Op-ed: Wheelock’s Grand Scheme for a Grand Park Doesn’t Sell

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

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After Ownership Change, Future of Reston National Golf Course in Question

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.

File photo

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Some Members Decry Poor Upkeep of Hidden Creek Country Club

Some members of Hidden Creek Country Club, a 163-acre private country club, are vexed about “deplorable” conditions at the 163-acre private country club, which could be redeveloped into a 100-acre grand park with residential housing.

Issues with maintenance and upkeep of the club, which was established in 1963, have become a flashpoint in the public debate about whether or not redevelopment of the property, which was purchased by Wheelock Communities for $14 million in October last year, is warranted. Some worry maintenance issues signal ownership is unwilling to explore an option on the table: maintaining the country club in its traditional form.

A mid-September letter signed by 104 members demanded that management increase the number of staff, fix bathrooms, improve routine maintenance, fix a broken beverage cart and host a meeting to reiterate the company’s commitment to the club so long as the golf course remains a golf course and membership dues are collected.

In a letter responding to members, Wheelock said it is committed to maintaining the club and golf course, noting that the company has invested more than $300,000 in upgrades to the Roanoke Grill, tavern, Fairway room, lobby, and locker rooms. An additional $200,000 was invested to continuously repair the facility. Company representatives also noted that they will continue to keep the club’s membership informed and involved in discussions about the club’s redevelopment — discussions which several members have been a part of since Wheelock purchased Hidden Creek.

The Club Management is in close contact with us on an ongoing basis. We are aware of the punch list items of needed repairs for the clubhouse as well as maintenance needs for the golf course,” the letter states.

Eric Levin, the club’s general manager, told Reston Now that management was aware of issues flagged by members and was working diligently to address them prior to receiving the letter. This year’s summer weather was also the “most extreme” in many years, leading to poor playing conditions, Levin wrote in an email.

“We have been working tirelessly to rectify the issues outlined. The owners have invested over $500,000 to this point in 2018 with another $200,000+ scheduled over the next few months on both the Clubhouse and the Golf Course,” Levin wrote.

Steve Coniglio, Wheelock’s local partner, declined to comment on a request from Reston Now, noting that he did not believe it was appropriate to turn the issue into a public matter.

“As a private country club, I am happy to provide this information to our members,” Coniglio wrote in an email.

Some members, many of whom have been a part of the club for more than 10 years, are still not satisfied. As stated in the letter, they have threatened to post negative reviews on social media about the golf course, absent progress on maintenance and staffing issues.

One member, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to preserve membership status, told Reston Now that conditions are the club have dipped to a new low.

“People think they’re not putting any money into this golf course. There’s a business case that you can’t support a country club in this economic environment. But there are half a dozen golf course communities that are thriving and commanding just enough money. That can happen here too,” the member told Reston Now. “There are some really good employees and people who work there. We want this place to thrive.”

The letter, which was obtained by Reston Now by a signatory, highlights issues like downed trees, irregular moving, inconsistent trash collection, downed and dead trees and poorly maintained bathrooms. It suggests hiring at least four employees to help with maintenance.

“We want so badly to take pride in Hidden Creek. We see it as our home away from home. We would much rather post positive reviews… before we recommend Hidden Creek to the world, we need the conditions to improve,” the letter states.

Although the company has not filed formal development plans with the county, Wheelock is exploring redeveloping the private country club into a 100-acre public park with amenities and an undisclosed number of residential units.

Redeveloping the property would require a number of changes to county planning documents, which designate the property for private recreational use. Rescue Reston, a grassroots group which successfully fought against the redevelopment of Reston’s other golf course, has committed to opposing any redevelopment plans.

Photos via Hidden Creek Country Club member 

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Plan to Redevelop Hidden Creek Country Club Draws Opposition

A developer’s plan to rezone and redevelop Hidden Creek Country Club from a private golf course into a 100-acre public park with between 600 to 1,000 residential units drew passionate opposition from residents Thursday night.

Wheelock Communities, which purchased the golf course in October last year, presented its conceptual plan for the 160-acre property to Reston Association’s Board of Directors. A formal development plan has not been submitted to the county and would require the county to rezone the property. Fairfax County’s Comprehensive Plan restricts Hidden Creek Country Club as a private recreational use, specifically a golf course. RA also passed a resolution in 2016 that states Reston’s two golf courses are reserved for golfing only, although the approval of the project and required rezoning is determined by the county.

