What's Next for Rescue Reston and the Fight for Open Space?

Rescue Reston has been receiving many calls and emails concerning what lies ahead on the golf course crisis now that Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance has asked for a three-month delay.

Many folks are trying to figure out why there has been a delay of three months for RN Golf Management's Board of Zoning Appeal.

They approach Rescue Reston with numerous scenarios and conspiracy theories. Is there a problem in the appeal? Are they trying to cool off the uprising of citizen opposition? Are they retooling the entire concept; have historical and well documented zoning evidence emerged?

We have no idea. We are confident in this, though – Restonians’ legitimate paranoia has been brought about by the secretive action that Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance has taken.

Just Checking

 A major credibility gap that has led to the speculation and conspiracy theories stems from Northwestern Mutual's own published word. The statement (included in their brief, 250+ pages submitted to Fairfax County) that Northwestern Mutual, the parent company of RN Golf Management, is “merely checking their options relative to land use”, has been rejected by numerous land use consultants as laughable.

Why? Consider this. Let's say that you were an executive of a Northwestern Mutual's Real Estate Investment Group in 2007, and someone within your company comes to you and says, “We want to spend approximately $10 or $20 million to buy a golf course in the top-rated planned community in the United States. This community has extreme sensitivity to their open-space, lakes, and the golf courses around which the community has been built for 50 years. And by the way - we really don't intend to run it as a golf course”.

Your next logical question would have likely been, “Well, what do you intend to do with this land then”? Would you accept the reply, "Actually we have no idea; we're just exploring our options." Of course there's a plan, they are just keeping it quiet. As a Rescuer in the insurance business told me at the last Rally, “Northwestern Mutual, "the quiet company," is quietly destroying Reston.” I assured him we will not be as quiet.

Numerous people from the development and land-use management industry have contacted Rescue Reston and commented on the unusually secretive manner in which this process has occurred.

We are told by developers it is their standard policy to meet with affected homeowners in the surrounding area as soon as possible and brief them as to the overall scope of the project, and that development, especially redevelopment, is aboveboard and in public. They cannot understand why the landowner and the developer are hiding their intentions.

Several sources have indicated the golf course developer to be The Lerner Company, owner of the Nationals baseball team. Lerner has not publicly announced its involvement. But how perverse would it be that a premier sports entertainment company in the metro area is part of the plan to close down one of the premier golf courses and recreational amenities in Northern Virginia to construct medium to high-density housing?

Rescue Reston's Plans

So considering the many conspiracies at play, what are Rescue Reston's plans?

Sooner or later all the players and all the facts will be revealed. While we are evaluating the various scenarios, our primary mission remains as it has been since our inception. It has been clear since day one and that is: inform, inspire, and motivate citizen activism to prevent the elimination and redevelopment of Reston National Golf Course.

It is absolutely astonishing that we've had some leaders in Reston actually criticize us for our methods. Why did the community create Rescue Reston?

  • To generate legal action to protect arrogant, abusive redevelopment.
  • To inform Reston residents who are unaware of this open space crisis.
  • To move as many people as we possibly can to the BZA meeting on Jan. 30.
  • To conduct a massive letter and petition campaign to show our opposition to the potential redevelopment of the golf course.

I don't know about you, but to us that sounds like responsible leadership. I suppose it might upset the people who are trying to redevelop the course.

However, in the spirit of Neville Chamberlain at the outbreak of World War II, some have said that this development will never happen, we’re making a mountain out of a molehill, wait and see, and I don’t live on the golf course, it doesn't affect me so why should I care? Those folks may soon change their tune if the redevelopment of the golf course is involved with a new Reston-wide tax increase to pay for the new roads (as happened recently in Tyson's Corner).

Rescue Reston erupted with such approval from the community precisely because they didn't want to sit and wait to see what happens. As this crisis evolves there continues to be an ever-growing mistrust in the entire process. The process of re-creating a major part of Reston, and establishing a precedent for more anti-open-space development is alarming to most Restonians.


Rescue Reston is about to undertake a major petition campaign. We're doing this because Reston's future will be decided by the opinions and decisions of people we vote for - the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

Northwestern Mutual's appeal to thecCounty simply claims they have a right to avoid what the county has said is the normal procedure of land development. On Feb. 1,  after losing their appeal to the BZA, Northwestern Mutual could easily say - OK, we accept your requirements. We will now work toward amending the Reston Master Plan and the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan. That decision ultimately tosses this crisis back in the lap of the Board of Supervisors.


We want thousands of Rescuer signatures. We want neighborhood leaders to work in small areas to knock on doors, talk to their neighbors and inform, inspire, and motivate their neighbors to oppose this change in the Reston lifestyle.

What's at stake?

