Save Woodlawn Stables supporters clad in blue T-shirts Tuesday night voiced their opposition of Route 1 widening options that would impact the future of the equestrian facility as well as nearby historic buildings.
Hundreds of residents filled the Hayfield Secondary School cafeteria for a public hearing hosted by the Federal Highway Administration. The FHWA has plans to widen Route 1 near Fort Belvoir due to increased traffic caused by the Base Realignment and Closure Act of 2005.
Three widening options were discussed at the hearing: a no-build option, a southeast bypass option, and a widen-in-place option. The southeast bypass option could jeopardize the operation of Woodlawn Stables, Woodlawn Baptist Church, and other historic sites.
Jack Van Dop of the FHWA updated residents about current plans and moderated questions and comments from concerned residents.
“We have not decided anything,” Van Dop emphasized.
Local legislators have voiced their support of the widen-in-place option. State Sen. Linda “Toddy” Puller (D-36th), Del. Scott Surovell (D-44th), Mark Sickles (D-43rd), Adam Ebbin (D-30th) signed a letter with their support of that option to the FHWA and Virginia Department of Transportation Commissioner Gregory Whirley.
“We likewise agree with Congressman Moran and Supervisor Hyland that 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 letter states.
Woodlawn Stables co-owner Cindy Mitchell said she was “overwhelmed” by the amount of community support, especially from her students.
“This is the most important civics lesson these kids are going to get, and it’s something they really care about,” said Mitchell, who attended the hearing with her mother, Joan.
“I would not be who I am without [Woodlawn Stables],” remarked one supporter, whose statement was met with raucous applause.
Alexandria resident Eric Martin attended the meeting to hear what the FHWA had to say about the widening.
“Well, I live right near there, so I’m pretty concerned…going through the stables seems wrong,” said Martin, whose wife rides at Woodlawn Stables. “It seems like a gentle widening seems better than a whole new bypass.”
Save Woodlawn Stables volunteers Autumn Clayton and Rebeccah Ballo worked hard to spread the word about the public hearing. The group's online petition has hit more than 5,000 signatures over the last two months.
“The turnout is fantastic,” Clayton said. “We’ve worked very, very hard over the last month to make sure that people knew that this information meeting was happening and to make sure that they knew that it was important to come out and make their voices heard.”
“We were expecting a nice crowd,” Ballo added. “But I think this is beyond my expectations and we’re really proud to see all our supporters face-to-face.”
Woodlawn Baptist Church pastor Travis Hilton said that the FHWA has been proposing widening of Route 1 since 1965. The church has records dating back to that time.
“They kept this going all over our head, and in recent years, their proposal has been different proposals,” Hilton said. “We’ve been listening to them, what they’ve wanted and so forth for an extended period of time.”
The FHWA is proposing to exhume at least 100 graves in the cemetery, Hilton told Patch. He explained that the church would lose both property and square footage.
“It’s not a matter of support, it’s a matter of how are they going to respect our property and our cemetery,” Hilton said. “We don’t want any of that to be lost for us as we are part of this community. We have generations that have been raised in our church, and generations who have buried loved ones in the cemetery.”
Save Woodlawn Stables acknowledges that current widening plans will have a huge impact on historic land.
“I think it’s important for everybody to understand this is not simply about saving an equestrian facility. This is sacred land that we’re talking about, and this shouldn’t be happening,” Clayton said. “And a place like the National Trust for Historic Preservation shouldn’t allow it to happen.”
The deadline for public comment submissions has been extended to July 6. For more information, visit the FHWA website.