A petition to save a Mount Vernon equestrian facility from closing garnered nearly 1,000 signatures in one day.
Save Woodlawn Stables was organized by Mount Vernon residents Shelley Castle, Autumn Clayton and Laura Wainwright. The grassroots organization is dedicated to preserving Woodlawn Stables, whose future might be in jeopardy because of plans to widen Richmond Highway.
“We all have this place in our heart,” said Castle, a former riding student at Woodlawn Stables. “I can probably speak for anyone who lives in [the] area.”
Castle, Clayton and Wainwright started riding horses at a young age and continued to pursue their passion in adulthood. When they learned about the plans to widen Richmond Highway and its impact on the stables, they decided to take action.
Save Woodlawn Stables launched a Facebook page this week and has already gained more than 500 followers from the local equestrian and Mount Vernon communities. The group will distribute updates via social media, Castle said.
Southeast Bypass Option Could Force Stables to Close
The Federal Highway Administration, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and other consulting parties have met privately and are favoring a southeast bypass option for the widening of Route 1 from four to six lanes in a 3.5-mile stretch of highway running south to Fort Belvoir, according to the Save Woodlawn Stables position paper.
The southeast bypass option plan calls for Richmond Highway to dip southeast of the Woodlawn Stables’ barns toward the Potomac River, then back to the west. This option would force Woodlawn Stables to close because it would take up a significant portion of land.
The expansion of Richmond Highway is part of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) project at Fort Belvoir and is meant to help alleviate traffic near the military installation.
Two other options were also being considered: bifurcation and widening in place. The Save Woodlawn Stables position paper states that either option would have less of an impact on Woodlawn Stables and the horses. The group supports the widening in place option, which would sacrifice some of the land but have the lowest impact on the stables’ daily operations.
“It’ll be least impactful for the horses,” Castle said.
Laura Miller, Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Coordinator with the Fairfax County Department of Transportation, told Patch dates for the public review and public hearing are pending.
Castle feels the consulting parties don't have a vested interest in the future of Woodlawn Stables and aren't considering the consequences.
"I don’t think anyone’s considering what’s going to happen to 40 heads of horses," said Castle. "Those horses are there for life. Woodlawn’s taking care of them properly. It's another small business being pushed out, especially one run by women."
Not Kept in the Loop
Cindy Mitchell co-owns Woodlawn Stables with her mother, Joan. Woodlawn Stables leases the land from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Their current lease expires in 2016. According to Mitchell, she was never informed by the Trust about any developments or news about the road widening.
“I found out from a parent of a boarder,” Mitchell recalled.
The Uniform Relocation Act would allow the National Trust to provide some funding to Woodlawn Stables if it needs to relocate due to the road widening, said Germonique Ulmer, senior director for public affairs for the National Trust. However, Mitchell doesn’t have enough time or funds to relocate Woodlawn Stables if the southern bypass option is approved.
“I think it’s short-sighted,” said Mitchell of the option. “It doesn’t give enough credence to the community at large.”
Losing Woodlawn Stables Would Be a ‘Travesty’
Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerry Hyland has been inundated with emails from concerned residents who want to preserve Woodlawn Stables.
Hyland believes it would be a “travesty” for the community to lose Woodlawn Stables.
“My position is that the objective should be to find a way to align the road in a fashion that would not take out the stables and would allow them to continue to operate as they’ve done so many years,” Hyland said.
He suggested that all parties find a way to use land on both sides of the road for the Richmond Highway widening project, rather than putting the burden on Woodlawn Stables.
Supervisor Hyland added that his office plans to call a meeting of all interested parties to discuss the issue.
“There’s a history on this property people remember, respect and really love,” Hyland said. “It’s a beautiful site.”
Mitchell is thankful that her sisters in the equestrian community are taking on the task of fighting for the future of Woodlawn Stables.
“I have my hands very full with running the business and taking care of a parent with cancer,” said Mitchell. “It’s truly a community action. We’re very blessed to have the amount of responses the ladies are getting. I’m very grateful for what they’re doing.”
Earlier this year, Patch ran a multi-part series on the state of the equestrian business in Fairfax County. Read the series here.