If I've heard it once I've heard 50 times in the recent weeks:

"John, we don't want Reston to become Ballston." Many people have
called our office in shock as the bulldozers across the street from town center
on Reston Parkway tore down Parc Reston to replace 82 apartments with 360. http://reston.patch.com/articles/parc-reston-ready-to-clear-way-for-towers.

Most everyone said, "I had no idea that that was going to happen!"
We are working hard to help everyone avoid that shock again.

We also know that if you can do it once, you can do it twice; if you can do it in Reston, you can do it anywhere. This is the crack in the dam, the paradigm shift and development in Northern Virginia. We must stand firm against development that is in opposition to the very reason that we moved here.

Rescue Reston is your organization. It is your opportunity to raise your voice and stand in opposition. You can do that either by passively writing letters and signing petitions or you can choose to become active and help lead your neighborhood.

By choosing either option, Rescue Reston is giving you the opportunity to take action, and not just sit on the sidelines as your town changes in ways you never thought possible. Visit our website, become involved. http://RescueReston.org

John Pinkman is the executive director of Rescue Reston.


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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.

Connie Hartke October 24, 2012 at 07:52 PM
There is an online petition to sign at http://www.change.org/petitions/fairfax-county-board-of-zoning-appeals-virginia-stop-the-proposed-development-of-reston-national-golf-course-in-reston-va-3. This is for everyone -- not just those in Reston. As John says "if you can do it in Reston, you can do it anywhere."
The YC October 24, 2012 at 09:56 PM
Thanks for the link, Connie. RP - can you please note the petition link in a future article? Thanks!
Karen Goff October 25, 2012 at 12:33 AM
Also, if you click the blue highlighted "major petition campaign" in the story, it will take you right to the petition.
Chipperson October 25, 2012 at 10:55 AM
I respect and appreciate them trying to save the golf course - but there is a difference between that and PARC Reston. BTW what did you all think having metro out here would do? Encourage a small sleepy town? Of course certain parts of Reston are turning into Ballston.
Ray Wedell October 25, 2012 at 12:05 PM
Great work, John. Please keep up the heat. Between Lerner and Boston Properties, it appears certain powers-that-be who are used to getting their way seem to think that all of this can be steam-rolled through the approval process. And if history is any guide, they are right. The real decisions are made long before we hear of them. I am reminded of the old adage in golf that a match is "decided before the first ball is teed off on number one," meaning that the results of negotiations on who gets how many strokes makes it unlikely one team can possibly win. The "negotiations" for what to do with this land, and land around the Town Center and new subway stop, are not only already underway, they have already determined what they want to do and what skids need to be greased, and what palms need to be massaged, to make this all happen. What I am saying is not "paranoia". John, opponents like NW Mutual and Lerner despise the "intrusion" of sunshine and legitimate community input. They always have and always will. To them, public comments are a regulatory nuisance, not valuable input. To protect against the worst case possibility is not only wise but essential. As far as shaping the look, feel, and life style of Reston for the next 100 years, decisions made and approved now will make that determination. Remember how the "inevitable" Disney project was beaten down 25 years ago? It CAN be done...don't accept this nonsensical rezoning proposal as "inevitable."
Jim Hubbard October 25, 2012 at 12:45 PM
It is safe to assume that NW Mutual would not have purchased the golf course without advice from its lawyers that there was better than 50% chance (perhaps much better than 50%) that it would be able to develop the site. It that's the case, and the courts will over rule any attempt by the County to block development, Rescue Reston needs to rethink its goals. Rather than asking the County to do the right thing, a dubious goal in any case, it ought to pushing for the County to buy the golf course and preserve it as green space.
BBurns October 25, 2012 at 12:49 PM
People may also want to consider Cathy Hudgins words at the Rescue Reston rally. I do not remember her saying she was completely against development of the golf course, more that she believed in the Fairfax County process. To be fair, I haven't listened to her speech since the rally, and will modify my words when I have time to re-listen, if I'm "dis-remembering." I think she's on at about 5 minutes, 30 seconds. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lgL_pP3zNkg&sns=em
Ray Wedell October 25, 2012 at 12:58 PM
If any of you trust the words of any politician and on any politician's ability to fight for what is right here, shame on you. Get behind John and the lawyers he has trusted with this case.... just be firm in saying "no" to this nonsensical proposal. And monitor local officials and insiders for signs of undue influence...this is not "paranoia" but common sense. Facts and common sense should trump fear; make it clear that you side with facts and common sense, and have no intention to rely on "the process" or some ill-advised "faith in Fairfax County officials."
Skip Endale October 25, 2012 at 02:02 PM
there are many spaces in reston that were never designated to be open spaces. lets work with those spaces because many of those areas have not been maintained properly. ra should also take an honest look at revamping their design criteria, the faded color scheme and the outdated look is in stark contrast to many of the new buildings - its becoming to look more and more like monty python' crimson permanent assurance versus very big corporation.
