This op-ed was submitted by Walter Alcorn, a former Fairfax County Planning Commissioner who recently won the Democratic Primary for Hunter Mill District Supervisor. It does not reflect the opinions of Reston Now. We publish article and opinion contributions of specific interest to the Reston community. Contributions may be edited for length or content.
Recent reports that the Reston National Golf Course has been acquired by two Baltimore area real estate developers, Weller Development and War Horse Cities, have placed many Restonians on alert. The fate of the golf course has been a hot button issue for the community since 2012 when the previous owner attempted to assert its right to develop the course without an amendment to the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan.
Weller Development and War Horse have stated that they “are focused on building relationships and working with the communities we serve, and we look forward to being part of the Reston community for years to come.” I’ll take them at their word, but these new owners, and the Reston community, should understand that if elected to the Board of Supervisors whether I would consider even initiating any possible change to the Comprehensive Plan will be guided by two simple principles.
First, any proposed amendment must, as a threshold matter, have the support of the Reston community, and particularly the support of the homeowners and communities adjacent to the golf course. These residents would be most directly affected by any proposed development. They bought their property with the expectation that it would remain a golf course, as called for in the Comprehensive Plan, and those expectations deserve to be respected. In addition, there also must be support from the broader community (e.g., golfers and users of trails through the course).
Second, I don’t believe that the quality of any business decisions made by the property owners are relevant to land use decisions of the Board of Supervisors. If the new owners paid a speculative premium for the property hoping to find a path to development, and if they are unable to secure community support for such development, in my view that is simply the risk of being an entrepreneur in our free market system.
The Reston National Golf Course has been a part of the fabric of Reston since the community was founded in 1964. I understand the concerns of residents in protecting Reston’s open space for recreational, environmental and livability reasons. And with the current Comprehensive Plan designation arrived at unanimously by the task force formed to draft the Plan only a few years ago, I do not support changing the Plan’s designation that this property be a golf course. At some point in the future if the new owners of the golf course can devise a plan which garners clear and broad community backing (including neighboring communities) I would support initiating a process to consider changing the Comprehensive Plan. If not, they should accept the fact that they bought a golf course and look at how to involve more of the community in the lifelong sport of golf.
Photo via Walter Alcorn
This op-ed was submitted by Lynne Mulston, vice president of Reston Citizens Association, chair of Rescue Reston’s North Course Committee, and a member of Hidden Creek Country Club. It does not reflect the opinions of Reston Now. We publish article and opinion contributions of specific interest to the Reston community. Contributions may be edited for length or content.
What doesn’t Wheelock understand about the Reston community’s response to their plans to develop Hidden Creek Country Club?
The focus groups that were held last year should have sent a clear message that the majority of the participants want the open space golf course at Hidden Creek to remain as such. One focus group participant said, “You [Wheelock and Swaback] don’t get it. We already have our park and we don’t pay a cent for it.”
The members of Hidden Creek — many of whom are long-term residents of Reston, have chosen to raise their families here, paid their taxes to Fairfax County including the added Small Tax District #5 assessments for the pleasure of living here, joined Hidden Creek for its amenities including swimming, tennis and golf, a sport that you can play well into your retirement years. In fact, there are numerous senior members (70+ years of age) at the Club which also serves as the home course for McLean High School’s golf team.
I was shocked recently when I received photos of a display that Wheelock Communities has set-up in a member event room just off the Tavern Bar and Grill. Every inch of wall space is covered with posters, presentations, and pictures of the plunder of Wheelock’s vision to turn 164-acres of open space that Gulf Reston originally dedicated to the people of Reston.
Here are just a few of the details of Wheelock’s proposal for HCCC’s development:
- 100+ acres and 8-10 tennis courts would be dedicated to Fairfax County Park Authority. That’s right! The open space that the Reston community pays NOTHING to maintain, would go the FCPA which our tax dollars fund. IOW, Restonians would now be tasked to pay so that Wheelock can make a profit by further densifying Reston despite that fact that the Reston Master Plan has always said both Reston golf courses shall remain open space!
