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Reston National Golf Course and Our Community's Future

The redevelopment of Reston National has fast become a hot issue in Reston. Find out why it matters -- and what RCA is doing about it.

Thos of you who did not attend RCA's monthly Board meeting on Monday missed a heck of a show.  In the space of about two hours, we ratified five documents, set all of our committees on a path for progress and achievement in the coming months, and discussed and debated a wide variety of topics that will impact our community.  August was an unusually busy month in Reston, and it's been a busy month for us at RCA as well.

A lot of the topics we discussed at the meeting will be the subject of my future blog posts.  But this week, I want to discuss a subject that's on the minds of many Restonians: the possible into residential units.  I want to talk about why this issue is important to all Restonians, and what we're planning to do about it

At our meeting on Monday, calling for the golf course property to be preserved as open space.  Our resolution follows in the wake of of a similar position last week, and the formation of a group called , which comprises homeowners located near the golf course.

To catch you up to speed on the issue in case you haven't been following: The owners of Reston National Golf Course (the one in south Reston, near the International Center) asked the County's Department of Planning and Zoning for a clarification on the zoning of their property.  DPZ responded in June, stating that the golf course was zoned as major open space, and that redevelopment of the property into residential units would require a plan amendment.  Backed by several high-powered land-use attorneys, the golf course owners will go to the Board of Zoning Appeals on October 24 to challenge the designation of the golf course as open space.

News of these actions spread through the community in July.  And in the space of less than a month, RCA, RA, and Rescue Reston have all sprung into action.  It's impressive how quickly our community can spring into action when we perceive a threat.

Some of you may be wondering what all the fuss is about.  There's going to be redevelopment in Reston anyway, you may be thinking.  We're going to need to add new housing to accommodate the people who come with the Silver Line.  So why not here?  How essential is the golf course to Reston?  Why should we care if a bunch of homeowners are upset that their property won't border a golf course anymore?

This issue is much larger than whether some homeowners will continue to have a golf course view.  It's a fundamental question of what our community will look like in the future.  If the golf course, which is designated as open space in Reston's Master Plan, is ruled to be developable, what will that mean for the rest of Reston's open space?  If the "open space" designation in our zoning has no meaning, what's to stop the rest of it from being filled up?  Allowing Reston National to be redeveloped sets a dangerous precedent.  Open space and greenery is a key part of what makes Reston special; to allow it to disappear would endanger the longterm vision and plan for our community.

We're not necessarily fixed on having the golf course preserved as a golf course, either.  Our resolution condemns using the land for any purpose "other than open space dedicated to parks, recreation, and/or nature."  If the golf course were to be converted into a community park, that's fine by us, since its essential character as open space would be preserved.  Redeveloping it into condos would not preserve that character.

Also, if we're looking to add housing to support the Silver Line, the golf course property is the wrong place to put it.  The principles of transit-oriented development, endorsed by Fairfax County and by the Reston Master Plan Task Force, call for development to be concentrated within a half-mile of the transit stations, with the most intense development within a quarter-mile, since that's considered to be the limit of how far the average person will walk from the transit station to home, office, or shopping.  Most of Reston National lies outside the half-mile distance; none of it is within a quarter-mile of any Silver Line station.  Building housing here would only worsen Reston's traffic problems, in addition to robbing us of open space.

A variation of the "What's the fuss?" argument comes from our Supervisor, .  She says that the actions by the golf course management are routine and have been done before.  In other words, no cause for alarm.

Perhaps she's right.  Perhaps the Board of Zoning Appeals will uphold the decision that the golf course must be open space unless a plan amendment is filed.  Perhaps the golf course owners will accept this and stand down.  And perhaps we'll all be able to relax and go home.

Maybe.  But this doesn't exactly feel routine to us in the community.  There seem to be a lot of land-use lawyers involved for a routine inquiry.  If the Board of Zoning Appeals upholds the open space designation, the golf course owners might be planning a legal challenge.  (Or at least threatening one as an intimidation maneuver.)  If that's the case, we in the community will need to be ready for that challenge.

Either way, we'd be better off to get geared up for a fight and discover it's a false alarm, rather than assuming that there's no cause for alarm until it's too late to act.

