Neither 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.