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Richmond Highway Development May Spare Woodlawn Stables

Three plans under consideration would enable business to continue.

This is the second in a multi-part series from Patch about the economic and other impacts of the declining equestrian industry in Fairfax County.

Part 1: was published Tuesday, Feb. 21.

Part 3: was published Thursday, Feb. 23.

Part 4: was published Friday, Feb. 24.

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, a horseback riding institution near Fort Belvoir, may be spared by upcoming road improvements to Richmond Highway after all.

The stables, at 8907 Richmond Hwy., have been in continuous operation since 1979, when the area had fewer commercial developments and significantly less traffic.

Woodlawn Stables is located just north of Woodlawn Baptist Church and south of the intersection of Richmond Highway and Old Mount Vernon Highway. Increased traffic along Richmond Highway has caused headaches for Fort Belvoir employees and local residents, prompting local governmental departments to assess options on how to mitigate congestion in the area.

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), Fairfax County, the U.S. Army Garrison Fort Belvoir, and the Federal Highway Administration Eastern Federal Lands Highway Division are all involved in the studies.

In addition, the 2009 Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments Constrained Long-Range Plan includes widening this segment of Route 1 from four to six lanes by 2015.

“I’m encouraged by the possibility that we could stay,” said Cindy Mitchell, who owns the Woodlawn Stables business with her mother, Joan.  “Our proximity in the heart of Mount Vernon provides a lot of people their first opportunity to try a rural sport, and that would be lost.”

Laura Miller, Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Coordinator with the Fairfax County Department of Transportation, said three options are under consideration for the Woodlawn Stables, Woodlawn Plantation and Woodlawn Baptist Church area of Richmond Highway. The entire north end of US Route 1 Improvements At Fort Belvoir is a 3.5-mile stretch of Richmond Highway that runs south from Telegraph Road through the Mount Vernon area. (For details, scroll to the bottom of the linked page.)

The Richmond Highway expansion and realignment project are, in part, related to Ft. Belvoir's new hospital and base expansion.

Option 1: Widening in Place

Widening-in-place would entail adding 68 more feet to the current 80-foot right-of-way.  "This option would basically split the difference between Woodlawn and the Baptist Church, leaving the Stables' property essentially as is," said Miller.  Developers are also trying to avoid the cemetery at Woodlawn Baptist Church, but this option might require the relocation of several graves.

Option 2: Bifurcation

“The second option is based on the 2003 VDOT location study, and works better with the topography," said Miller.  "Generally traffic would remain in place, but the south bound lanes would be higher than the north bound lanes," she said, adding it would be difficult to maintain traffic flow during construction.

Option 3: Southeastern Bypass

The third option is a bypass, wherein Richmond Highway would dip southeast of the Woodlawn Stables’ barns toward the Potomac River, then back.  “The existing Route 1 would become internal access to the stables and or green space,” said Miller.  “The grazing pastures would become smaller with this option.”   The current site plan shows the bypass going through what is now the outdoor ring and cross-country country course.“We’ve not settled on an option,” said Miller.  “The project team is also investigating what other facilities are available for relocation of Woodlawn Stables, either temporarily or permanently, if that became necessary.”

The project is currently in the National Environmental Policy Act documentation phase.  It will be available for public review in early April, with a public hearing scheduled for sometime that month.  The environmental assessment study is expected by the end of May, according to Miller.

'Location is Everything'

“Location is everything for Woodlawn Stables,” Mitchell said. “Working parents don’t have time to drive an hour or more each way for riding lessons for their kids.”

Corine Bickley agrees.  The Gallaudet University professor began riding lessons at Woodlawn Stables eight years ago, and has transitioned to horse owner and volunteer.  "I'm here several times a week, which would not be possible if it weren't so close-in," she said. 

Bickley is hoping to begin using her horse Holly as a therapy horse with the Wounded Warrior Project.  "Woodlawn's proximity to Ft. Belvoir would make this a perfect opportunity," she said.

While hopeful about staying, Mitchell said she's also realistic because nothing is final.  “My concern is if things do fall apart for us, I’ll have 37 horses to relocate during an unfortunate economy.” 

In the past few decades, other horse-related businesses have closed due to the development of housing or businesses in Fairfax County. Jane Dillon's horse farm on Telegraph Road became the Coast Guard Station. Patti's Riding Stables in Burke and stables in Bay Ridge and Great Falls fell to housing developments. The loss of these businesses has meant .

