To some, it's an integral part of their life in the Loudoun countryside: a narrow gravel road lined with flowering catalpa trees and stately oaks.

Others see it as a treacherous route marred with deep ruts that becomes impassable in heavy rains.

Old Wheatland Road, which runs from Route 9 to the edge of historic Waterford, is the latest of several Loudoun roads where neighbors are passionately debating whether paving is a safety necessity or an invitation for more traffic and eventually more houses.

During a Wednesday night public hearing before the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, 18 residents who spoke were nearly evenly split on whether the 2.95-mile stretch should be paved.

County staff members said the proposed paving, which appears on Loudoun's six-year secondary road improvement plan, was first requested by residents of the Rosemont Farm subdivision.

Mark Koblos, president of the development's homeowners association, told supervisors that although his neighbors aren't looking for a "super road," the existing gravel is a constant danger.

Koblos said that drivers often travel too fast and that even at slower speeds, it's difficult to handle a car on the rough surface.

"My interest is safety," Koblos said. "I've hit a deer myself on that road, just skidded into it and couldn't stop."

Koblos said his two daughters have been involved in accidents on the road. His wife, Katheryn Koblos, told supervisors she saw a car veer off the road about 1 1/2 months ago after it passed her vehicle.

The Kobloses were joined by several other residents who asked the board to consider an option known as "pave-in-place." The technique, in which the road is widened only slightly and then paved, affects less land than standard paving projects.

But Paul Siker, who also lives in Rosemont, asked supervisors to consider simply improving the gravel surface.

"It's a beautiful, old, historic gravel road," said Siker, who regularly jogs on the road. "I have come to love the scenery that dominates that old road. It may sound sappy, but to me, it's the cows . . . and the gravel crunching under my feet."

Siker said that he's sympathetic to the safety concerns of his neighbors but that he worries that a paved surface will encourage speeding and increase traffic, possibly making the stretch more dangerous.

Although the debate over paving is not new in Loudoun, some have come to see preserving gravel roads as a key part of an effort to combat sprawl in the nation's third fastest-growing county.

Supervisor James G. Burton (I-Mercer) said that although he supports changes to make the road safer, he thinks paving only encourages rapid development.

"I'm not a fan of paving just because people have moved out into new developments and want to convert the rural setting to city roads," Burton said. "When people decide to move out in the country, part of the country is the dirt roads that makes up the charm."

Some paving advocates, including resident Todd Garvis, said pave-in-place is a compromise that is less intrusive than traditional paving projects.

"This road should be paved because of the hazard," Garvis said. "It comes kind of hard for me to say that because I like the rural atmosphere."

Virginia Department of Transportation staff members have offered several alternatives to paving the road from Route 9 to Milltown Road. Workers could widen the road on either or both sides and pave along the existing route, or they could build a new road about one mile south.

Depending on the paving plan, some five to seven acres of agricultural land along the roadway would be lost, county staff members said. Planners have not calculated how much land would be lost using a pave-in-place option.

The board will consider the paving proposal at its Dec. 15 meeting. Supervisors also will discuss a proposal to pave a 0.4-mile section of Fry Farm Road near Lovettsville.

Eugene Scheel, a Loudoun historian who lives on Old Wheatland Road, said the paving would mean that several mature trees on his land would be lost. But more important, he said, a historic landmark would be destroyed.

In 1755, Scheel said, British troops led by Sir Peter Halket marched on Old Wheatland Road during the French and Indian War. Back then, Scheel said, the route was known as the "great road" between the towns now known as Hillsboro and Waterford.

"Even with paving-in-place, we are going to lose much of that pristine roadway," Scheel said. "I don't think it's dangerous at all, but I take it slowly."