- Reston was originally planned with two permanent 18-hole golf courses to offset significant overall community density elsewhere. Now Wheelock wants to reduce the cumulative open space requirements by developing choice portions of the course. 650 homes would be placed on the open space that Robert Simon envisioned. Vehicular traffic on a proposed new road system would significantly add to the congestion we’re already experiencing. Our already overcrowded schools would be further stressed.
- Fairfax County is planning to build a new 4-acre storm water management pond on the southern portion of HCCC to fix past development mistakes which result in flooding north of the Dulles Toll Road. Pursuant to this plan and Wheelock’s inability to develop land in this area due to it being a pipeline and floodplain, plans are to convert a huge part of the present course to other recreational amenities managed by the FCPA. The issue is if this is allowed, we taxpayers will pay in perpetuity for what now is ecologically precious open space.
- Wheelock is promoting a false narrative that when golf course use is eliminated, draining water from Lake Anne will cease. Claims that Hidden Creek takes 150,000 gallons of water per day from Lake Anne are erroneous. At first glance, this sounds like a lot of water but let’s look at the FACTS:
- The lake covers 27.7653 surface acres with an average depth of 13 feet. This means that the volume of the lake is 117,615,560 gallons.
- Hidden Creek monitors the pond near Temporary Road and North Shore Drive regularly. Only when needed does Hidden Creek draw water from Lake Anne.
- At maximum capacity, Hidden Creek’s pump can only pump 179 gpm. They rarely use it at that rate, but if they did, it would take 2.5 days to draw down the lake 1-inch.
It’s clear that Wheelock is betting their $14 million investment could net a return of $250 million; their investors are relying on their success. It’s up to us to show them why Reston was a poor choice for their exploitations. Vote for candidates who clearly state their intent to protect Reston’s golf courses. Save our community!
Photo via Lynne Mulston
The recent sale of Reston National Golf Course to a pair of Baltimore developers has piqued concerns about the possible redevelopment of the 164-acre property. Weller Development Cos. and War Horse Cities told Reston Now the companies have no information to share about possible redevelopment.
If the 18-hole golf course’s redevelopment goes before the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, the plan could be a tough sell for the future Hunter Mill District Supervisor.
All five candidates running for the seat vacated by Cathy Hudgins said they do not support an amendment to Reston’s comprehensive plan to allow redevelopment of the site. In statements to Reston Now, each candidate took strikingly similar stances on the potential redevelopment of the golf course.
The comprehensive plan states that Reston National and Hidden Creek Country Club — the community’s two golf courses — are “planned for private recreational use, more specifically to remain as golf courses.”
Laurie Dodd — who said she was the only candidate who testified to protect the golf course in 2015 — said she will be a “strong advocate for the residents of the district, who have already made it clear that nothing should be built on either Reston golf course.” The Reston-based lawyer noted that lost open space can never be recovered.
Calling himself a “progressive candidate with a proven record of giving a voice to citizens and whose livelihood is independent of the development industry,” Walter Alcorn, a former Fairfax County planning commissioner, said he is committed to ensuring Reston’s comprehensive plan is respected.
“It does not matter who owns the golf course because the comprehensive plan calls for that property to be a golf course, and that prevents its development,” Alcorn said.
Maggie Parker, an executive with Comstock Companies, said she will advocate for green and open spaces in the community as well.
“While I personally view the sales as unfortunate, I must practically view them as sales of private property with development restrictions that should not change. I will continue to work with the community to protect what makes Reston the place we call home,” Parker said.
Parker Messick, a recent Roanoke College graduate, said he will “do everything in his power to utilize the power of the comprehensive plan and the zoning powers that supervisors have to make sure Reston National is never developed upon.”
