Eleanore Towe thinks of the Loudoun County town of Round Hill as a living example of Americana. It has whitewashed churches, Victorian homes and shop owners who know customers by name.
With fewer than 1,000 people living in town or in the hills nearby, she said, Round Hill is an easygoing home for longtime residents like her family and for newcomers who moved to leave the bustle of much of the rest of the Washington area.
"The churches and the fire company and our schools are the heart of our community," said Towe, who has lived with her husband for 20 years on a 113-acre farm just outside town. "We still maintain a wonderful rural feeling."
Situated on Route 7 near the West Virginia border, Round Hill is one of Loudoun's smallest incorporated towns. It has three churches, three gasoline stations, two shops, a small elementary school and a diner.
It looks like the farming community and summer retreat it once was. Although few of the farms continue to operate, most of the hills around town remain a part of private estates, so that the area has retained its country disposition. The Blue Ridge Mountains rise just to the west.
Richard Newman III, an owner of American Woodcrafters Inc. in Round Hill, said he likes town events such as the community-oriented Round Hill Day each summer and the Walking Tour of Round Hill's turn-of-the-century homes at Christmastime.
"It's a real community feeling," said Newman, whose children go to Round Hill Elementary School. "A lot of people have started fixing their houses up."
A wide mixture of people live in the area, including families who have lived there for generations, blue-collar workers, retirees and some commuters who drive to eastern Loudoun and Washington on a daily basis. Round Hill is about 45 miles from the District of Columbia.
"You're looking at people who don't necessarily have to go in early or every day," said Ann Tedesco, a real estate agent, who acknowledged the difficulties on Route 7 with rush-hour traffic.
Housing prices start at about $100,000 for a modest single-family home on a quarter-acre lot in town, said Tedesco, of Market Station Properties. Prices jump to more than $400,000 for homes on the farms outside town. There are few new houses, she said.
Melissa Costello, 19, who works with Tedesco and whose family has lived in town for more than six generations, said people continue to move slowly to the Round Hill area from the suburbs because the town has retained its slow rural pace. "There's less congestion," she said.
But the town faces tremendous change in the next few years.
A project called Stoneleigh Golf and Country Club, which will have 240 single-family homes along the golf course, is under construction near Route 7 just outside town. Homes there will sell for more than $300,000 apiece.
Tedesco said sales of properties have been slow recently because of the holiday season and the sharp decline in the real estate market. She said she has eight contracts on 48 lots now on the market. A model home will be built this spring and the first nine holes of the golf course are expected to be landscaped by this fall, she said.
"It will be an actual residential community," she said. "We're back to that private exclusive community here."
But a far more significant and controversial development called InterGate has recently received a key zoning approval. InterGate plans call for about 1,100 units of housing and 150,000 square feet of commercial space on 1,330 acres of farmland that border the town on three sides.
The project received a zoning change from the county Board of Supervisors in August. Building is not expected to start before the fall of 1992. Bruce DeAtley, an InterGate vice president, said the project will include both affordable and upscale housing.
The decision to allow the rezoning was extremely controversial and has created anxiety among many residents, who fear the development will turn Round Hill into a generic suburban community.
Slow-growth advocates from throughout the county opposed the rezoning because they feared the impact on the rural environment, town services and schools. They also oppose the rezoning because it contradicts the county's own land management plan, which calls for no more than 672 houses on the land.
Nine Round Hill landowners, backed by a county-wide coalition of environmental groups, sued the Board of Supervisors last fall in an attempt to overturn the decision. The Round Hill Area Citizens Association, which formed three years ago to oppose the development, is seeking support for its fight.
"We think it is imperative for the citizens, along with the county staff, to plan the growth and development of our communities," a recent newsletter said. "We all have something at stake in this battle for our quality of life."
Eleanor Towe was one of three people who signed the letter. Towe said she has little hope of stopping the development at this stage, but wants to contain it somehow. Without some modification of the development plans, she said, the Round Hill of today will disappear.
"You're talking about a complete change in the quality of life," said Towe, who has four grown children and whose husband is a doctor. "The people out here don't want the city."
Rachel Wetherill, a rural mail carrier who moved to Round Hill from Los Angeles in 1975, agreed.
"It's a nice place to live right now, but I'm a little worried," Wetherill said. "I think it's going to change the quality of life ... . I think we would lose a sense of neighborliness."