Proposal Could Put 250 Homes by Ball’s Bluff Battlefield, Add to Park

A proposal to build up to 250 new homes on 95 acres at Ball’s Bluff battlefield comes alongside 85 more acres of parkland and a new home for St. Gabriel’s Episcopal Church.

Cattail Run, a proposed community off Battlefield Parkway Parkway between Edwards Ferry Road and Fort Evans Road, across the street from the Fort Evans Road shopping center housing Buffalo Wild Wings and Bed Bath and Beyond, is currently proposed for for 175-200 house and 50-75 townhouses.

It is sandwiched between land planned for a new church, and 85 acres to the north that will be put under conservation easement and donated to NOVA Parks.

All of the land is on the Harris family farm, which has been in the family now for five generations, with the fifth generation born over the summer, Entsminger said. Henry Harris said. The family is also related to A.V. Symington, who, among other contributions to the community, donated Temple Hall Farm to NOVA Parks, and for whom the Leesburg aquatic center is named.

And Henry Harris said the family wanted to make sure the three different parts of their plans—the church, the park, and the neighborhood—are “harmonious.”

“I grew up on that land, long before anything like this has happened,” Harris said of the development now surrounding his family’s land. “Edwards Ferry Road was a sleepy dirt road.” He said the family wants to preserve a piece of the farm that is reminiscent of the past, and he said still looks very much like the landscape that soldiers marched across during the Civil War.

And between the new easement on the north side of their property, and the efforts of two neighboring families, he said about a mile long stretch of Edwards Ferry Road will be preserved and protected from development.

All of the family land is considered part of the historic Ball’s Bluff Battlefield, but the development proposal does not include the part of the property to the north along Edwards Ferry Road that is included in the Balls Bluff National Historic Landmark. NOVA Parks already operates the Ball’s Bluff Battlefield Regional Park, further north of the property.

The parkland donation will include historic buildings on the land, including one, the Cattail Ordinary, that may be one of the oldest buildings in the county. Harris said a British royalist in the Revolutionary War wrote of the ordinary along what was the predecessor to today’s Edwards Ferry Road. The building has since been expanded, but the original building still stands.

To the south, another county application on the same property would see the construction of a new, 300-seat church, the new home of St. Gabriel’s Episcopal Church. The St. Gabriel’s congregation already meets on the property on summer Saturdays for its “Outdoor Chapel in The Woods” service.

Harris said the family reviewed offers from many different developers, but ended up approaching Elm Street “because we saw some of their work in other places, and thought it had an unusual sensitivity” to its surrounding environs. The developer has been involved in many other projects around Loudoun, including the Lovettsville Square and The Elms at Arcola.

Elm Street Vice President Richard Entsminger said the Harris family has driven the project from the beginning.

“From their perspective, it was always the conservation and preservation along Edwards Ferry Road that was at equal importance, and then the St. Gabriel’s Episcopal home had equal importance,” Entsminger said. And he said the family told him, “if the other things will work, we may be interested in putting something together, but we’re not going to do suburbia. You’re going to have to come up with a plan and a way of coming at this thing.”

“The way this development has been situated on the landscape is to me much more sensitive than a cookie cutter development would be, and so it’s sensitive to the natural passageways thorough the environment in the way that perhaps a cookie cutter would not be,” Harris said.

He said the neighborhood not to be dominated by cars. Alleyways provide parking while the main roads, he said, are wider and greener, making it “a more walkable, pedestrian-friendly kind of community.”

Elm Street has committed to a site survey, and if significant historical sites are found, to work with the county to mitigate impacts to those sites. The developer will also put up to $10,000 of interpretive signage about the land’s history on the site.

The developer also proposes adding 32 of the houses to the county’s Affordable Dwelling Unit program, although the Department of Family Services, a county report notes, has recommended those units be dispersed through the development among both houses and townhouses.

The Battle of Ball’s Bluff in October 1861, early in the Civil War, was a disastrous defeat for the United States. Federal troops under Gen. George B. McLellan were ordered to cross the Potomac River into Virginia to find out whether Confederate troops had abandoned Leesburg. After a series of mistakes and miscommunications, they found themselves trapped in Virginia without enough boats to escape a Confederate attack and were routed. 223 Union soldiers were killed—some by drowning as they attempted to cross the river in overloaded boats—226 more wounded, and 553 captured in a battle that sent bodies floating down the Potomac River to Washington, DC.

The battle also marked the only time in history that a U.S. senator was killed in combat, and helped spur the creation of the Congressional Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, a center of political infighting for the rest of the war.

The application is expected to go to a public hearing at the Board of Supervisors in March.

This article was updated Thursday, Jan. 23 at 10:58 a.m. with comment from Henry Harris.

5 thoughts on “Proposal Could Put 250 Homes by Ball’s Bluff Battlefield, Add to Park

  • 2020-01-22 at 12:06 pm

    A project of this size needs better reporting. Is it in Leesburg or the County? What is its current zoning, and what zoning is requested?

    Regardless, these 250 houses will cost citizens around $38,000 in up-front governmental costs, using the approved “Capital Intensity Factor,” That’s almost $10 million in taxpayer costs, to which I say, “NO!”

    • 2020-01-22 at 8:23 pm

      The developers pay the impact fees per house, not the county. Plus other infrastructure spending.

      • 2020-01-24 at 10:51 am

        Impact fees/proffers are not paid in the west. In the east, the County got them on “small area projects,” which were defined loosely around Metro. In 2019 the builders had a new law passed to clarify some of the ambiguities. In four or five calls, I could find no one in the County who knew how or if they would apply to this project.

        Here, the zoning is JLMA 1 and JLMA 2, both of which have single family residential as permitted uses. That would make them by-right, but the “gives” by the developer imply that it’s not that cut and dried.

        Regardless of upfront costs, each of these houses will perpetually consume $1.62 in annual County services each year for every $1.00 they pay in taxes. Assume an average tax bill of $5,000 (probably low,) then each house consumes $8,100/year in services. Thus these 250 houses will cost the taxpayers $2 million per year…forever.

  • 2020-01-22 at 3:21 pm

    In fact Balls Bluff Battlefield is about a mile away from this site. This area is considered part of the Balls Bluff study area, but that is because troops marched down Edwards Ferry Road on the day of the battle, not because any fighting happend at this site.

    This site does have some Civil War trenches, and a building that goes back to the Revolutionary War time. This land with great ecological and historic value is being donated to become a park. That is an amazing gift to the public! One to be celebrated.

  • 2020-01-22 at 6:14 pm

    “The battle also marked the only time in history that a U.S. senator was killed in combat….”

    Edward Dickinson Baker. A fine man and senator, may he rest in peace.

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