“If development is allowed on Reston National, we will lose one of our previous green spaces that cannot so easily be replaced,” he said.
Shyamali Hauth, a U.S. Air Fore veteran and community advocate, also stated that she will stand with Rescue Reston — a community advocacy organization that formed in response to the threat of Reston National’s redevelopment several years ago — to oppose redevelopment.
“I stand firmly with Rescue Reston, where I have been an active member since 2015, and am committed to preventing any comprehensive plan amendment to allow development that does not keep them in their current open space capacity. Open green spaces are essential in terms of environmental sustainability as well as quality of life,” Hauth said.
She said she is deeply concerned the golf course was purchased by developer.
“There has been no outreach to the surrounding community or Rescue Reston prior to this sale. I hope that the new owners will come out and state clearly that they plan to keep Reston National a public golf course,” she said.
Local community groups are gearing up to protect Reston National Golf Course from redevelopment once again after the 168-acre property was sold off to a pair of Baltimore developers earlier this month.
Weller Development Cos. and War Horse Cities purchased the property from RN Golf LLC, a partnership of Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance and Billy Casper Golf, according to the Washington Business Journal.
So far, the developers have “no set plans for the property at this time,” according to the report. But both companies appear to focus primarily on development.
Weller Development creates “large and small-scale development projects with the potential to transform cities,” according to its website. War Horse Cities is focused on “programming spaces, developing real estate and creating philanthropic initiatives,” according to its website.
Rescue Reston, a group formed in 2012 to protect Reston’s two golf courses and open spaces, has already declared that it is ready for battle.
“You bought a golf course and you own a golf course. Period. The war is on,” the group wrote on Facebook.
The fight to preserve Reston’s golf courses now has two fronts.
The advocacy group has vowed to protect Hidden Creek Country Club, which has been the subject of discussion for redevelopment in recent months after it was sold in 2017. Wheelock Communities, the owner, is considering plans to build 600 to 1,000 residential units and create a public park on the property. No formal plans have been proposed, but the company has discussed ideas with community stakeholders.
Rescue Reston says Reston National’s new owners have yet to contact them about their plans for the site.
“Weller Development Co. and War Horse Cities state in this Washington Business Journal article that they are ‘focused on building relationships’ and ‘being part of the Reston community.’ Yet they have not reached out to Rescue Reston or any other Reston entity which is in favor of golf and open space in Reston, thus showing their true intentions,” the group wrote in a statement.
Redeveloping the golf course would require a comprehensive plan amendment — a protracted process that Reston National’s previous owners backed off on in 2012.
Although the county’s Board of Zoning Appeals ruled that RN Golf could redevelop the site, the decision was overturned by the Fairfax County Circuit Court. In 2016, RN Golf decided not to take the fight to the Virginia Supreme Court. The golf course was later listed for sale in 2017.
The terms of the deal were not disclosed.
As the battle for open space in Reston heads towards the Virginia Supreme Court, a group of homeowners whose properties overlook Reston National Golf Course may be preparing for a lawsuit of their own.
The attorneys for the owners of RN Golf, the owner of Reston National Golf Course, have filed a notice that they plan to appeal the Fairfax County Circuit Court decision from last year that granted the motion for summary judgment and vacated the Board of Zoning Appeals decision that said the golf course owners could redevelop without getting a comprehensive plan amendment, which could ease the path to redevelopment of the public course.
RN Golf, a subsidiary of Northwestern Mutual Insurance, has until this week to to appeal the latest court order, says Rescue Reston, the citizens advocacy group that is fighting to maintain the golf course as permanent, open space in Reston.
Meanwhile, residents of Golf Course Square appeared at last week’s RA Board of Directors’ meeting to ask the board for its assistance in taking filmed depositions of some of the cluster’s original homeowners.
