Last year, county supervisors began to pull property from the Aldie Historic District amid opposition to building a new fire station on the grounds. Now they’ve abandoned that plan and have voted instead to expand the Aldie Historic District to include more county-owned land.
It is a victory for Aldie residents and preservation organizations that fought the county’s plans to build the fire station next to an old tavern in Aldie at every step.
Supervisors up until last June had plans to replace the outdated Aldie fire and rescue station with a new one next door, on the site of a historic tavern building inside the village’s historic district. People in the village opposed those plans, and won a small victory when the Historic District Review Committee denied the county government’s application to demolish two structures and build the firehouse on that property.
Supervisors pressed ahead anyway, voting to appeal that decision. They also set county staff members to work getting around that problem by removing the property from the Aldie Historic District.
District Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge), Supervisor Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg) and then-supervisor Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin) opposed the move, and Buffington said work was ongoing to find another site. Later that month, that work came to fruition when supervisors agreed to buy 11.7 acres at the southwest corner of John Mosby Highway and James Monroe Highway for $875,000, opposite the weekly Gilbert’s Corner farmers market, for the new fire station.
It was only the latest twist in the county’s long search for a site for the fire station. Even before the Aldie tavern site, the county had to abandon plans on another site at the intersection of Rt. 50 and Roundup Place, in front of the Little River Farms subdivision, when neighbors living around it successfully blocked the project in court. The 12 acres near Gilbert’s corner brought the total the county government has spent on land for the new fire station to $2.25 million, including the two previous sites where the county’s plans have been chased out—$475,000 for the tavern site in Aldie, and $1.2 million for a site east of town at Little River Farms.
While the Aldie fire station appears finally ready to move ahead, the new Board of Supervisors on April 7 agreed unanimously to expand the Aldie Historic District to include two more properties to the west of the tavern. Those properties, in fact, were already mostly surrounded by the district, but not included. They are also the other two parcels of three that the county purchased for the fire station’s tavern site.
Buffington wrote in his newsletter that his office and County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large)’s office proposed the expansion after requests from the Aldie Heritage Association, the Mosby Heritage Area Association and other local preservation organizations.
Randall said expanding the historic district still may not be enough to protect the properties, and any historic preservation societies or other groups that were looking into the properties to preserve them should keep doing so.
“I would really encourage any groups who want to ensure that those structures remain, to keep having those discussions,” Randall said.
A county staff report notes the parcels are in the footprint of the existing historic district and says they have “a high degree of historical and cultural significance.”
“Their ‘Main Street’ location, terrain features as the ‘Gateway’ to the Historic Aldie Tavern, existing structures and other features, make them important additions for the preservation and continued protection of the Historic Aldie Tavern, the existing Historic District, and the historic Village of Aldie’s unique history as the small village named after Scotland’s Aldie Castle; as home to the Aldie Mill; as a strategic early 1800’s travel and commerce location within a gap of the Bull Run Mountain; as home of Ashby’s Gap Turnpike (Route 50) and beginning of Snickersville Turnpike; and as site of the strategic 1863 Civil War Battle of Aldie,” the report reads.
Expanding the historic district is also in line with the new county comprehensive plan’s goal to protect historic villages, according to the report.
Steve Price, who chaired the Mosby Heritage Area Association during the firehouse battle, said the Aldie tavern “goes back to the earliest days of the village.”
“It was a high-priority mission for us to preserve it and find an alternative site for the firehouse,” Price said. “Despite the best efforts of the county to come up with an architectural plan that was compatible with the village, an 18,000-square-foot firehouse just didn’t fit there, as well as the fact that the topography is not hospitable.”
The property is backed by a steep slope. Price said he is “tickled pink” thank the historic district will be expanded. And now that the county will sell the property, he said, “we want to make sure that there are protections placed upon the property, the first step of which is placing it in the historic district so that any structures or alterations have to be approved by the county Historic District Review Committee”—the same stumbling block the Board of Supervisors hit last summer.
Price said the village’s advocates are also pushing the county to put other protections on the property before relinquishing it, such as placing it under easement or seeking its inclusion in the nearby national Aldie Mill Historic District.
“Whether the county will go to those lengths, I don’t know,” Price said. “I mean, they have a lot of things on their plate now, but we remain optimistic.”