Ronald and Betty Ware's white clapboard farmhouse is perched on a shady hill in the small suburban Virginia community of Dunn Loring. The house has been in the family since 1910. Betty Ware remembers Gallows Road when it was dirt, and when rabbits played there in the moonlight.
Over the years, the Wares have watched Dunn Loring change from a farming community where neighbors waved to each other to a traffic-clogged crossroads, with a Mattress Discounters, a Taco Bell. Today, ask where Dunn Loring is, and the answer will be in terms of highways: It is bisected by I-66 at the Capital Beltway.
The Wares have viewed this transformation with considerable apprehension. They still have a herd of 24 goats, but their pasture is flanked by suburban homes. The orchard has gone to ruin; too many people stole apples. Ronald and Betty Ware don't sit on their front porch anymore; it smells of car exhaust. Recently, they purchased an attack-trained Rottweiler dog. Said Ronald Ware: "The quality of life has taken a nose dive."
The latest assault on the Wares' bucolic life style, as far as they're concerned, is the coming of the Dunn Loring Metro station. "It's not going to mean a darned thing but more traffic to me," said Betty Ware. She fears the subway will bring more crime, more commercialism, higher property taxes. "Pretty soon, it's going to look like New Jersey around here," she said. "Ever been there?"
Everyone knows the Metro will bring more growth to this mixed commercial and residential neighborhood, and most eagerly await its arrival. Being whisked into the city on an efficient train is preferable to creeping along in bumper-to-bumper traffic. For many, the question is: How much growth is too much?
It would be easy to ignore Dunn Loring's dilemma. This is not a community in the strictest sense. The closest thing to a local grocery Dunn Loring ever had, said Betty Ware, was the old store run by Louis Kenyon, and he collapsed and died on the front porch before World War II.
There's a local church, but its denomination has changed several times. Some of the old families are still around, but many aren't. The Shreves. The Walkers, who were related to the Shreves. The Elgins.
There hasn't been a lot of interest from outside Dunn Loring, either. Throughout the Metro discussions, it has gained the reputation as a "sleeper station," to be used mostly by the neighborhood. The new station, which sits in the I-66 median strip, can't even be reached from that highway. Passengers must use Gallows Road.
Nor is the Dunn Loring area expected to be "built-out" -- completely developed and refurbished -- for 40 years. Still, when people speak of Dunn Loring, their conversations are already spiked with such terms as "neighborhood infill," "maximum potential of the walk mode of access" and "infrastructure improvements."
Part of Dunn Loring's dilemma is geographical, residents say. It is at the juncture of two superhighways, and flanked by industrial Merrifield. Tysons Corner is only two miles away. Dunn Loring is not far from Crystal City or the Pentagon; it would make a good location for companies that want easy access to downtown Washington, but without the District's higher prices.
Supervisor James M. Scott (D-Providence), who represents the area, does not believe Dunn Loring should fret about growth. He said the citizens task force has made it clear that the station neighborhood north of I-66 should remain low-density residential.
As for the rest of Dunn Loring, most people don't realize that "a lot of the other zoning decisions were already made a long time ago," Scott said.
But for whatever reason, Metro seems to represent in the minds of many a diversion from the past, a change in the way the community perceives itself. Trying to juggle neighborhood wishes and the Washington area's inevitable growth is David Sayre, a 37-year-old editor for the Bureau of National Affairs Inc., and chairman of the 14-member Dunn Loring citizens task force. His group is of such conflicting sentiment that members have tended to cancel each other's views.
Sayre said the process of determining Dunn Loring's fate as a residential-commercial community is just beginning. "People can point to examples of what they think is bad development, such as Crystal City or Tysons Corner. At the same time, they don't want to lose the opportunities."
Robert Warhurst serves on the citizens task force and is an owner of the Merrifield Garden Center. He works amid the smells of flowers and fresh earth. His business occupies eight acres. It would be tiring -- but not impossible -- for Metro riders to walk to his store and return with a flat of blooming geraniums or a pot of azaleas.
