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Golf Course Future Unclear After Zoning Appeals Ruling

by Karen Goff April 15, 2015 at 1:20 pm 1,596 31 Comments

Reston National Golf CourseNeither the owners of Reston National Golf Course nor the citizens of Reston came out as clear-cut winners in the Fairfax County Board of Zoning Appeals’ ruling Wednesday on the future of the expanse of land at Sunrise Valley Drive and Soapstone Road.

After a public hearing in January, the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) was slated to rule on a 2012 appeal in which golf course owners RN Golf Management could consider the 166 acres as residential space.

But before it could get to the ruling — or in this case, a partial ruling — the BZA heard more than two hours of rambling testimony from BZA members Paul Hammack and James Hart.

The testimony covered details including 1971 maps; a 1993 letter from Fairfax County Zoning;  a 2012 letter from county zoning administrator Cathy Belgin to attorney Mark Looney, who filed the original inquiry for RN Golf; and what parcels of Reston land are subject to various planned community zoning rules.

In the end, Hammack’s motion that “we overrule the zoning administrator to the extent she says a comprehensive plan amendment is a precondition [to development]” was unanimously approved.

The BZA took only into consideration the 2012 letter from Belgin to Looney and not the many documents and findings on the issue discovered since then.

Belgin’s letter on June 20, 2102 stated: “Redevelopment of the property from a golf course to residential uses would first require an amendment to the Reston Master Plan which is part of the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan, as well as subsequently obtaining a DPA approval and a PRC approval from the Board of Supervisors.”

Hart said the 2012 letter  — the basis for the appeal — had an opinion “that was made in a vacuum.”

“The Comprehensive Plan is in no way a procedural bar,” he said. “In that sense, the letter went too far. The golf course can be redeveloped if proper procedures are followed. The appeal is about what the proper procedures are.”

Hammack said it is hard to make a ruling when the board does not know what RN Golf has planned for the golf course.

“Until we know what is proposed, I don’t think we can make a determination saying the zoning administrator is right or wrong,” he said. “At this point, [ruling on] a development plan is hypothetical.”

The BZA motion all but ensures the discussion over the future of the golf course will continue. The golf course owner has 30 days in which to make an appeal.

Representatives for Rescue Reston, the open space advocacy group formed in the wake of the golf course issue, previously said it will appeal. Connie Hartke of Rescue Reston said on Wednesday the group will now take a step back and weigh the options.

“Where it stands at the moment is that RN Golf can go through the normal process for a development plan with a [Planned Residential Community] Amendment,” she said. “They can propose whatever they want to propose. Right now, we would band together and fight it. But in 50 years, who knows what will happen?”

“We are very concerned [by the BZA saying] the comprehensive plan does not matter,” she added. “This is not about zoning. This is about what process do you have to go through to redevelop land.”

Added Rescue Reston board member David Burns:

“We believe the BZA has ignored not only the law and the property rights of the thousands who own property adjacent to the golf course, but also the will of the more than 6,000 supporters of Rescue Reston, and the thousands more members of the Reston Association, who respect the Reston Master Plan and oppose development of the golf course.”

RN Golf, a subsidiary of Northwestern Mutual Insurance, purchased the golf course in 2005 for $5 million. It first inquired on the zoning status in 2010. After the 2012 answer, RN Golf deferred taking additional action until last fall.

A January county staff report also upheld the 2012 ruling.

  • clambj

    So basically the BZA punted the ball down the till the owners actually put forth a development plan.

    • Karen Goff

      Yes. How I wish I could just write one sentence….:)

      • clambj

        Just think of all the free time that would give you.

      • Chuck Morningwood

        But could you do it without mixing metaphors? Did they punt, or did they kick the can down the road?

        In any case, it was a stellar summary of the situation, CLJ.

    • GB

      Surely then this ruling is in favor of RN. If the BZA has said, “it depends on what you propose developing”, then isn’t that basically the same as any other development. If they were going to say, no development, this is open space then the proposed development wouldn’t matter.

      It is frustrating that they had to wait 3 months to give that ruling when they didn’t consider any of the additional documents submitted.

      How do we go about getting our property tax assessment reduced?

      • clambj

        That’s not how I interpret it. I think what they are saying is that the previous ruling requiring an amendment to a hypothetical development plan was premature and procedurally incorrect. Both sides now need to begin again at square one.

        • JCSuperstar

          They punted, letting the developer, with their resources, to overcome. This is a fight. Does RA have the resources to fight or buy?

          • JCSuperstar

            Look at what’s happening at St. Johns Woods. Same attorneys. Looney/Cooley.

          • clambj

            As I’ve said before, I would be in favor of the RA buying the course and operating it similar to Herndon Centennial or as a partnership operation like Fairfax County and Laurel Hill Golf Club. I imagine there are a lot of ways that could be funded without requiring RA to take out an entire loan on a purchase price which I believe was cited somewhere around the $12M figure. Plus, it’s a guaranteed revenue generator which should offset any dues increases.



            One thing I have not heard in any of these discussions is this…What if the current owners of the golf course don’t want to sell? RA and Rescue Reston seem to want to just say, “if the county rules in favor of the developer, then we will buy the golf course”. The developers want to DEVELOP. It is worth so much more money, from many different revenue streams, if they plan, finance ,and develop, rather than just sell.

