At certain times of the day, Mildred Hackney, 76, says it is too dangerous to cross Rte. 641 to get to Partlow's, a 40-year-old country store in Ashburn, a village six miles east of Leesburg.
Steuart Weller, 55, owner of Weller Tiles, says he takes on few, if any, jobs east of Rte. 28 because it takes too long to get his trucks and workers to and from the work sites.
Hackney and Weller are residents of Ashburn, a tranquil dairy farm community, tucked between farmlands and the Washington and Old Dominion railroad tracks north of Dulles International Airport. Ashburn, once a summer resort for Washingtonians, is gradually losing its down-home feel.
While Partlow's is still a place where people can pump some gas, get a soda or cash a check, many Ashburn residents said they now do most of their shopping in nearby Sterling or Leesburg. Concrete mixers and gravel trucks followed by commuters racing to their offices in Tysons Corner, Springfield or downtown Washington now cut through the town that will soon be surrounded by subdivisions, office buildings and shopping centers.
With a population of about 200, Ashburn is about to be sandwiched between two huge planned communities -- Ashburn Village and Ashburn Farm. Within the next 10 years, the two projects are expected to bring more than 8,000 new homes and nearly 6 million square feet of office and retail space. While many of the residents realize that they can't remain sheltered from the area's development forever, they fear the consequences.
"I'm afraid we're going to lose the small community fellowship," said Weller, who has lived in Ashburn since 1950. "I grew up in Fairfax a block away from the courthouse and that was in the country then. We moved out here, raised a family and now, we're not in the country anymore."
Ashburn Village and Ashburn Farm are among a collection of several major residential, office and shopping center developments along a five-mile stretch of Rte. 7 between the Fairfax County line and Leesburg. If the projects are built as planned, they will add an estimated 45 million square feet of office, commercial and retail space and nearly 10,000 new residences, including detached homes, town houses and apartments.
"I'm not opposed to all this development," said Calvin Partlow, 64, who owned Partlow's for 37 years before selling it two years ago. "I knew it was going to come, but I think it's really making it a hardship for the young people in the area. The young people can't afford to live around here anymore. The prices are out of reach."
Partlow said the development in the area has raised the cost of land and the prices of homes so sharply that his children have had to move away from Ashburn to find affordable housing. Developers of the newer projects said they want to be able to attract the large number of new residents wanting to buy homes in the area, but still provide existing residents with a place to live.
The Associated Cos. and Richmarr Construction Co., who formed the Ashburn Village Joint Venture, are developing Ashburn Village, a 1,580-acre planned community located between Rtes. 7 and 640. It is expected to include more than 5,000 residential units and 3 million square feet of office and retail space.
Ashburn Farms, which is being developed by William Hazel and John D. Stokely Jr., is a 1,274-acre planned community that is expected to have 3,830 residential units -- 1,724 single-family detached homes, 1,340 town houses and 766 garden apartments. There are to be two shopping centers, sites for two schools, four churches and four day care centers. Ten builders will be constructing homes at the project, including NVHomes, Capital Homes, Pulte and Richmond American.
The Ashburn Village developers have sold several tracts of land to builders, and Richmarr is already selling homes. When completed next year, the first phase of the project will include 208 detached houses, 276 town houses and 220 apartment units. Richmarr has opened models that range in cost between $217,000 and $267,000. Five other builders also have purchased lots: Fairfield Homes, Kettler Forlines, Ryland Homes, Winchester Homes and Oxford Development Corp.
"We want to provide the complete range of housing," said David Thompson, the project manager. "Rental garden apartments, town houses, small and large single-family detached homes. We want to fit most anybody's price range."
Thompson said he hopes to create as much of a neighborhood atmosphere as possible and maintain much of the country-like setting. There will be five neighborhoods -- The Villages, The Woods, The Mills, The Hamlets and The Lakes -- and tracts of land set aside for three schools, two churches and two day care centers. The company is also constructing three lakes, a marina and a 7,500-square-foot community recreation center. It also agreed to contribute $50,000 to improve the intersection of Rtes. 7 and 641 and $1.25 million to upgrade Rtes. 640 and 625.
Thompson said he doesn't want to create more traffic problems on the already congested Rte. 7.
"We realize we're putting more traffic on the road, but we're putting more roads to handle the traffic," he said. "At the same time, the traffic patterns will change as the employment centers change. All the traffic that's coming from West Virginia and western Loudoun going to Tysons Corner or downtown Washington will be stopping here."
Weller, whose company installs ceramic tiles, said he began curtailing his projects east of Rte. 28 about two years ago. He's devoting more time to attracting business in western Loudoun, Clarke, Fauquier and Culpeper counties.
"You could see it coming," he said. "We had a cluster of six town homes in Falls Church. We had to load up the trucks at night and at 6 a.m., there was already a steady stream of red lights on Rte. 7 from here all the way to Falls Church. It's just not worth it to spend that much time on the road."
Hazel and Stokely also have committed themselves to improving nearby roads and recently completed the installation of a water and sewer system, which cuts through the Ashburn Village project and the town of Ashburn.
But many Ashburn residents said there's no way around the fact that they are going to be overwhelmed by more traffic, more people and more concrete and brick than trees and grasslands.
"I hate to see that we're going to be surrounded by all these subdivisions," Hackney said. "They're building all these houses but they're not building enough roads. I'd like to keep everything here the way it is, but I know you just can't keep progress from happening."