Steve Coniglio, a regional partner with Wheelock, pitched the concept to RA’s board as an environmentally-friendly move that would serve unmet public space needs in Reston and provide for-sale housing stock at a variety of undisclosed affordability levels. Wheelock, which led several work group sessions with area stakeholders about its plans, would also restore several degraded streams on the site and end Lake Anne water rights exclusive to the golf course, creating a community gathering space with input from residents.

In a flashback to its defense of Reston National Golf Course, which was threatened by development several years ago, Rescue Reston, the grassroots organization that seeks to preserve the golf course and push back against unplanned development, challenged Wheelock to sell the site to another owner who can preserve the golf course and help it rebound.

“They throw in their version of a ‘park’ to misdirect and divide us,” said Lynne Mulston of Rescue Reston, adding that Wheelock’s plan makes “insulting assumptions” about Reston. A survey of area residents conducted by Rescue Reston this year found that nearly 97 percent of the 454 respondents want to preserve the golf course for private recreational use.

“It’s a bad swing that takes Reston out of bounds,” Mulston added.

Rescue Reston members, clad in yellow shirts, also said Wheelock’s plan leaves many unanswered questions, including who will maintain and pay for the park and pedestrian access. The group also said Wheelock’s plan is not driven by environmental stewardship because residential development would require tree removal and contribute to stormwater runoff.

“Open space today, tomorrow, forever,” said Rescue Reston’s president Connie Hartke. 

But Coniglio said the golf course is struggling to court members for dues-only membership, forecasting an uncertain future for the golf course. “Everyone says make it better, but it’s a business and its about cash flow,” Coniglio said.

The company spent around $500,000 for capital improvements to the golf course this year and future expenses to maintain the golf course are only expected to rise, he said.

“Yes, it’s a golf course today. That’s absolutely true. But is the golf course the best use of the land as it relates to the rest of the community? I don’t think it necessarily is,” Coniglio said.

RA board members pushed Wheelock for more information, including market analyses, on how the developer determined the golf course’s current use was unsustainable.

“Why would I join a club if the press tells me you’re going to close it?” said RA board member Julie Bitzer, adding that Wheelock’s vision for the property fails to acknowledge Reston’s golf course heritage.

Wheelock’s vision for the property includes between 600 and 1,000 residential units with a mix of townhouses, villas, and multi-family units. Coniglio said the developer designed the project “backwards” by focusing on open, public space. The residential component of the project would generate between $300,000 and $500,000 in yearly revenue for RA.

“We started with the open space, we started with the stream and the environment and that’s why we don’t have a plan with streets and boxes here for you,” Coniglio said, noting that the development would be designed so that it transitions smoothly to surrounding areas.

RA board member Ven Iyer said it was unfair to neighboring residents who could see their backyards jump from a private to public use.

Wheelock’s presentation is below:

Hidden Creek Country Club Presentation by Wheelock Communities by Fatimah Waseem on Scribd

Rescue Reston’s presentation can also be found below:

Rescue Reston North Course Presentation by Fatimah Waseem on Scribd

Photo via YouTube

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Wheelock Affiliate Buys Fannie Mae Office Building

An affiliate of Connecticut-based Wheelock Street Capital has bought the office building on 11600 American Dream Way from Fannie Mae further expanding the companies footprint.

The news, first reported by The Washington Business Journal, expands Wheelock Communities’ footprint in Reston. The company purchased Hidden Creek Country Club, which is just next to the office building previously owned by Fannie Mae, in October last year.

The company hopes to convert the golf course into a public park with between 500 and 2,000 residential units. A formal development proposal has not been submitted to the county, but discussions are underway. A spokesperson for the company did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Reston Now.

Wheelock Street Capital, an affiliate of Wheelock Communities, bought the Charter Oak Apartments, in February. The community is also next to the golf course.

WBJ reported Wheelock paid more than 90 million for the building. Fannie Mae plans to move to Reston Gateway, a major mixed-use project near the future Reston Town Center Metro station in 2020.

Photo via Fannie Mae

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Wheelock to Discuss Redevelopment Plans for Hidden Creek Country Club

Wheelock Communities, the owner of Hidden Creek Country Club, will discuss its future plans for Hidden Creek Country Club, one of two golf courses in Reston that could be slated for redevelopment.

