From his half-acre lot near the top of Bull Run Mountain in western Prince William County, Gregory Streeter has a magnificant, panoramic view. On a clear day, he can see the Washington Monument 40 miles to the east.
Streeter would love to build a house on the Warburton Drive lot. But he has a problem.
"From November to April," he said, "it's impossible to get to the lot... The two hills leading to my place are impossible to negotiate unless you have strong nerves and a powerful vehicle."
"I've always been able to make it," says Donald G. Peck, who is building a house on Warburton. Of course, he adds, it helps to have a four-wheel drive truck with snow tires and chains in the winter.
Peck and Streeter are property owners in Bull Run Mountain Estates, a 930-acre subdivision whose roads are literally falling apart as the owners watch helplessly. The state of Virginia, which owns and maintains the roads in most suburban subdivisions in the county, will not maintain most of Bull Run's 12 miles of roads because they are private. And the subdivision's association says it cannot do the job because of deed restrictions that prevent them from assessing many of the property owners more than $5 a year.
"It's next to an impossible situation," says Marge Denham, who is "the road commissioner" for the Bull Run Mountain Civic Association. "This thing happened because someone overlooked the future."
The 1,400-lot subdivision was created in 1955 by Coleman C. Gore, a member of the well-known Gore family of Smith County, Tenn. (Albert Jr., the Tennessee congressman, is a second cousin, Albert Sr., the former senator, is a cousin, and Louise, the former Maryland state senator and unsuccessful candidate for governor, is a niece of the developer.
To serve the subdivision, most of whose lots are half to three-quarters of an acre, Coleman Gore built a private road network. Because they were private, the roads did not have to meet state specifications, and they did not. They were narrow, lacked shoulders and sometimes had precipitous inclines.
Today any subdivision in Prince William with lots up to five acres in size has to have state roads. But in 1955, there was no such requirement.
Gore, who at 79 is still selling lots in an office-home on the mountain, admits the roads are exceptional. "If you're not used to these kind of roads, you have to learn how to negotiate them." But he says he has always been able to get his Lincoln Continental up Warburton Drive, which Donald Peck describes as a "roller-coaster."
Mrs. Denham says the civic association, which in 1968 assumed responsibility for maintenance of the roads there, has refused to accept Warburton Drive from Gore's Bull Run Development Corp.
"That road will never be accepted by the association," she said. "It is so steep, it is scary. I can't drive our truck up there."
The road-repair truck is not the only vehicle that will not go to Warburton and some of the other roads near the top of the mountain. Haymarket Postmistress Ellen Wilson says, "Some of the roads are too dangerous. They are generally in poor condition. Even in summen, when it is dry, it is difficult to negotiate them." Prince William school buses also stop short of the high roads.
Because of the condition of the roads in general, neither the Veterans Administration nor Federal Housing Administration will guarantee mortgages, and many area lending institutions will not grant loans, according to residents Rusty and Marilyn Givens and others, who have long fought for better road maintenance. Streeter himself said he was unable to get a loan for a house he wanted to build.
Recently residents on the lower part of the mountain got 1.3 miles of roads accepted into the state road system. About another mile and a half is eligible for acceptance, but most of the roads will never be accepted because so many sections don't meet state specifications and would not be able to do so even if elaborate alterations were attempted, residents say.
Marilyn Givens, who was involved in an unsuccessful effort to bring Bull Run Mountain Estates under the county's subdivision control ordinance, said, "We have exhausted everything... The county's hands are tied."
Rusty Givens would like to see potential buyers more informed about the predicament of the roads, but Prince William County Supervisor Donald White (D-Gainesville), whose district includes the subdivision, said: "The plats tell you that the roads are private. I don't know what else you could do."
While not extensive, private roads still exist in many parts of Northern Virginia, especially where there is so-called "estate" development (lots five acres or more in size.)
Most homeowners associations -- unlike the Bull Run Mountain Association -- are generally empowered to raise road fees as maintenance costs go up. For example, the English Hills subdivision in southwestern Fairfax County recently raised its annual fees from $100 to $175, according to its developer, John D. Ringle.
As upset as they are, the Givens and Marge Denham have no intention of leaving Bull Run Mountain Estates, which has 250 homes.
"There's no setting like this in the world -- the mountain laurel, the streams, the lady slippers (a wild flower)," says Rusty Givens. "I like it out here," agrees Mrs. Denham. "It's the perfect place to raise kids and to live."
"We don't like to knock our community," Marilyn Givens says. "But something has to be done."