Shelly Castle, co-founder of Save Woodlawn Stables. “They have not yet come up with what they want to do, and I know there can be some very good investors come in and help them with their vision.”
When asked for comment about the potential that the National Trust might change its mind about the lease, an attorney representing the organization said that option was off the table.
“With regard to the current lease, we’ve been pretty clear: We’re not renewing their lease after 2016,” said Ross Bradford, who represents the National Trust. “But we are going to consider any viable options that would work for the property. It may be equestrian use. It may not be. We just haven’t gotten to a point where we would know that answer.”
THE FUTURE OF WOODLAWN STABLES has been in doubt since U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D-8) secured a $180 million appropriation to widen the road as a result of the Base Closure and Realignment Commission changes that have added thousands of new daily commuters to Fort Belvoir. State Sen. Toddy Puller (D-36) and a handful of other elected officials supported the widen-in-place option despite the fact it would force dozens of graves to be moved at Woodlawn Baptist Church.
“The widen-in-place option best preserves the historic character of the Woodlawn community, preserves the existing uses of this historic area, and can be done in a manner to most minimize harm to our community’s historic assets,” the elected officials wrote in the June 10 letter. “We strongly urge you to adopt that alignment.”
But the Federal Highway Administration was also being strongly urged by the National Trust for Historic Preservation to choose the Southern Bypass. Officials with the National Trust have argued that the widen-in-place option could violate the law by encroaching on land that is legally protected by the National Historic Preservation Act. Now, as a final decision nears, the debate about where to widen the road seems to be over.
“The Southern Bypass has been the preferred option since June,” said Doug Hecox, a spokesman for the National Highway Administration in an email. “I can’t comment on which alternative might or might not be selected until the environmental review process is completed in the next few weeks.”
THAT PUTS WOODLAWN STABLES at the center of a debate that will unfold in the coming weeks and years, as the contours of the project are revealed. In the meantime, the National Trust says it will keep all options on the table as it looks to the future.
“Maybe after construction starts, we’ll have a better idea,” said Bradford. “It’s just that there are so many things we don’t know about how tripling the size of Route 1 is going to impact our property and the properties around us.”
On the other side of the street — literally and figuratively — are supporters for the stable, who are willing to hold out hope.
“Our goal is that it’s no longer Woodlawn Plantation as the mansion side and the stable side — that it’s Woodlawn Plantation as a whole, like it used to be,” said Castle.
Even though the future remains uncertain, many are remaining hopeful that a grand bargain can be organized.
“I think this might end up being a win-win situation,” said Puller. “If another group can come in and financially afford to make a deal with the Trust on a long-term lease, that would be a win-win for the stables and for the Trust.”