David Burns October 25, 2012 at 03:09 PM
I've worked with Rescue Reston and our lawyers on this matter and I believe we have a good legal case on the zoning issues. There is no basis to think that NW Mutual has made an assessment that they have a 50% or better chance to succeed. There is every basis to believe that if they lose before the Board of Zoning Appeals and the courts, they will pursue an amendment to the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan to permit develolpment of the golf course. Such an amendment must be approved by the Board of Supervisors, which will make Supervisor Hudgins the key player here. If Restonians don't want to see development encroaching throughout our town, it will be critical that we be prepared to let Supervisor Hudgins know how we feel. We don't need the County to buy the golf course, but we are likely to need the Board of Supervisors to support the concept of leaving the golf course alone.
Joseph V. Morris October 25, 2012 at 03:52 PM
I am in agreement with John Pinkman's stated position but I just want to make sure that everyone that opposes this redevelopment understands that the BZA hearing on 30 Jan 2013 is just the first battle in what may well become an extended campaign. The BZA will NOT be deciding whether RNGC can proceed with redevelopment of the golf course. The current question before the BZA is simply what procedures and approvals are going to be required for RNGC to proceed -- and they may well be disapproved at any point subsequently. RNGC is maintaining that they are 'entitled' to a fast-track approach to getting the necessary approvals. The currently stated position of the Fairfax County DPZ is that RNGC needs to go through the whole process and obtain multiple approvals (in a sequence) before redevelopment can occur. If RNGC's position is ratified by the BZA, there will be little opportunity for neighboring residential associations to express their opposition to such redevelopment and make arguments as to why the proposal should be disallowed. If DPZ's currently stated position is ratified, there will be many opportunities for our voices and our arguments to be heard.
Joseph V. Morris October 25, 2012 at 04:05 PM
I will agree with you that there are important differences between the PARC Reston redevelopment (currently underway -- and after going through the normal process) and the RNGC redevelopment which has now arisen. And, yes, we all knew that the Metro was going to change Reston. The difference is that redevelopment associated with the urban corridor along the Toll Road has been identified and planning is already underway to deal with its impact on population, traffic, and public infrastructure (including specifically Reston's public schools). That's simply not true with respect to RNGC's proposal.
Jim Hubbard October 25, 2012 at 04:19 PM
Under current state and county law, I believe that a determined landowner will eventually be able to carry out whatever development they want. The current argument is only about how many hoops NW Mutual has to go through, not whether they will eventually be able to build on the golf course. If the community wants the golf course to remain open space, public ownership remains the only sure option.
Joseph V. Morris October 25, 2012 at 04:35 PM
Jim, Is your comment expressly in the context of the PRC zoning that applies to Reston (and specifically the Golf Course)? I will grant your premise that the only 'sure' solution is public (or RA) ownership of that tract. For quite some time, it has seemed to me that there's a major missing section in the current PRC zoning statutes and that's related to the entire (and critical) issue of redevelopment. Consequently, decisions are being made on a case by case basis. Still, it would seem to me that, if RNGC prevails in its currently stated position, the whole concept of Reston as a planned community is meaningless -- it's only planned as the developers see fit to determine.
Ray Wedell October 25, 2012 at 05:21 PM
Joe...ditto. That is it in a nutshell. On another note, NW Mutual, and others in their positions, are known to lose their appetite for pet projects in which there is major public opposition. Keep in mind these projects are all speculative in nature as well, so whatever they have in mind may not be as exciting a rate of return as we think. Investors, banks, insurance companies, etc. get sold a bill of goods on these things often.... for a local example, look at the idiocy in the proposed Linden Springs project (the old Prison Ministry). Educate them on projects like this, and on how much push-back they will get from the public.... don't underestimate the power of informed and passionate public opposition.
Jim Hubbard October 26, 2012 at 01:18 PM
Rescue Reston imagines that if enough people object, NW Mutual will give up or the County will force them to keep the golf course as is. I doubt that there is any legal way for the County for require the owners to keep the golf course as is or to block them from any new construction. Moreover, I doubt that the County would try to block new construction. The County is fully committed to massive development along the Silver Line. It is already using the weaknesses in Reston's zoning to facilitate development. And the scale of the development already approved demonstrates that the County is indifferent to development's impact on the existing residents. Almost certainly the County will negotiate with the golf course owners about the nature/extent of the new construction rather than try to preserve it all as open space. Rescue Reston needs to think bigger. If the community owned the golf course, perhaps through Small Tax District 5, it could preserve the open space. Even if a campaign for public ownership failed, it would raise the right issues, namely that the zoning ordinance and the County's policies put the entire community at risk.


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