The potential sale of the 100-acre Beacon Hill Compound, once the home of Arthur Godfrey and later owned by a Saudi Arabian prince, is fueling the fears of many western Loudoun County residents who want to stave off the rampant residential and commercial office development occurring along Rte. 7 east of Leesburg.
The Beacon Hill Limited Partnership, whose partners include Alexander Haig, former secretary of state, and Porten Sullivan, a major Washington-area home builder, is selling the 100-acre property for $10 million while at the same time seeking to build about 200 luxury homes on 2,056 acres adjacent to the estate.
The partnership has encountered opposition from residents and county officials, who are struggling to control development in the western part of the county, now filled with acres of farms and the rolling hills called the Catoctin Mountains.
Residents in Beacon Hill, Waterford and Round Hill have formed several preservation groups to fight development in the area. While the groups are not opposed to the sale of the compound, they say they want to make sure that any new development in the area has enough roads and water and sewer lines to handle the influx of new residents.
B. Powell Harrison, who heads the Catoctin Mountain Alliance, said his group fears the development will disturb the quiet rural nature of their community.
"We're in a position where we have to wait and see what their next move is," said Harrison, who heads the citizens' group and is president of Oatlands, a property on Rte. 15 in Loudoun. owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. "All I have to do is let people know when the next meeting is and they'll get to it."
The Coalition for Loudoun, Friends of Rte. 15, the People's Environmental Council and Together for Loudoun are the other groups working with the Catoctin association to ensure that the county and developers adhere to the area's rural land management plan, which, in part, seeks to preserve farmland by restricting residential development to a maximum of one unit per three acres and requires proper installation of water and sewage facilities.
Proponents of the Beacon Hill development plan said they don't want to ruin the quiet country atmosphere of the area and hope to preserve as much of its natural beauty as possible.
"We want to maintain the aura of the area," said Harvey Borkin, a local home builder and a member of the partnership.
The partnership bought the entire Beacon Hill compound from Prince Talal bin Abdul Aziz for $16 million two years ago. It expects to reinvest the money from the sale of the 100-acre portion into the partnership. The partnership has listed the property with Long & Foster Real Estate Inc., which, like some other companies that deal in luxury properties, has a special marketing program for upscale homes and publishes "Extraordinary Properties," a magazine that lists some of the area's most expensive properties.
The partnership hopes to attract a company that wants to establish a corporate retreat. The farmland property for sale includes six houses, a helicopter landing pad, a closed circuit security system, a skeet range and soccer field, tennis courts, stables for 24 horses and two swimming pools.
Built in 1912, the Tudor-style manor house, in which Godfrey lived, has 11 bedrooms and 11 bathrooms, 13 fireplaces and three kitchens. Prince Talal spent $10 million to renovate the house in 1981 and built an elegant glass, brick and redwood villa with five bedrooms, eight bathrooms, an indoor swimming pool, and four kitchens.
Harrison said he and other residents, many of whom have lived in the area for more than 50 years, hope "some nice people" buy the Beacon Hill compound. But at the same time, he said the residents will fight any move to rezone the property from agricultural to commercial use.
Within the past year, the Beacon Hill Partnership has tried to win approval for several development plans, but has faced numerous roadblocks. Even though the partnership won approval last May to build a golf course and private country club, the county's planning commission recently recommended against a plan to build 15 houses on a 130-acre tract adjoining the compound. The proposal now goes to the county Board of Supervisors for a final decision. The commission said Beacon Hill's plans didn't provide for adequate roads and water and sewer lines.
"We'd like something good happen to this place," Harrison said. "But we don't want them to build another new town."