Board Takes Detour on Route 15 Resolution
Five Members Resist Heritage Designation

By Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 9, 2006

To supporters it seemed so simple: The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors would ask the state to declare about three miles of Route 15 a part of a state scenic byway and to back a broader effort to preserve and market a historic 175-mile corridor from Gettysburg to Monticello.

The project, led by a Waterford-based nonprofit group, is known as the Journey Through Hallowed Ground. Organizers have secured $1 million in federal funds to study the corridor, and they are seeking input from jurisdictions in Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia on how best to preserve it, celebrate it and make it an asset for regional tourism.

The group has the support of nearby counties, including Prince William and Fauquier, and hoped to gain the backing of Loudoun officials.

But there was nothing simple about the discussion at Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting.

First, Supervisor Mick Staton Jr. (R-Sugarland Run) cautioned that endorsing the designation and supporting the project would mean the board would relinquish its authority to decide how property along Route 15 would be developed.

Then, Supervisor Jim Clem (R-Leesburg) said the project could get in the way of safety improvements on Route 15, upgrades that he said are badly needed.

Then, Supervisor Eugene A. Delgaudio (R-Sterling) called the whole concept a "historic preservation boondoggle" with a federal designation that "special-interest groups" would cite "ad nauseam" to push for restrictive preservation of the corridor.

"I consider this a downzoning of Route 15," Delgaudio said. "I consider this unfair to people in Sterling to take a portion of a road and say this is a special road."

With that, the supervisors voted down the whole idea. And then they resurrected it -- or at least the most essential piece of it -- the part about declaring about three miles of Route 15 a state scenic byway. This allows the endeavor to move forward with the county's blessing.

In the resolution that the supervisors finally passed, they left out language commending the Journey Through Hallowed Ground. They left out the part about Loudoun County's share of the corridor containing 23 locations on the National Register of Historic Places.

And they left out the portion of the resolution stating that most of Loudoun's share of Route 15 is already a scenic byway.

But the meat of the resolution -- the byway designation -- was what Cate Magennis Wyatt, president of the Journey Through Hallowed Ground, was after. Wyatt said she was not sure what the board members accomplished by passing their own version of the resolution, and she said none of their concerns were valid.

"It's astonishing that this would get so derailed by disinformation," Wyatt said, "because what this is truly about is marketing our heritage attractions, supporting our existing businesses and, in the process, protecting our quality of life."

The ultimate goal is to achieve national heritage area status for the entire corridor -- a Department of Interior designation that helps a historic site or region market itself to the world, she said.

Wyatt noted that the project has the support of U.S. Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R) and Sen. John W. Warner (R), both of whom helped secure congressional authorization for the $1 million. She said that the scenic byway designation in no way hampers local governments' authority to set land-use policy, that all it does is take a required step toward the federal heritage designation.

Four of the nine board members agreed with Wyatt -- and were scratching their heads Tuesday about their opponents' vehement reaction to the proposal.

"I know there's concern about what all this would mean, and what it leads to," said Supervisor Lori L. Waters (R-Broad Run). "But some of it almost gets down to conspiracy-theory level, in my opinion."

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