By MacKenzie Reagan
Rescue Reston co-founder John Pinkman likens the proposed redevelopment of Reston National Golf Course to an amputation. The course, he says, is a critical piece of the Fairfax County community, and turning the land into residential property would deal a devastating blow to the area.
“[If] you take out a major component of [the Reston Master Plan], it affects thousands of homes … It’s not in best interest of the community,” Pinkman says.
He created Rescue Reston in early 2012 following investment firm Northwestern Mutual’s initial proposal to redevelop the course. The group, a grassroots organization that opposes the redevelopment, now boasts 6,000 members.
In June of that year, the Fairfax County Department of Planning and Zoning declared the area a protected “open space,” per the master plan.
“Open space is intended to provide light and air; open space may be function as a buffer between land uses or for scenic, environmental, or recreational purposes,” according to the department’s website.
According to Fairfax County Zoning Ordinance Article 16, any planned development “shall efficiently utilize the available land, and shall protect and preserve to the extent possible all scenic assets and natural features such as trees, streams and topographic features. ”
In April 2012, the course’s representatives sent a letter to the county zoning administrator requesting information on the process for building residential housing.
Per the county’s rezoning process, applicants for rezoning must hold two public hearings: one with the County Planning Commission and one with the Board of Supervisors. “Public participation is a major aspect of all rezoning applications. Applicants are encouraged to meet with adjacent neighbors, community associations and land use committees,” according to the application.
In June 2012, the Board of Zoning Appeals rejected the course’s request, stating that the county comprehensive plan must be modified as part of the process to obtain approval for residential development.
In July of that year, Reston National appealed the board’s decision, and in late 2014, they reactivated their appeal request. In April 2015, the board of zoning appeals issued a page-long written decision reversing the zoning administrator’s decision that the comprehensive plan must be amended to redevelop the course but upholding the administrator’s decision that a Planned Residential Community plan was needed. The board chose not to consider any evidence found after the zoning administrator’s June 2012 rejection letter. The board also chose not to address Reston National’s request for residential use of the golf course until they received a development plan.
“The owners of the golf course … have been trying to [circumvent] the process because they don’t want public hearings,” Rescue Reston president Connie Hartke says.
The course’s owners did not respond to multiple requests for comment; one attorney who had formerly represented the course denied any involvement with the case. Northwestern Mutual, in an emailed statement, said they “have no new information to share.”
Lawyers for Fairfax County, the Reston Association and many residents of the area whose property borders the course, appealed the board’s decision to the Fairfax County Circuit Court in May 2015.
In November 2015, the Fairfax County Circuit Court handed down a summary judgment saying that Reston National must comply with the county’s process. In December, the course filed a notice that it plans to appeal the decision to the Virginia Supreme Court.
“The reason [Northwestern Mutual is] pursuing [the case] is because it’s their only chance. If, by some flip of the coin, they win at the Supreme Court level, that’s their only chance,” Hartke says.
Last week, the course’s attorneys sent a letter saying that they have chosen not to further appeal the Circuit Court’s decision.
“While RN Golf may choose to pursue available redevelopment options in the future, and thus this letter is not intended to waive any and all rights it may have to do so, I am writing to let you know that RN Golf has decided not to continue with its appeal in these cases,” wrote Scott D. Helsel, a lawyer for the course.
Fairfax County Board of Supervisors chairman Sharon Bulova, who has voiced support for Rescue Reston’s efforts in the past, was pleased with the course’s decision.
“You can’t come back and decide to start pulling pieces out [of the Reston master plan] that were supposed to be left as open space. So that was our positon, and we were pleased that the developer withdrew their lawsuit,” Bulova says.