Mitchell and her mother took over Woodlawn Stables in 1991 from previous owners Tom and Jane Scanlin. The Mitchells had been riding, teaching and working at Woodlawn Stables since the 1980s.  “When Tom and Jane we’re getting out, it was just the natural progression of things for us to up the ante and purchase the business,” said Cindy.

Woodlawn Stables is an institution.  “Our current summer camp director is the third generation daughter of a family who’ve ridden here,” said Cindy.  “That kind of longevity in a business is remarkable.”

Woodlawn Stables consists of approximately 55 acres.  The business leases the land from the National Historic Trust.  Cindy said Woodlawn Stables currently has about 37 horses, including 14 boarded by private owners.  They have between 300 and 400 weekly students, depending on the season.

“We understand that improvements need to be made for Richmond Highway, but they shouldn’t be made at the expense of the open space still remaining,” said Cindy.

Full Disclosure:  Burke Patch Editor Susan Larson has worked at boarding, breeding, lesson, trail riding, fox hunting and polo facilities in Illinois and Virginia.  In 2005 the United States Capitol Police Horse Mounted Unit honored her for her support as barn manager during their tenure.  She is a past member of Clifton Horse Society, former volunteer with Simple Changes Therapeutic Riding Center, and current member of the Mason Neck Horse Coalition.  She boards her horse at The Stables at Meadowood.

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Nina April 26, 2012 at 03:32 AM
Susan L. - Thank you for opening our eyes to the " death threat " against Woodlawn Stables. It is an all too painful reminder of Fort Belvoir Stables closing. Several fellow military family members and fellow Scouts were crushed, in shock, spontaneously crying, angry, beligerent, rebellious, bitterly resentment-filled, etc. From the first moment - thru pain-filled closing - a few are still bitter today. We do not need anything close to a recurrence - especially our Mount Vernon area children, youth, adults, families, etc. All the tending, riding, care, support, and comfort surrounding our Woodlawn Stables by Joan and Cindy and our community enrich us more than moneys can buy. Their individual acts of kindness and consideration are living positive examples for all our ages. Ask about their times within Curves for an example ;8-)) Besides, all those trees gift us generously with cleaner air for our daily breathing than more motor vehicles clogging Route 1. Cleaner fresh air generously shared with every one vs short sighted GREED = ......
Sally Spangler April 27, 2012 at 09:27 PM
Way back there when I was a teenager - I rode from a stable located along the Potomac River. The site is now buried under the site of the Kennedy Center. Those Saturdays of an hour each time cemented my love of horses for all time. My horse was not at all scared of the traffic. We went all the way up to just about where the Shoreham is/was. Unless the stable is totally gone, it is under the arches of the Conneticut Avenue bridge. Many, many pleasant and happy memories. It would be a shame for other children of this time to lose a place to learn and to ride.
Susan Larson June 05, 2012 at 02:12 PM
Via emal: As a taxpayer to, and native of Fairfax County, I have followed the Route 1 realignment process near Woodlawn Plantation for some time and I find the endorsement of the plan to "save" Woodlawn Stables at the expense of a historic cemetery troubling. While Fairfax County touts their "preservation of history", the policy is consistently to pave over historical properties and cemeteries. (I could cite numerous examples......start with Ox Hill Battlefield) continued ...
Susan Larson June 05, 2012 at 02:13 PM
Via email continued: While altering the alignment to the south will displace Woodlawn Stables, the overall change could be for the better. - The Woodlawn Stables is owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP). The "southern bypass" preserves, and improves, sight lines to Woodlawn Plantation and the Pope-Leighey House properties. - The "southern bypass" will move Route 1 away from Woodlawn Baptist Church/ cemetery and the Alexandria Friends Meeting House/ cemetery and allow future improvements which will undoubtedly occur in the future without displacing the churches or cemeteries. - Most importantly, the 'southern bypass" will preserve the Woodlawn Baptist Church cemetery which dates back to the mid-19th century and has 170+ graves. I certainly understand why the folks with Woodlawn Stables don't want to be inconvenienced. I recall fondly going to polo matches held on the grounds back in 1960's and they have done a wonderful job providing an equestrian center for the past 33 years. However, this pales in comparison to the 200+ year history of Woodlawn Plantation and the area's houses of worship. By moving it south, it solves several of these problems .
Susan Larson June 05, 2012 at 02:13 PM
Via email continued: This is an excellent opportunity for the county and state to enter into a Public-Private partnership for the on again/off again equestrian center at Laurel Hill less than 7 miles away which could double the size of the Woodlawn Stables providing for all residents of Fairfax County and not just those in the Woodlawn area. Regards, D. Glen Taylor Burke, Virginia Hampstead, NC

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