          • JCSuperstar

            OMG BO, this may be one of the times you and I are lock step in sync. Well said. I absolutely agree.

            The Rescue Reston folks need to understand their cause may be just, but they have one heck of a fight in front of them now.

            If RR & RA wanted to purchase the golf course, they should have done so much, much earlier in the process. Before the owner and the developers and their attorney’s saw how hot this Reston market is getting.

            Now, this parcel is not the $4.5M assessment, it is what the market is going to bear in favor of the owners.

            Do you think the BOS will stop this? Aint no way.


            I talked to a well known area
            builder/developer months
            ago who claimed they were
            a partner w/ the owners and
            had first right of refusal
            on future building lots.

          • Mike M

            Was that poetry? Looks like it should be. Doesn’t sound like it.


            no…just sent from i phone…

      • JCSuperstar

        Well said. This tells me the political will is now in favor of the developers.

        • John Farrell

          That would be inaccurate.

      • John Farrell

        Actually it isn’t. RGN wanted to proceed directly to subdivision. The BZA ruled that it can’t.

  • Rodney Dangerfield

    The right decision … and the reason why allowing an amendment to the Comprehensive Plan to be a threshold is because it could be changed to reduce the rights of the land owner to be legislatively changed without recourse. Rather than grousing about what “might” become of the golf course now (or 50 years from now), and trying to litigate or legislate the existing potential out of existence (which the owner hasn’t said is anyway imminent, anyway), Rescue Reston should work on raising money to buy the course for a mutually fair value and buy it … then they can do whatever they want with it.

  • Reston Realist

    Hmmmmm….sounds like the BZA complied with the requirements of “The Attorneys Continuing Employment Act” rather than try to solve a problem.

  • JCSuperstar

    As I said elsewhere. I think the latest BZA decision today, regarding the Reston National Golf Course, lays the groundwork for all developer/owners, the opportunity to push to the max their own property rights and uses.

    That decision today frightens me. A lot of time and money is going to be spent fighting the fight over any and all properties within Reston’s boundaries.

    • John Farrell

      No need to fear. RGN is a somewhat unique situation.

      The BZA decision provides cold comfort for the owners of RGN.

  • Terry Maynard

    OK, I don’t want to sound like a starry-eyed optimist here (something few would otherwise accuse me of), but the way I read this is that the Zoning Administrator’s position stands at least until RN Golf (aka Northwestern Mutual) presents a development plan for approval.

    That’s not the hurdle of a Comprehensive Plan amendment, but it (a) forces RN Golf to show their hand (just how many thousands of apartments are they proposing?) and (b) requires review/approval/endorsement of the RA DRB and Reston P&Z Committee before it goes to the Planning Commission for approval. Then this whole game will be played again, but based on a real plan (rather than the absence of one) that I expect will look unacceptable.

    I apologize for my seeming euphoria, but I’ll take the “plus” side of this decision today rather than the negative. It’s certainly better than the BZA approving RN Golf’s appeal.

  • Sidewinder

    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Turn the driving range into a “Top Golf” facility (like whats coming to 1 Loudon) and let the owners of the course benefit from the profits. That should shut them up. With all the tech-heavy, golf-loving companies within a mile of the area (I am one of these people), it would flourish.


    We can then keep the rest of the golf course pristine.

    Sacrifice the practice range for the needs of the many. Plus, that would be A LOT of fun to have here!

    • JCSuperstar

      Ummm, I think the owners are looking for far greater profits than repurposing the driving range. With time and money, I think they’ll get them.

    • Sidewinder

      Good point, but I was trying to think positively. 🙂

      The thought of that beautiful course being residentially developed is repulsing, and we want a TopGolf closer than 1 Loudon.

  • Wings!!

    Here’s an idea… Build a Hooters on the golf course!

  • JCSuperstar

    I agree Mike M.

    Mr. Maynard, you definitely enjoy providing analysis, that’s a given. But, this is political any way you look at it, the Reston market is showing that.

    Just look around you son.

  • Humbug Me Not

    Let’s see–we’ve got congestion to beat the band, vanishing open space, fewer trees and no say in what happens to our community. Too bad about the town referendum–now the developers have got us by the short hairs.

  • MarkR307

    Instead of fighting the community on developing the Golf Course, developers should look into acres and acres of undeveloped parking lots just west of the Reston Parkway between Sunrise Valley and Dulles Toll Road. The area is sparse office buildings and vast parking lots. Parking garages can be built, over- or under-ground, and streets of new buildings constructed alongside the existing buildings. There is plenty of space there for another Reston Town Center! You can build condos, office buildings and retail spaces, and it would be adjacent to the upcoming Reston Metro Station.

  • Michael P. McHugh

    You seem nothing less than a starry-eyed optimist. Thanks for the language. Here the pessimistic view:
    They just threw sand in the eyes of their opposition. Stand by for the gut slug and sucker punch. There is too much money in this to NOT have “hired help” in the system every step of the way.

  • Michael P. McHugh

    Was that poetry? Looks like it should be. Doesn’t sound like it.


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