When Roger Vance moved to Loudoun County's smallest town nine years ago, he and his wife thought Hillsboro was just about the most perfect place they could find, especially after living for years in the bustle of Miami.
They bought a wood-frame house built in the late 19th century. "For Hillsboro, it's one of the newest houses," said Vance, who is now mayor in the tiny town, which has about 100 residents and some homes built as early as the 1700s.
But with Loudoun's breakneck growth, and rapid home building just over the Blue Ridge mountains in West Virginia, Vance said his town is facing a historic onslaught.
"What is threatened here is really the viability of the town, its existence," he said.
The problem is Main Street.
Route 9, which has become a major artery for commuters, runs through the center of town, making crossing the road, or pulling out of a driveway, a slow-going and hazardous venture. A study commissioned by frustrated town residents found that drivers make 14,000 to 15,000 trips through their town each day.
But the town's traffic woes are part of bigger questions involving the Washington region's growth patterns, cross-jurisdictional transportation policies and divergent visions of land-use and zoning policies, quandaries decades in the making and perhaps decades from a solution.
The scholarly Vance, who edits history magazines for a living, sounds like a firebrand when he declares that the town can't take it anymore.
"We want to reclaim this town," he said. "It's not Route 9 for us. It's Charles Town Pike for us, and our main street, and we're going to reclaim it. We don't want to be the doormat for everyone anymore."
Just how a town located in the nation's fastest-growing county, which is itself in the midst of a rapidly expanding region, can alter the torrent of commuters, many heading from West Virginia and Maryland to jobs in Loudoun and points east, remains unclear.
But Vance, who is also the chairman of the town's Planning Commission, said he's going to give it a shot, beginning in earnest Tuesday evening. That's the day he will present a draft comprehensive plan, Hillsboro's's first, to the Town Council for approval. Although some aspects may be tweaked, Vance said he expects the document to be approved soon, perhaps as early as that evening.
It is an interim, but important, step. Under Virginia law, towns and counties use such plans as the basis of zoning regulations. The document will become the foundation for future enforcement in areas such as historic preservation.
For instance, it calls for the creation of a historic conservation district that would cover all, or most, of Hillsboro. That would put in place rules, and a process for appealing those rules, for renovating historic structures.
But the document also sets down the town's broader planning priorities. And primary among those is a call to action on Route 9.
It calls on officials from Loudoun and Virginia, and their West Virginia counterparts, to hold a summit to wrestle with traffic issues on the road, which stretches west from Route 7 near Leesburg and travels across the state line and through the booming Charles Town area. West Virginia is working on building a four-lane highway up to the Virginia border, which would connect with Loudoun's two-lane stretch of the highway, a state of affairs Vance calls "insanity."
Many commuters would consider bypassing Hillsboro on other highways, such as Route 340 in West Virginia, as Vance has suggested, just as crazy, because it's a longer drive.
But Vance said those concerns pale when compared with pedestrian safety issues in his town. So the plan calls for the immediate implementation of measures to slow traffic through town. Among the possibilities is putting up a stoplight on the west end of town to match the one being engineered by the Virginia Department of Transportation just east of town, where Route 690 dead-ends into Route 9 at the town's elementary school.
The plan also calls for sidewalks in Hillsboro, which has none. Vance said controversial longer-term options proposed by some, such as building a bypass around the town, are too far away to solve what is an immediate problem.
"It's not a question of waiting for 20 years for another highway to be built," Vance said. "We can't tolerate this."