“Since 2012, our cluster has been discussing legal action we can take separate and apart from the zoning case [heading for] the Virginia Supreme Court,” said Golf Course Square resident Wilfred Hearn. “Our case is broader. The open space [is protected by] covenants and deeds. We have discussed our legal rights with an attorney.”
Hearn said the clusters has located four witnesses who either worked for Reston developer Gulf Reston (in the 1960s and 70s) or bought a house from Gulf Reston.
“The witnesses said the original developer intended the golf course would be permanent and sold houses around the golf course on that basis,” Hearn told the RA Board. “Prospective buyers were told the golf course would always be permanent and bought houses on basis that the golf course would be permanent. These witnesses have direct knowledge of the events between 1964 and ’68 in our cluster, including the building the buying and selling of our homes that surround the golf course.”
Hearn says the cluster leadership wants to petition the circuit court to for an order to take the depositions of the witnesses “to perpetuate their testimony for later use in court.”
“If we don’t take it now, we risk losing testimony,” she said. “The witnesses are in their 70s and 80s. We have no idea when the case will be filed. It might be too late.”
Golf Course Square is requesting RA pay for the depositions. Hearn did not say how much the depositions will cost. RA noted their request but had no immediate answer.
The Reston National case has been in the news since 2012, when the owners asked the county whether the course could be considered zoned residential. The Fairfax County Department of Planning and Zoning Staff said no, the land is open and recreational space and a change would require rezoning.
After many delays by RN Golf, the county Board of Zoning Appeals held a lengthy hearing in January 2015. In April 2015, the BZA returned its ruling that said the owners could redevelop without getting a comprehensive amendment, which could ease the path to redevelopment of the land.
Rescue Reston, RA and Fairfax County all filed appeals of that ruling in Fairfax County Circuit Court, and in November. Circuit Court Judge Michael Devine then granted the motion for summary judgment and vacated the Board of Zoning Appeals decision from earlier in 2015.
That decision means golf course owners RN Golf Management would have to file a formal plan with Fairfax County in order to pursue redevelopment of the course. No formal plans have been filed.
If the case is accepted for review by the higher court it likely will not be heard until at least fall of 2016.
When we last saw the main players — advocacy group Rescue Reston, golf course owners Reston National Golf Management (RN Golf), Reston Association, Fairfax County and others — they were in the same Fairfax County courthouse.
In early November, Judge Michael Devine granted the motion for summary judgment filed by lawyers for Rescue Reston, RA and other parties concerned about Reston’s open space. He also vacated the Board of Zoning Appeals‘ decision from earlier in 2015.
This means that golf course owners RN Golf Management would have to file a formal plan with Fairfax County in order to pursue redevelopment of the course. April’s ruling allowed RN Golf to circumvent rezoning in order to redevelop.
The issue dates back to 2012, when RN Golf asked Fairfax County if the 166-acre public course at Sunrise Valley and Colts Neck Road could be considered residential. Fairfax County Planning and Zoning said no, it’s open and recreational space. After several postponements, RN Golf filed an appeal to the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA). A BZA hearing took place in January of 2015, the final ruling in April 2015, and the newest decision on the April ruling in November.
At Friday’s hearing, the judge will enter the order (provided all parties agree on language) implementing November’s decision. It also starts the clock rolling on RN Golf’s timetable to appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court, should it choose to do so.
But even though there is a day in court, there is a chance nothing might happen at all. On Tuesday, RN Golf filed a motion asking Devine to defer issuing an order on the golf course case until “at least March 1, 2016,” reps for Rescue Reston said.
“This should not be surprising, given that RN Golf previously has pursued a strategy of delay, for example by appealing the County’s initial decision to the BZA and then postponing the BZA hearing for over a year,” said Rescue Reston president Connie Hartke. “The adjacent landowners who are opposing RN Golf will request that the court deny RN Golf’s motion for delay, and we anticipate that RA and the County will do the same.”
They were looking for a stolen golf cart, Fairfax County Police said.
