With a new proposal in hand for the Aldie Tavern, county supervisors have stepped back from a previous plan meant to save both that historic structure and protect the Village of St. Louis from a planned development, but which saw increasing opposition.
In exchange for the 16-acre St. Louis property, where developer MOJAX LLC had planned a 30-home subdivision, supervisors proposed handing over the county-owned Aldie Tavern property, $1.5 million, and $600,000 in escrow for matching funds to work on the tavern building and install an access road to a planned private park behind it. That park is also owned by one of the developers behind MOJAX, Jack Andrews. That deal was meant to forestall the development near St. Louis and provide a path to restoring the Aldie Tavern and surrounding buildings, also known as the Aldie Assemblage.
But that proposal mounting opposition from conservation organizations, people living in Aldie, and from the county supervisor who first pushed it, Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge). Meanwhile the Aldie property sat empty, deteriorating with the passing seasons, while the asking price for the St. Louis Land continued to balloon—as of a county staff report April 20, at least $2.7 million and possibly more.
Instead, a new proposal from Aldie resident and Aldie Heritage Association member Guy Gerachis has won support from conservation organizations, some supervisors and the Coalition of Loudoun Towns, a group of the county’s seven town mayors.
“We feel this offer proposes a use and community vision for the property which the Board should accept,” reads an April 15 letter from the Coalition to the county board. “It uniquely offers a path to revitalize the area in a way that protects and honors the history of Aldie. It also creates an open and welcoming environment for visitors to enjoy the small village in the way it was meant to be, and which Loudoun is known for.”
“His offer is a community-driven offer that evolved in response to calls for the Aldie community provide a solution for the best, appropriate use of the Aldie Assemblage properties,” said Virginia Piedmont Heritage Area Chairman Dulany Morrison. “Mr. Gerachis’ offer provides the county with a straightforward cash exchange that would swiftly rid the county of any further drain on county resources related to these parcels. The Virginia Piedmont Heritage area and the Aldie community have full confidence that his plan would bring appropriate, new life to Aldie at a scale that would be consistent with historic fabric of the village.”
According to his proposal to the county, Gerachis’ work has been seen in Loudoun before. After leaving a job as Vice President of Construction for Van Metre Companies, he founded Gerachis Construction Group in 2003 and has finished projects like the pavilion at the Pink Box in Middleburg and the barrel room at Purcellville’s Breaux Vineyards.
At the Aldie Assemblage, Gerachis wrote he would restore the Aldie Tavern and nearby Satterfield Cottage as residences, and refurbish the 19th century “Cellar House.” Other buildings in the assemblage would be renovated for retail space and possibly another residence. There are no new buildings proposed. His offering price has not been disclosed.
Supervisors voted 9-0 to put the Aldie property up for sale, and to hear any offers at a closed session in June, following state-designated processes for selling publicly-owned land.
But with the old swap off the table, MOJAX still holds the land near St. Louis and the people in the village are still waiting for their solution, anxious about the possibility of houses coming up nearby.
That includes people like Sharon Peterson, whose family, she said, has been in St. Louis for centuries. Today, she said, she is a retired widow on a budget, who can’t afford to drill a new well if too mnay houses are built and hers runs dry.
“The water smells now, and I don’t want the day to come when I turn on the faucet and nothing comes out,” Peterson told supervisors at their meeting April 20. “St. Louis has had to fight, and we have gotten where I am asking that you do for us what we have done for the rest of the county: protect us from the development. Protect us from MOJAX. We thought everything was going to be taken care of, and now that is not so.”
Sean Clancy called for immediate, “emergency” zoning changes near St. Louis.
“This is simply to right a wrong, to follow the 2019 Comprehensive Plan,” Clancy said. “This village cannot handle this type of development.”
Supervisors hinted they have plans in mind for that land, but have not said what those are. In the rest of the village, they voted to launch a process that could end in downzoning the village, preventing future by-right development. They voted 9-0 to begin a public input process among the village residents on that idea.
Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) said that would also bring the zoning inline with the vision of the 2019 county comprehensive plan.
“We have strategies and actions to encourage working with the rural historic villages to develop community plans that will support their community goals and address issues related to land use, zoning and other matters,” Buffington said. “That is exactly what this is. We’re just starting with the village of St. Louis for reasons that we all already know.”
Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) said it was an area that has been left behind in part because the previous update to the county comprehensive plan was almost two decades previous.
“There are areas of Loudoun County that have been largely ignored, and I believe St. Louis is one of those areas,” Ranall said. “So whatever we can do to try to address some of the inequities that have come because the area wasn’t addressed, is something that I believe we should do with all deliberate speed.”
Loudoun County first came to own the Aldie Tavern property when it was the third property supervisors purchased as a site for the new Aldie fire station. It was also the third site where, after negotiating a property purchase behind closed doors, the county was chased off of their plans for a fire station by community opposition after the county bought the property. The new Aldie fire station finally found a home on a fourth site at Gilbert’s Corner, the intersection of Rt. 15 and Rt. 50.