Aleta Kennedy found her 44 acres in Loudoun County more than three decades ago, enough space to raise a family and some cattle -- and for her welder husband to tinker with his Chevys and his '40 Ford Deluxe.
Last week, after developers submitted a rush of proposals to build new suburbs bordering her property on three sides, the former Marine Corps administrator was hoping to cash out and move south.
"I think I've gotten out of it everything I can get. Loudoun County has been wonderful for me," she said. "If somebody comes in and offers me a nice price for my property, I'm gone."
Whether Kennedy and some of her neighbors can fetch the deal they are seeking -- and just what that would mean for the nation's fastest-growing county -- will be decided by Loudoun's nine supervisors, most of whom were elected last year after pledging to roll back some of the county's controversial building curbs.
Kennedy lives west of Dulles International Airport in an area that has become a high-stakes prize in a political fight over Loudoun's future. In a coordinated effort to loosen growth restrictions put in place last year, builders and developers took advantage of a rarely used county process, before the deadline Wednesday, to submit 21 requests for permission to change the rules governing what can be built on their land.
Kennedy's property is squeezed between two tracts of land owned by Vienna-based Greenvest L.C., which applied to build 15,000 homes as part of the biggest residential development in the county's history. Virginia developer Randolph D. Rouse, whose project is just across the gravel road from her land, asked to build more than 3,000 homes. In all, developers asked to build tens of thousands of homes and millions of square feet of commercial projects on 10,000 acres around the county.
Those requests are slated to be reviewed by county planning staff. Ultimately, the county's Board of Supervisors will decide what changes should be made.
The board's Republican majority was elected with the help of unprecedented campaign spending by real estate and development interests, who this year called for sharply increasing the number of houses that can be built per acre in a 23,000-acre swath of the county between Loudoun's suburban east and its more rural west.
That area, known in county planning jargon as the transition zone, was a key focus of the flurry of last week's development requests.
Earlier this year, after an often caustic debate, supervisors voted to allow the extension of water and sewer lines crucial for development to be stretched throughout the area. Proponents on the board argued that public utilities are needed to serve areas that have uncertain water supplies, while opponents said the move was the first step toward opening up a swath of the county to much more development. Many supporters said their vote for the utilities did not foreshadow a density boost.
The burst of proposals to do just that has already sparked sharp exchanges on the board.
"We're going to find out who was being truthful or not," said Supervisor James Burton (I-Blue Ridge) an architect of the county's growth limits, which generally allow one house for every one to three acres in the transition area. "The golden handshake has already occurred."
Burton said he believes that the development community -- which contributed a half million dollars to candidates in November's board election -- submitted a barrage of individual proposals for a reason. By doing so, the industry gives political cover to sympathetic members of the board who want to make widespread changes to the county's planning blueprint, known as the Comprehensive Plan, he said.
"I don't think they really have the courage to spend a year or two going through the public process . . . for changing the Comprehensive Plan. This is the easy way for them," Burton said.
Supervisor Mick Staton Jr. (R-Sugarland Run), who has called for loosening the building rules, said he voted to allow public utilities in the area because of its unique geological features.
"It was not done to increase density. It was done because the soil and rock in the area make it pretty much the worst area to have wells" or septic systems, he said. Staton added that he did not foresee such a push for higher-density development. "I didn't expect that to happen," he said.
Staton said many of the proposals presented by developers represent creative approaches to important problems, such as financing needed roads, schools and other public projects, and should be given a chance. If the development community is proposing to "take a big-picture approach and try to plan communities as a whole . . . that shouldn't be discarded out of hand."
The dynamics of that ongoing debate have colored the views of landowners, including John D. Crerar Jr., whose land, like Kennedy's, borders Greenvest's 4,200-acre project.
Crerar's property, which he purchased in 1982, abuts one of the three unconnected expanses of Greenvest's land.
"I'm not a tree hugger. . . . I'm all in favor of them developing," Crerar said. "They paid for it. It's theirs."
Crerar said the perception among landowners in the area is that the GOP-controlled board is ready to allow substantial new development. Some feel a special sense of urgency because of concerns that the pro-growth officials could be ejected from office in elections more than three years away, he added.
"There's a fear if this board is not reelected, this is the time to move," he said. "It seems to be a good time to do what you can."
Abbey Razeghi, a semi-retired restaurateur who works in food service at Loudoun County's detention center, turned down offers from Greenvest and two other firms for his 29 acres adjoining the Greenvest and Rouse projects.
"They don't understand what 'no' means," Razeghi said. His family refuses to leave its sanctuary, with geese and beavers and wild turkeys, even though it has been offered millions, he said.
Some suitors warned that taxes would skyrocket once expensive homes came in next door, or that development laws could change and that this could be his last chance to get a good price, he said. "All of us were so depressed. They kept pushing us," he said.
Now he said he's counting on distance to offer a little peace if the developments are approved.
"My only hope is because we have 29 acres, they don't come too close to us," he said. "My house is built right in the middle."
Kennedy, who lives just down the road from Razeghi, said the quiet she enjoyed for decades is long gone.
"If you're looking for a place like I had years ago -- horses and cows and nobody bothering you -- then this part of Loudoun is out," she said, noting that the suburban communities of South Riding and Stone Ridge are expanding nearby. Kennedy, too, turned down offers for her land, hoping for better, she said.
For now, she said, she'll just keep listening to the faint noise of the future from her Loudoun County farm.
"It's like I'm in a little oasis. I can barely hear the loaders and the working people in the distance," she said. "It doesn't bother me at all."