Police said a pedestrian on the Reston Association trail near Reston National Golf Course called police about 2:55 p.m. to say a golf cart with two teenage boys and a teenage girl nearly hit him on the path before making a U-turn on Soapstone.
Police said Reston National has experienced a series of stolen golf carts recently and the chopper was dispatched to see if it could help find the stolen cart quickly.
By 3:30 p.m. the chopper was called back. No word yet on whether the suspects had been found.
Photo: Golf carts at Reston National/file photo
Rescue Reston was formed three years ago to support keeping Reston National as open and community space. Many of its founders live on homes backing to the golf course, which is also a wildlife habitat.
Rescue Reston’s owners, RN Golf Management, inquired in 2012 whether the land could be developed residential. When Fairfax County said it was community space, the owners took the case to the board of zoning appeals.
The BZA ruled this year that the space could be redeveloped without a comprehensive plan amendment. That leaves open the possibility that residential development could occur at the course at Sunrise Valley Drive and Colts Neck Road. No specific redevelopment plans have been filed.
Redevelopment of the 166-acre course would affect golfers, of course, but also hundreds of homeowners who purchased nearby because of golf course views and nearby open space.
Rescue Reston, along with Reston Association and Fairfax County, and continuing to fight the ruling. There will be a hearing on motions for summary judgment to reverse the decision in the Circuit Court of Fairfax County on Nov. 6.
Meanwhile, there is golf to be played and money to be raised to aid in Rescue Reston’s battle with developers. Here is what you need to know:
- 2 p.m. shotgun start/5 p.m. dinner provided by Glory Days Grill.
- Fees (greens fees, carts, beverages, and dinner): Foursome $240; Individual $60.
- Proceeds help fund Rescue Reston’s litigation costs
- Sponsorships available
- Not a golfer? There will also be a guided nature hike. The hike is free, but a $20 minimum donation will also gain you entry to dinner and clubhouse activities.
For more information and to sign up, visit Rescue Reston.
Reston Association, Fairfax County and advocacy group Rescue Reston, all of whom are appealing the 2015 Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) ruling on Reston National, will have a hearing on motions for summary judgment to reverse the decision in the Circuit Court of Fairfax County on Oct. 23.
The BZA ruled in April (following a January hearing) that golf course owner RN Golf Management would not need a zoning change in order to redevelop the 166-acre golf course from open and recreational space to residential.
That leaves open the possibility that residential development could occur at the course at Sunrise Valley Drive and Colts Neck Road. That would affect golfers, of course, but also hundreds of homeowners who purchased nearby because of golf course views and nearby open space.
“We’re very pleased that our evidence will be heard at the Circuit Court level,” said Rescue Reston’s Connie Hartke. “A few weeks ago, RN Golf’s attorney tried to get this dismissed, saying that Reston Association and the petitioners who live around the golf course had no standing.”
“It is time to step up and help financially so that we can send our strongest message ever to the investor-owner, Northwestern Mutual (NWM), that it is time to STOP.”
The future of the golf course has been a matter of community and legal discussion since summer 2012. That’s when Fairfax County’s Zoning, responding to an inquiry from RN Golf, told the golf course owners that the space is recreational and developing it would require a comprehensive plan amendment.
After several years of delays and continuances by RN Golf Management, the company’s appeal was finally heard in a six-hour hearing in January. There has never been a redevelopment plan filed or made public by the golf course owners.
In the BZA’a April decision, board member Paul 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.
Rescue Reston board member David Burns said at that time that the BZA ignored the law and rights of thousands of people in Reston.
“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, ” he said. “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.”
A January county staff report also upheld the 2012 ruling.
Reston Association’s Board voted in May to also appeal the BZA ruling.
“The decision reflects RA’s position that any redevelopment of PRC zoned land within Reston, including the Reston National Golf Course, must be reviewed and compared to the existing zoning development plans, and any proffers or conditions attached to the development plans,” RA said in a statement at the time.