After a series of focus group meetings with community stakeholders, the company, which has contemplated adding a residential component to the golf course since it purchased the property last year, plans to create a 100-acre “grand park” open to the public. The plan also includes a residential component, which could include a mix of housing types and housing for seniors and generate between $300,000 and $500,000 in yearly Reston Association dues.

The company has not submitted official development plans or a rezoning application to the county. Reston’s Master Plan states the golf course is designed for private recreational open space and an RA resolution commits to ensure Reston is a two-golf course community.

A zoning ordinance change would be required for the project to move forward, if proposed. At a focus group meeting last month, the company said it could build between 500 and 2,000 housing units on the property. Its partner company, Wheelock Street Capital, purchased Charter Oak Apartments, which is next to the golf course. 

A recreational village in the grand park would “accommodate people’s pursuit of physical betterment,” according to presentation materials submitted to RA. A representative of Wheelock will provide an update about development plans to Reston Association’s Board of Directors on Thursday (Sept. 27). The recreational village would serve as a “modern sports and fitness center of excellence.”

Between 2.5 and 3.5 miles of trails would be added to the grand park, as well as recreational amenities like indoor tennis, a garden of remembrance, a playground, a splash park, and a dog park. The company is also contemplating renovation of the Temporary Road Recreation Area and restoring between 3,000 and 5,000 feat of degraded streams. The park would connect with the Washington & Old Dominion Trail and other nearby destinations like Reston Town Center and Lake Anne Village Center.

Rescue Reston, a grassroots group that seeks to preserve Hidden Creek Country Club as a golf course, will offer its response to Wheelock’s presentation at the Thursday meeting. The group was created when Reston National Golf Course was threatened by development several years ago. The development plan was later abandoned in that case.

In previous meetings, members of RA’s board have expressed strong support for maintaining Hidden Creek Country Club as a golf course.

The meeting will be live-streamed on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. on RA’s YouTube page.

Handout via RA

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Op-Ed: Why All of the Hidden Creek Golf Course Needs to be Protected as Open Space

This is an op/ed submitted by Rescue Reston’s North Course Committee. It does not reflect the opinions of Reston Now. No development plans for Hidden Creek Country Club have been formally proposed to the county. If you wish to submit an opinion piece, email [email protected]

Wheelock Communities, the Connecticut-based company that bought the Hidden Creek Country Club in north Reston, says it wants to build housing on 40 percent of the golf course land on almost half of the golf course that comprises the biggest part of north Reston’s open space. The land design firm that Wheelock is working with told a community focus group last month that Wheelock foresees building between 500 and 2,000 housing units in the open space.    

Building housing on Hidden Creek golf course would violate the Reston Master Plan that is part of the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan, as well as require a change in the County zoning ordinance.  The County has designated Hidden Creek as private recreational open space, specifically a golf course.    

All of the Hidden Creek golf course needs to remain as private recreational open space, and here’s why:  In this area, buying a house is almost always the biggest investment decision that any of us will make. 

Because it is such a consequential decision, we homeowners count on the land-use plan to give us some confidence about what we can expect to see in our community over time.  In fact, the Fairfax County website says, “The purpose of planning is to ensure that Fairfax County’s excellent quality of life will continue.”  The Reston Master Plan Task Force’s goal was to guide the community’s growth and development for the next 30 to 40 years.

Why should one real estate development company that has had no connection to our community be able to make an investment decision that would undermine the individual investment decisions of many thousands of Reston households? 

Allowing that would be counter to one of Robert Simon’s primary goals for Reston:  “that the importance and dignity of each individual be the focal point for all planning, and take precedence for large-scale concepts.”

Building new housing where it’s not supposed to be–and losing 40 percent of north Reston’s planned open space at Hidden Creek in the process–would hurt Reston households.  And it would hurt not just those who live in the Lake Anne/Tall Oaks district of Reston, but all Restonians who rely on the two major north-south roads through north Reston: Wiehle Avenue and Reston Parkway. 

Putting housing on Hidden Creek would add to the Wiehle Avenue traffic that is currently bumper-to-bumper during rush hours.  Wiehle Avenue traffic is already expected to worsen because another development company has put in an application to build 2,100 units in the Isaac Newton area (behind the Wiehle Avenue firehouse).  That area is within the Wiehle-Reston East Transit Station Area, so new housing development is conceivable there under the approved Reston Master Plan. Add to that the 156 units in new development that has already been approved for Tall Oaks Village Center.