Now that you understand the importance of the issue, you're probably wondering what we're goign to do about it.  Since RCA passed its resolution, I've heard from several Restonians about it.  Their response has been unanimous: they've praised the resolution, and then asked: "Are the organizations who oppose redevelopment going to form a united front?"

I am happy to state that the answer to that question is yes!  If you read my earlier post on the importance of , it won't surprise you to know that I've been eager to make this happen. 

In recent weeks, RCA has reached out to RA and the Association of Reston Clusters and Homeowners to discuss the possibility of joint efforts.  Our collaboration was inspired by other matters, but once the seriousness and urgency of the golf course issue became clear, we realized that we should join forces on this as well, to protect the integrity of Reston's Master Plan and our vision for the community.

Our joint effort is still in the planning stages, but rest assured you'll be hearing about it very soon.  We'll definitely have a presence at the BZA hearing in October, and we'll be keeping the public informed on this issue as well.  We will also reach out to Rescue Reston, to discuss how we can aid their efforts.

I'm very inspired by this; it's the first time I can remember that our three organizations are joining forces for a common goal.  As I said in my post on working together, we speak much more effectively for Reston when we can speak with one voice.  And I think Restonians will be happy to know that we're putting aside turf battles to stand up for our citizens on this important issue.

Our collaboration will send a clear message: We're here, we're watching, and we're united for the best interests of Reston.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

BBurns August 30, 2012 at 01:21 PM
Great summary and outline of the implications that go well beyond the golf course. (We don't live near the golf course.) Another reason to be concerned. Look at the task force make-up, which includes Looney, the attorney for the golf course owners, and appointed by Kathy Hudgins. http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dpz/projects/reston/tsmembers.htm
Colin Mills August 30, 2012 at 03:06 PM
Thanks for the comment, Beth! And I'm glad that you (along with many other Restonians) understand that this is an issue for more than just the people who live near the golf course.
Jim H August 31, 2012 at 02:31 AM
Colin, Thank you and RCA for your support in keeping the RNGC a part of the Reston community. You mention that you are not “fixed” on having RNGC preserved as a golf course, but I am curious what other use it would serve. From everything that I have read it appears that the property is owned by a group who also manages the operations of the course. The course must bring some revenue for the owners. I assume they pay taxes on to FC. What would that revenue source be if the owners converted it into a park? Is FC going to purchase the property in order to preserve this space? Is RA prepared to do that? There are a number of golf courses in FC that are part of the FC Park Authority, maybe RNGC could be added to that group.
Jim H August 31, 2012 at 02:32 AM
I agree that this question of preserving open space is much bigger than the golf course. However, drawing an analogy of filling in Lake Thoreau and building a high rise there doesn’t seem valid. Are our other open spaces in Reston owned by a private entity who may argue for the rights to sell for development? While I also agree that this is a much larger issue than the 1000s of homeowners whose properties are part of the golf course community, we cannot discount the fact that these homeowners bought properties, at a premium, due to the fact that they did border the golf course and have based their present and future financial plans on owning these “value added” properties. I’m still waiting for someone to step up and say… the golf course must stay!
Colin Mills August 31, 2012 at 07:18 PM
Jim, thanks for your comments. Regarding what other use the RNGC could serve: I don't presume to speculate... there are more possible uses than I could dream of, I'm sure. But as noted in our resolution, RCA would only support any plan that preserved it as open space for recreation and/or nature. Would the County and/or RA be interested and able to purchase the land to preserve it as open space (golf course or otherwise)? I don't know, but perhaps. We're not closing our minds to the possibility. Also, the analogy to filling in Lake Thoreau was yours, not mine. Some of Reston's open spaces are owned by a private entity (most notably the other golf course, Hidden Creek), so there is a potential for a bad precedent there. Thanks again for your thoughtful comments.
Jim H September 01, 2012 at 08:29 PM
Thanks Colin. The Lake Thoreau analogy was from someone else who commented on one of the many blogs/posts on this critacal issue that have appeared in the Patch over the past few weeks. Other tahn Hidden Creek could you tell me what other open spaces in Reston are privately owned? Thanks

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