Lots of Testimony, But No Golf Course Zoning Decision

by Karen Goff January 21, 2015 at 3:05 pm 1,738 89 Comments

The Fairfax County Board of Zoning Appeals heard more than five hours of testimony concerning the future of Reston National Golf Course on Wednesday, but opted not to make a decision. The BZA will make a ruling on the subject on April 15.

At issue: The zoning appeal of RN Golf, the owners of the 166-acre public course in south Reston, who say the land can be considered residential. RN Golf, a division of Northwestern Mutual Insurance, has been asking the county of the land status since 2010.

The appeal is in a response to a 2012 ruling by the Fairfax County Zoning Administration that said altering the planned use of the golf course at Sunrise Valley and Colts Neck Roads would require a comprehensive plan amendment.

The county recently issued a staff report that upholds the 2012 ruling.

That inquiry has been met with significant citizen pushback. More than 300 members of Rescue Reston, the citizens advocacy group formed in response to the initial 2012 appeal, showed up at the Fairfax County Government Center clad in signature yellow/green shirts and carrying signs supporting keeping Reston’s open space open.

Also in attendance — and among the people testifying Thursday — were attorneys for Rescue Reston and Reston Association.

The day included lots of details about zoning filings and Planned Residential Community (PRC) documents, including many details on how and when the original 1971 zoning documents were located since 2012.

“When [Reston] was zoned, and now, there are only five categories [for land use],” said Frank McDermott, attorney for RN Golf. “Residential, neighborhood center, convenience center, town center or village center. It has to be one of those categories. There is no such things as PRC golf course or PRC open space. Our position this was and is PRC residential.”

After RN Golf’s side gave a long saga of trying to locate the original documents — which took them through Fairfax County file rooms and Reston Association records, among others — McDermott argued that at least two of the the 1971 documents located came from George Mason University’s planned community archives.

McDermott said without coming from the county with official government stamps, the documents are not valid.

“You must be persuaded you be persuaded [by Fairfax County zoning] to respect and give greater dignity to unapproved plans from an unapproved source,” said McDermott.  “They call these the approved development plans. There is not one iota of evidence that they are the approved development plans.”

McDermott also said there is no such thing as permanent open space, even though the 1971 documents list it as such.

“There is nothing common about the golf course,” he said. “It is privately owned, and frankly, residents who live by the golf course, who, by their own statements, go out and run on the course, they are trespassing. It is not common, open space. It is private.”

Residents who testified wholeheartedly disagree. They said they purchased homes on the golf course with the understanding they would have a view of the rolling greens or wooded areas, which also add a value premium to their home value.

“What concerns me is that my family, as well has hundreds of others, would stand the lose the views we paid premiums for,” said Jay Szlamowicz, who lives on Weybridge Lane. “Allowing home construction in Reston without changing the master plan would invalidate the concept of planned community. This is what makes Reston great and we can’t allow a greedy company to destroy that.”

Realtor Ray Wedell said homes on the course have already been impacted by the chance of redevelopment. He pointed out that townhomes on Indian Ridge sold quickly for an average of about $500,000 in the first half of 2014. In the second half, no contracts were ratified. By the end of the year, when the BZA application was reinstated, five Indian Ridge homes lingered on the market

Other residents took issue with the process RN Golf has used in getting to the appeal. The company purchased the course for $5 million in 2005. Residents said if it had redevelopment plans in mind, it stands to make a great deal of money — and how could it be that the owners did not know what they were purchasing?

Reston is  in the second phase of changes to its Master Plan. Residents and RA and Rescue now attorneys questioned why RN Golf did not file an amendment request, since that is the proper procedure for changing zoning in a PRC.

John Pinkman, founder of Rescue Reston, said talk of missing files is a diversion from the real issues.

“When you have a weak position, you create a diversion,” he said. “That diversion is the rabbit hole of suspicion, such as where did docs stamps come from? If you look at the spirit of the community, no one would think of that. I don’t know if there is anyone here in 1971 who said in 40 years there will be a subway here and we have to create the documents to create a loophole.”

Meanwhile, the BZA brought up several examples of approved Reston projects that did not have to go through the comprehensive plan amendment process despite negative staff reports from the zoning administration. Among them: The 23-story office tower planned for Reston Parkway and The Hamilton, the residential towers currently under construction across from Reston Town Center.

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