A lone farmhouse in the center of McLean that serves as a reminder of rural days gone by is being threatened by the pending widening of Chain Bridge Road and other changes planned for McLean's main intersection.
Known locally as "the Blue House," the 90-year-old Victorian farmhouse sits among a number of gasoline stations at the intersection of Chain Bridge Road and Old Dominion Drive.
The house now serves as the headquarters for Laughlin Realty, a 50-year-old real estate firm headed by William Laughlin, whose grandfather Matthew Laughlin built the house on the family's dairy farm, which now is most of McLean's central business district.
Although only portions of the Laughlin property are needed for the improvement project, the Virginia Department of Highways and Transportation could take the entire parcel under condemnation procedures if Laughlin rejects state offers for the needed land. Local residents fear that might happen if Laughlin and the state agents cannot reach an agreement.
Laughlin says he wants to save the old house. State right-of-way agents say that only the porch along Chain Bridge Road; a corner of the front porch, and land now used for parking along Old Dominion Drive are needed for the road project. But Laughlin and state officials have not agreed on how much land is involved since surveys differ over the property lines between Laughlin's land and existing state road rights-of-way.
"I've hired two different survey teams and the state agents have said they'll listen to me if the surveys differ from theirs," Laughlin said.
The state already has made Laughlin an offer, on which he has yet to act. Laughlin has hired attorney Grayson Hanes to negotiate on his behalf.
The project, which was first proposed in the 1960s, is being paid for with dollars generated by county bonds, which has created a unique relationship between county and land highway offices.
"Fairfax County has a contract with the state to acquire the necessary land for construction of the improvements," said Sam Shanks, director of Land Acquisition for Fairfax County. Shanks reviews progress reports from state agents but is not involved in making offers to the more than 60 land owners involved. "This is the first time in county history that such a contract situation has been carried out."
Though state officials declined to reveal the amount of the offer made to Laughlin and other property owners, a spokesman did say that "unimproved land values in that area of McLean range from $8.50 per square foot for residential lots, on up to $20.50 per square foot for commercial land.
"If a building is on the land then you have to discount and subtract in order to get a fair appraisal. Zoning plays a big part," the spokesman said.
Laughlin has been made what a state spokesman said was "a fair offer. We don't tell what the offer is. And we don't tell him Laughlin what we've offered other owners. They other property owners can get together and talk about it all they want."
Laughlin said he opposes the improvement project because he sees it as a "band-aid approach to solving a major traffic problem."
However, county and local leaders see it as a solution to a continuing traffic headache. In 1981, a group of McLean homeowners and businessmen called the Chain Bridge Road Committee spent months studying improvement proposals.
"The Blue House doesn't have to go--the porches or part of the porches do, along the Chain Bridge side," said Joan DuBois, administrative assistant to Fairfax Supervisor Nancy Falck, who represents McLean. But she doubts the state would go after just half the house, should the acqusition reach the condemnation stage.
At this point, the state says all it wants are the porches and parking areas. Laughlin says he's willing to sign an agreement with the state if it leaves the porches.
"The state has made an offer which is unacceptable based on my experience brokering properties in the CBD Central Business District during the past years," Laughlin said. His total parcel is two-thirds of an acre and the road project is after 10 percent of that, Laughlin said.
Laughlin estimates the total value of the property is "at least $1 million." He's depending on public sentiment to be in his favor if it comes to a showdown.
"Citizens of McLean would not like to see our primary focal point destroyed. It's my belief that concerned citizenry would like to see the house and corner continue to be attractive," Laughlin said.
Time is running out for negotiations. County and state officials involved expect the project to be ready for bids in December. That leaves three months for the parties to work things out.
Improvements planned include:
The widening of Chain Bridge Road between Dolley Madison Boulevard (Route 123) and Davidson Road to five lanes, including a left-turn lane.
Widening and improvements along a .9-mile stretch of Old Dominion Drive. This will include filling a 12-foot-deep ditch north of the intersection. Local residents have complained that a car could be lost in the rocky ditch, which is covered with green weeds.