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.