For a number of reasons, the western Loudoun County town of Round Hill has considered itself immune to the reaches of large developers.
For one, zoning laws in western Loudoun allow one house per three acres, a density that most developers would consider insufficient to be financially profitable.
For another, the town has barely enough water to serve its 260 water customers.
During last year's drought, the town council imposed summer-long water restrictions. Last week, the state health department told town officials that the deadline for the 11-year state mandate to improve the quality and quantity of Round Hill's water supply is Jan. 1.
But this month, Round Hill residents learned that the Intergate Company Inc. has purchased options to buy 2,700 acres just outside the town and has been trying, so far unsuccessfully, to buy an 800-acre tract. Intergate officials have told Blue Ridge Supervisor James Brownell, whose district includes Round Hill, that they plan to build as many as two houses per acre on the 3,500 acres they hope to own.
Plans for a large residential community in their midst have upset some of the town's 500 residents.
"I'm as angry as I could get," said Wally Johnson, a Round Hill resident and business owner. "And I'm frustrated because the farmers can't make enough money and they're almost forced to sell their land."
Johnson said he will oppose the development and attend rezoning hearings. Intergate wants to build at a higher density than the current agricultural zoning allows.
Conceding that farmers "have a right to do what they want with their land," Johnson added, "It's the snowball effect I'm worried about. If this gets approved, then what?"
Last week, the Virginia Water Control Board told Round Hill officials that Sleeter's Lake, a nearly 100-acre body of water at Hill High Orchards, may be used safely as a water supply. The town has been waiting for such a green light for several years.
"Why is the state approving this request now, after all this time?" asked a mystified Shelvie May, a grocery clerk in one of Round Hill's two country stores. "I think it's to accommodate this new development. And I don't like it at all."
David Via is a stone mason who lives in the Sunny Ridge development, a small community on the Blue Ridge foothills. The view from his front porch includes the site of the proposed development. "Now we see mostly trees and open space," he said. "It never occurred to me that the first major development in western Loudoun would be so large. There won't be any transition time for this community to adjust."
Rural mail carrier Bonnie Hutchinson was among those residents who said they will move farther west if the Intergate proposal is approved. "It's so pretty here, and I don't blame people for wanting to come here," Hutchinson said. "But that much development will change everything. It will turn Round Hill into another Sterling Park, where I grew up. I don't want to be here to watch that."
Rte. 719, Round Hill's main street, is a two-lane paved road too narrow to merit a painted median line. Old frame houses with wide porches and wooden swings soon give way to fields, tangled brush and the fragrance of honeysuckle within less than a mile from busy Rte. 7.
Francis Hough, a 30-year Round Hill resident, contemplated the evening quiet from his front yard and said, "People gotta go somewhere. What I want to know is, where are they all coming from?"