He argues strongly that the Metro will bring a better grade of development to the nearby Merrifield area. "I think it's good for the community," he said. The real estate people are interested in Warhurst's gardens, but he's not selling -- unless his taxes mushroom. Warhurst said those who oppose development aren't being realistic. "People don't realize that we're not suburban anymore. We're urban."
The Smerdzinskis, parents of five, can see the new concrete Metro station from their back yard. "It's a beautiful facility, really," said Dolores Smerdzinski, who wandered over one day while it was under construction, found an open door, and took a self-guided tour.
"Of course, you're apprehensive about the traffic, about the parking, and how that's all going to work out," she added. "But, all in all, I think it's fine. And most of the people I've talked to think it's fine." Said her husband Chet, a retired air traffic controller supervisor: "I'm sure that the traffic will build out here, but I'm not against progress."
In the end, the citizens task force recommendation probably will be a compromise, much like the suggestion recently made by a team of outside consultants and Fairfax County planners -- a mix of residential and commercial development, with traffic improvements to ease bottlenecks.
The planners' preliminary report has called for the stabilization of residential areas, including the Merrifield Village apartments, and the Bright Meadows, Stonewall Manor and Dunn Loring Woods subdivisions.
But it also was suggested that buildings with 5.1 million square feet of commercial and residential space be erected near the new subway station. Some existing business sites would be redeveloped, and more than 1.1 million square feet of commercial, residential and retail space would be developed where the Belle Forest subdivision is now.
Road improvements also are indicated, including the widening of Gallows Road between Rte. 50 and Tysons Corner, and the widening of Lee Highway between Nutley Street and Hartland Road.
Annette Herrman, a retired office manager, is one of the Belle Forest residents who has agreed to sell her land to a developer, NVCommercial. Herrman, who has lived in Dunn Loring for 31 years, said she didn't want Metro, nor does she have any desire to live next door to a noisy train station.
"The area has changed," she said. "You can't get away from the streets and the noise. It is not a desirable single-family residential area anymore."
Before Dunn Loring's future is sealed, there will be public hearings, and modifications and amendments to the plans. The final package won't be presented to the Board of Supervisors for a vote until fall.
For now, it's hard to talk specifics. Ronald Ware said he is certain the area will emerge as a "suburban slum." But Ray Worley, president of the Dunn Loring Improvement Association, says the community's future is "a pig in a poke. It's a 'we're not sure' kind of thing."
Worley, a real estate broker, also thinks the Metro station is a fine idea. But he is not pleased that commuters will have to wind through Dunn Loring on their way to the station's 1,000-car parking lot.
Kathy Chavez, too, is excited about the subway. She's 45, a printing company accountant, and she may use Metro to commute to work in Arlington. The station is only a 10-minute stroll from her house. "I certainly think it's great to have the accessibility," she said.
Like some of her neighbors, Chavez hopes Metro will encourage more young professionals to move to Dunn Loring and help keep it essentially a residential area. She worries that traffic and dense development will affect the Stenwood Elementary School, which sits beside I-66 and the new station.
Robert W. Summers, 68, a Dunn Loring resident for 25 years, welcomes the Metro but worries about preserving a suburban life style. "We all agree that we should have denser housing than we have now," he said. "But as far as increased commercialism -- that isn't going to do. It's only going to bring more traffic."
Betty Ware shares that complaint. When she brings in a new goat from the country, she said, it takes the animal a while to adjust to the traffic noise.
It is her view that Dunn Loring began changing after World War II. The builders came, followed by the people. "It was getting out of control when they built the Pimmit Hills subdivision, I thought."
Four years ago, the Wares stopped sitting on their porch. They say it's not worth fixing the peeling paint, or hanging geraniums. They've installed a farmhouse burglar alarm. But they don't want to leave.
"This isn't like a new house," said Ronald Ware. "It's full of good spirits." Sighed Betty Ware: "We're in a hard spot. We're leftovers from another generation."