Loudoun County's newly elected Board of Supervisors last week reversed a vote by the former board to pave a section of Old Wheatland Road, a move some supervisors said is emblematic of the board's commitment to preserving the county's rural landscape.
Old Wheatland Road, a narrow gravel stretch lined with oaks and catalpa trees that runs from Route 9 to the edge of historic Waterford, had been among several county roadways where proposed paving has sparked debate over whether asphalt would improve safety or simply invite more traffic and development.
Several members of the new board said that as part of their "smart-growth" agenda they plan to limit paving of rural roads and instead pursue other safety measures. The board also agreed to ask state lawmakers to allow Loudoun to reduce the speed on all gravel roads from the current 55 mph to 35 mph.
"This board has a great respect for our historic tradition and a great understanding of how important it is to preserve our quality of life," said Supervisor Eleanore C. Towe (D-Blue Ridge). "When people come to Loudoun County, we hope they'll take the time to enjoy the landscape."
Old Wheatland was the first proposed road paving considered by the new board, which voted Wednesday to reduce the road's speed limit and order the application of a dust-reducing product called Road Bind. The board also agreed to request that Virginia Department of Transportation officials begin a separate project to address safety concerns at Old Wheatland and Route 9.
The proposed paving of the entire 2.95-mile road had prompted an overwhelming response from residents, who at a December public hearing were split nearly evenly on whether the road should be paved. At a Dec. 15 meeting, the previous Board of Supervisors approved a compromise measure that called for "paving-in-place"--widening the road only slightly--a shorter section between the Rosemont Farm subdivision and Waterford.
Some residents who had argued that paving was a safety must for the road yesterday said they were disappointed with the change.
"Within a month, the new powers that be come in and reverse the whole thing," said Kathryn Koblos, who lives in Rosemont Farm. "It's a beautiful road. I don't want trees cut down. I don't want people to lose their stone fences. But you can't stop. You swerve. You fishtail."
Koblos said she believes that paving-in-place would have preserved most trees and historic properties as well as the road's rural feel.
Several residents who lobbied to keep Old Wheatland gravel said asphalt would destroy the character of a road with a rich history. Many also worried that a paved road would increase traffic and speeding.
"It's the whole rural character issue," said Margaret Good, president of the Waterford Foundation. "People go out to drive in the country. They don't go out to drive in the suburbs on Sunday afternoons."
Eugene Scheel, a Loudoun historian on Old Wheatland Road, said that in 1755 British troops led by Sir Peter Halket marched down the road during the French and Indian War. Back then, he said, the route was known as the "Great Road" between the towns now called Hillsboro and Waterford.
Tom Thornburg, who moved to Old Wheatland about 1 1/2 years ago, said the road is a haven for runners and people out strolling or walking their dogs.
"It's just nice," Thornburg said. "Sure, I have to suck in dust every once in a while . . . but I think paving would result in more noise and more traffic."