The Hidden Creek golf course is outside the Wiehle transit station development area and should remain ineligible for new housing, lest we both lose our precious green open space plus overburden our roads and other infrastructure–such as our public schools–even more. 

Restonians already know what it’s like to crawl along Reston Parkway in the morning or late afternoon.  But more traffic will be coming there, too, from the 20-story condominium that has been approved for the corner of Temporary Road and Reston Parkway.  That area was zoned for high density living in the Reston Master Plan because it is within the Reston Town Center Transit Station Area

Wheelock Communities bought a golf course that is supposed to remain as open space.  They knew it when they bought it, and we as a community need to work to keep the zoning ordinance and the Reston Master Plan as they are in order to protect all of it as open space.  Based on the information on their website, Wheelock’s strategy as a developer is to buy, build, sell, and leave.  They have no long-term interest in Reston.

if Hidden Creek Country Club becomes yet another housing development, Reston National Golf Course may suffer the same fate.  Chipping away at one big parcel of green space will set a precedent for destruction of other open space within Reston and Fairfax County.     

Speculative developers will not stop trying to pave over green spaces when they can make millions by building more housing.  Let’s not give them an opening to take away our green space in Reston. If Wheelock does not have the vision for how to make Hidden Creek the gem of a golf and tennis club that it should be, then they should sell to those who do have the vision.

We have enough planned development coming to Reston.  Let’s not allow additional unplanned development. Learn what you can do.

File photo

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Early Discussions on the Future of Hidden Creek Country Club Begin

Redevelopment options for Hidden Creek Country Club (Handout via Reston Association)

In early discussions about the future of Hidden Creek Country Club, members of the Reston Association’s Board of Directors and community advocates stood firm against the redevelopment of the golf course as its new owner, Wheelock Communities, contemplates future redevelopment options.

Since purchasing the golf course in October last year, Wheelock has held three work group sessions with community groups and nearby residents to discuss plans for the site. At its last meeting, the real estate developer of master planned communities pitched four options, including a no-build alternative. Discussions are preliminary.

Concerns about future redevelopment intensified when Wheelock Street Capital, an affiliated company, purchased Charter Oak Apartments in partnership with local investment firm Canandaigua & Pratt Holdings in February. The apartment is next to the golf course.

At an RA board meeting Thursday night, members reiterated that Reston is a two-golf course community. Reston’s Master Plan emphasizes the importance of preserving Reston’s golf courses for private recreational use and an RA resolution commits to ensuring Reston is a golf course community and opposes any attempts to create a roadway between American Dream Way and Isaac Newtown Square through the property.

Sherri Hebert, an RA board member, said Wheelock has pitched ways redevelopment could improve public accessibility through additional walking paths and make it more environmentally friendly. Hebert said the club is already “a community diamond” and that the future of golf is strong.

“They’ve even used Bob Simon and his vision to take about this is to be envisioned as something different, which I personally find insulting,” Hebert said.

The discussion harkens back to Rescue Reston’s defense of Reston National Golf Course, which was threatened by development plans several years. Connie Hartke, president of Rescue Reston, a grassroots group formed in 2012 in response to threats against the golf course, said the group is prepared to step up opposition against future development plans.

“This is not the time to concede an inch of open space,” Hartke said, noting that more planned development is on the horizon.

RA’s board plans to discuss the issue with representatives from Wheelock at a board operations committee meeting in September and a later board meeting that month as well. RA board president Andy Sigle described Thursday’s discussion as preliminary.

Sridhar Ganesan, an RA board member, said Wheelock has stated the cost of making improvements to the golf course raises questions about the future viability of the site. Ganesan said he hopes to see an analysis by Wheelock to determine how that conclusion was reached.

Wheelock issued the following statement late Friday afternoon:

When Wheelock Communities purchased Hidden Creek Country Club in October
2017, we immediately recognized the special character of Reston and the need to
include the community in exploring all the possibilities for the future of the golf
course. With that idea and Bob Simon’s Founding Principles of Reston in mind, Wheelock
engaged the community by establishing a Focus Group to gain the perspective
from a broad-based group of approximately 20 Reston residents. The Focus
Group, which has not yet concluded its work, began without preconceived
notions about the future of the property.

This story was updated on Monday (July 30) to include Wheelock’s response.

Handout via Reston Association

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