A community group fighting to preserve a longtime horse stable property in southeastern Fairfax County is claiming a small victory in its effort to preserve the equestrian facilities.
The Federal Highway Administration is moving ahead with plans to widen Route 1 near Fort Belvoir and re-route a segment of the highway so that it avoids encroaching on a historic church cemetery and the Woodlawn Plantation, a property that was originally part of George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate and is now operated as a house museum by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Instead, the new road will cut through the Woodlawn Stables property, which the trust also owns and leases to a private business. Woodlawn Stables has provided riding lessons and horse boarding for area residents for more than 30 years.
The community group Save Woodlawn Stables has been fighting to preserve the equestrian center in some fashion.
While they were not successful in preventing the road from going through the stable property, Save Woodlawn Stables says it has secured support from the other parties involved in the road-widening agreement to relocate the barns and construct a new indoor arena for lessons.
While it’s not a done deal, it is an encouraging sign, said founding member Shelley Castle. “This is pretty much the last hope we have,” she said.
In September, the National Trust for Historic Preservation announced that it would not renew its lease with the current stable operators when that lease expires in 2016, saying that extending the lease “would not be a prudent business decision.”
Castle is hoping that, with a new barn and riding facilities, Save Woodlawn Stables can convince the trust to maintain equestrian facilities at Woodlawn. There are about 300 students per week taking lessons there, she said.
However, even the construction of new barns is not guaranteed, according to trust spokeswoman Rebecca Morgan.
“Discussions are still ongoing regarding the stables facility, but it is unlikely any new developments will take place until the [Federal Highway Administration] begins the condemnation process in the spring,” Morgan said.
A programmatic agreement that the parties signed earlier this month states that FHWA will hold two design workshops to consider potential mitigations for the environmental and historical resources impacts of the highway widening. The agreement states that these events will consider relocating the stables, but does not guarantee that it will definitely occur.
Woodlawn Stables owner Cindy Mitchell said she has not been very involved in the discussions that affect the fate of her business. “I’m just a tenant,” she said.
Mitchell plans to find a new location to house her 33 horses and continue operating her business.
“It is my intention to keep doing what I’m doing; I’ll just have to do it someplace else,” she said.
Castle said that Save Woodlawn Stables will continue to try and educate the National Trust about the equestrian industry and convince them that there is a strong business case for riding facilities there.
“We’re going to be the mediators between the community and the trust,” Castle said.