After more than a decade of attempts to pin down a site for the new Aldie Fire and Rescue station, the county is finally moving forward with plans for the area's new public safety facility that will service Middleburg, Arcola, Philomont, Kirkpatrick Farms and Leesburg.
The process has been met with numerous setbacks over the years, and one major hurdle remains: community opposition.
The county initially tried to develop a site east of the Village of Aldie, but a lawsuit and an outpouring of community opposition foiled its plans.
In 2014, plans to acquire a property through eminent domain on a site off of Route 50 also failed, and the county was forced to start its search for the new fire station from scratch.
Now, many in the community fear the direction the county is headed means several historic buildings on the new site that sits between Route 50 and Tail Race Road in Aldie will be torn down.
Community members say they want to know why the county has chosen the particular site, one that includes a steep slope and falls in a floodplain. They also say the county's process in choosing the site and moving forward with a design has lacked transparency.
"I think the county really needs to understand the concerns of the citizens and why they believe this is not a good plan," said Florian Hauswiesner, president of the Aldie Heritage Association. "We really need to understand why that site was picked."
Once fully built, the 18,000-square-foot station would sit on 6.5 acres of land made up of three parcels that the previous Board of Supervisors voted to purchase for $1.6 million in 2015. The county has set aside more than $14 million for the project.
The current Aldie Fire and Rescue Station was built by the Aldie Volunteer Fire Department in 1971. The current station is also within a major floodplain and has flooded more than 20 times since it was constructed.
The county said that the current site serves one of the most rapidly growing areas in Loudoun. Aldie, in particular, is not served by any fire hydrants, which requires tankers to bring water to the scene of any fires.
In the past seven years, the Aldie fire service area has seen a 44 percent population increase.
At a community meeting in November, many residents, including Hauswiesner, expressed concern over the county's plans.
The county disagrees that the process for choosing the site has lacked transparency. Officials also dispute the true historic title of the buildings on the property, which they say are not listed on any registry of historic landmarks.
"The project was advertised in our capital budget more than a decade ago and practically every year over the past 10 years," said Joe Kroboth, the director of Loudoun County's Department of Transportation and Capital. "The difficulty in finding and selecting a site was discussed thoroughly in the public's eye."
"Obviously [with] land acquisition, there are many discussions that take place in closed session with the board as they give direction to the staff on the terms for negotiating a parcel of land," Kroboth continued. "But, in this case, there was a public process, there was a reporting of these three sites."
Some stakeholders believe there is still hope the county may choose a different location for the station.
"I don't think it's a done deal by any means, because the site inherently has so many challenges," said Vincent Bataoel, a member Middleburg's Economic Development Advisory Committee (EDAC) and the Aldie Heritage Association. "I would like to see the [Board of Supervisors] seriously re-evaluate other sites and other options for sites that aren't on historic properties, that aren't in the middle of a historic district, and aren't in the floodplain."
Loudoun Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) and county staff members say they have no plans for other sites.
"There are few things to me more important than history and preserving history and preserving historic buildings," Randall said. " " One of the things that is more important is public safety. And so it is so important that we try to do the best we can in respecting the heritage and preserving [the site] to the best of our ability while also providing effective public safety."
"It is correct to say that this is the site, and we will do what we can to preserve the historic buildings," Randall added. "It is not correct to say that we haven't considered other sites, because [the selection process] has been going on for 10 years."
Meanwhile, Supervisor Tony Buffington (R), who represents the area of the current site, said he has not yet made a decision on whether he supports building a new fire station at the proposed site.
"My office is still in the process of working with the community and the fire department to determine the best possible outcome for both," Buffington said in an email to the Times-Mirror.
An online petition was launched over the weekend urging the community to call on the county to preserve a tavern from the 1800s on the property.
"We believe that the Aldie Tavern and the other buildings that will be demolished are still salvageable and deserve to live on as homes, businesses, or restaurants," the petition reads. "Further, we believe that the construction of a 14,000-20,000-square-foot fire station within the historic village of Aldie would be detrimental to its history, character, and community."
By Wednesday the petition had gained more than 500 signatures.
Before construction on the site can commence, the county will still need to go through a special exception process to approve the facility's site plan.
Kroboth said the county is still considering different versions of the plan and intends to engage the community and different interest groups moving forward.
County spokesman Glen Barbour says he expects the special exception process is likely to take most of 2018.
"Ultimately, the Board of Supervisors will make a number of the critical decisions regarding the future fire station in Aldie," Barbour said.
In the meantime, Hauswiesner said the county has committed to attending a second town hall meeting with the community in January to talk about the proposed site.
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