One hundred fifty-five years after the original Battle of Aldie, the county’s plan to build a massive new fire station in Aldie’s historic village has the potential to cause more damage to the village than the original battle brought.
This controversy erupted after a town hall meeting this past November in which local residents became aware of the county’s plans to destroy the historic and scenic character of the Village of Aldie by bulldozing three of the oldest buildings in the county. The historic buildings would be replaced with a massive 18,000 square foot fire station built into the side of Aldie Mountain with extensive parking lots on both sides. The County justifies the need for a new and larger fire station due to the outdated current station that is located in a flood plain and the rapidly growing population east of the historic village.
Unfortunately, this is only the culmination of a series of erroneous decisions that has been made by the county in its quest for a new fire station. Initially the county purchased a site in a subdivision in 2008 only to waste taxpayers’ money and time defending a lawsuit that was filed by neighbors since such use was not permitted under the subdivision’s applicable covenants. After the county lost this lawsuit, the previous board of supervisors then considered condemning a historic home outside of the Village of Aldie. The notion of destroying a historical building caused public outcry and the county backed off. Unfortunately, the board of supervisors didn’t learn the lesson. Instead of selecting a site that wouldn’t destroy any historic property, the board apparently thought it was a good idea to purchase a site in the historic district of Aldie. All this was done in a closed session without any participation of the local community. What makes matters worse is that the county found out after the purchase of the site that the project would cost at least an additional $4million for extensive excavation and grading work to dig deep into the mountain behind it due to flood plain and steep slope issues. Apart from the negative consequences for Aldie, the county’s own staff is on the record stating that the site that was selected is in fact not well suited for a fire station and would result in a suboptimal fire station design and high development costs.
For the residents of Aldie and western Loudoun County, the chosen site is a lose-lose proposition for a number of reasons. Because of Aldie’s function as gateway to Loudoun Valley’s wine and horse country and one of the few historic villages in the county, the destruction of three historic properties (one of which served as the old Aldie Tavern where former President Monroe allegedly went for drinks) combined with the excavation work that would be required to dig the station into the mountain behind, will destroy the historic and scenic character of the village and diminish real estate values for the adjacent properties. Instead of being perceived by visitors as the first historic village in the scenic Aldie to Paris corridor, the first thing visitors driving on Route 50 would see, would be a monstrosity reminiscent of a bus depot.
From the county’s point of view, the current plans would destroy tax-generating properties and come with an extremely hefty price tag for a fire station with substandard design and no space for future expansion.
Because the purchased site is located in a core battlefield area, this matter has gained national attention as well. The Civil War Trust informed Chair Randall in December that it is also formally rejecting these plans and that any development should only be permitted after consultation with the National Park Services’ American Battlefield Protection Program, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, the Civil War Trust and local stakeholders or until an alternative site is located.
Despite these facts and a petition of local residents garnering over 3,200 signatures in a matter of weeks coupled with widespread opposition from local organizations such as the Aldie Heritage Association and the Mosby Heritage Area Association, county representatives stated that the board of supervisors is not interested in an alternative site discussion. This is troubling because there are in fact several common-sense greenfield sites available outside the historic village of Aldie, the use of which would create a win-win situation for our community, the county taxpayers and the fire department.
Taking into consideration that the draft Comprehensive Plan for Loudoun County is being finalized, the further course of action of the Board of Supervisors will demonstrate whether the assurances to protect the historic and scenic character of western Loudoun County are more than mere lip service to appease a population that is overwhelmingly critical of the current pace of residential growth in Loudoun County. Supporting the destruction of a historic village despite widespread opposition and the availability of alternative sites that would respect the history of Aldie, would definitely constitute the latter. All county residents should therefore be alarmed by this issue and join the fight to win the Battle of Aldie for future generations before it is too late and living history is lost forever.
President of the Aldie Heritage Association