The missing development plans were a big point of discussion at the January hearing.
“A zoning determination for the golf course was issued in June 2012 without these three development plans being available,” RA said. “Because they were unavailable at that time, the golf course owner appealed to the Fairfax County Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA), seeking a “blank check” for residential redevelopment of the golf course.”
RA said in May that the primary purpose of appealing the BZA decision to the Circuit Court is to have the court confirm that these are the official approved development plans which, until and unless amended, govern the use and development of the golf course, as well as the residences surrounding it.
A staff report issued by the Fairfax County Department of Zoning Administration requests that the Board of Zoning Appeals uphold the Zoning Administrator’s determination of June 20, 2012 in next week’s BZA hearing on Reston National Golf Course.
The BZA will consider the appeal of RN Golf, the owners of the 166-acre public course in south Reston, at a hearing on Jan. 21 at 9 a.m. at the Fairfax County Government Center.
RN Golf, a subsidiary of Northwestern Mutual Insurance, has been asking the county since 2010 whether the course was considered residential. The county said in 2012 that the course is designated permanent, open recreational space, and to change the designation would require a change to the Reston Master Plan.
RN Golf disagrees and would like to bypass the amendment change process.
According to the Jan. 13 staff report, the zoning staff previously confirmed to RN Golf that the existing zoning is “Planned Residential Community District without any proffered condition, restriction, limitation, or prohibition.”
From the report:
[RN Golf] further asserts that no other conditions, restrictions, limitations, or prohibitions are set forth in the Ordinances and none have been found in the County records that would prohibit, restrict, or proscribe the use of the Subject Property for residential.”
Even prior to locating copies of the approved development plans for RZ C-l35, RZ C-203, and RZ C-281 at the time of response to [attorney] Mark Looney’s inquiry letter of April 20, 2012, it was clear through staff reports, legal notices, and other relevant documentation that the three parcels making up the subject property had been designated on the development plans as golf course and open space only.
The zoning appeal hearing was postponed three times in 2012 and 2013 to give time to locate the original 1971 documents that designate the golf course as open space. The staff report says RN Golf has been notified of the confirmation of the plan, but is proceeding anyway.
Subsequent to the submission of this appeal application the development plan copies were located, and the appellant was provided with copies of these development plans, which occurred prior to the initially scheduled public hearing date(s) in 2012.
Staff has clearly demonstrated through the current (and prior) Zoning Ordinance language how these approved development plans, which designate the property as “South Golf Course Permanent Open Space,” “South Golf Course” and “South Golf Course Permanent Open Space” and “South Golf Course Permanent Open Space,” respectively, are binding to the property irrespective of the absence of proffers or development conditions, and must be amended to propose alternative development from the current use of a golf course or continued use as open space.
Meanwhile. grassroots advocacy group Rescue Reston is trying to rally as many people as possible to attend the hearing to voice their opposition to potential development.
This is a sponsored column by Eve Thompson of Reston Real Estate. She writes twice weekly on Reston Now.
Many consider golfing the perfect sport. I can definitely agree with that on those glorious days when the sun is shining and a light breeze carries the aroma of honeysuckle through the air.
On those days, nothing beats grabbing the clubs and heading over to one of the two amazing Reston golf courses: Hidden Creek Country Club and Reston National Golf Course. Legendary golf architect Ed Ault built both of these beautiful courses.
So, for you golf enthusiasts, here is the lowdown on Reston golf courses.
The Hidden Creek Country Club course is a classic, playable design renowned for its meticulously landscaped tees and greens where beautiful plants and flowers adorn each hole. This PGA-quality course is a favorite for serious golfers.
Located in South Reston, Reston National Golf Course is Reston’s public golf course. This secluded course is full of shaded fairways that provide a tranquil environment for any kind of golf outing you can imagine. Visit the restaurant or the clubhouse before or after your game to prolong the fun.