News and notes from Reston (tm).

Monday, November 9, 2015

Caddyshackpocalypse Later: Court Ruling Redirects, Not Blocks, Future Golf Course Development (Updated)

Celebratory Tap Friday's court ruling on the future of the Reston National Golf Course, the latest skirmish in what has become a multiyear battle to determine whether the nearly 200-acre course can be converted into a variety of awesome midrise housing developments, is a victory for backers of open space in Reston. But it's not time to crack open the beer tap in the golf bag champagne just yet.

Our BFFs at Reston Now have a good explanation of the legal issues at play. Especially gratifying is that the Scooby Doo plot point questioning the validity of old planning documents that drove much of the debate in the last utterly confusing round of hearings has finally been cleared up:

The loophole that the original RN Golf land use attorney thought he had found when the investor-owners undertook this battle in 2012 has been closed: Fairfax County has certified all documents.
The upshot is that RNGC owners Northwestern Mutual and RN Golf will now have to go through the normal process for any proposed development, instead of questioning the authenticity of Reston's master plan and claiming the golf course was never designated as open space so, hey, bring on the 99-story "by right" condos and above-ground parking lots. Give us some good explanatory blockquote, BFFs at Reston Now:
John McBride, RA’s land counsel, said the ruling is significant because any redevelopment of the course must now be preceded by the filing of specific plans with the county, which will then be compared with the “Development Plans” approved in 1971. The 1971 plans were the main focus of the five-hour BZA hearing in January.

“These plans are in the county zoning files and clearly limit use of the land to a golf course, open space and driving range,” RA says. “Any change to these approved plans will require amendment approval by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.”

And even if RNGC's well-heeled owners don't appeal Friday's ruling, conceivably all the way to the Virginia Supreme Court, that's still a big worry. In recent years, both the Board of Supervisors and its planning commission have shown they are willing, at times, to disregard the concerns of the Reston Association, other citizen groups and its own planning staff in approving development in Reston. While Reston groups have managed at times to win important concessions on some proposals that have kept such abominations as the "Texas donut" (not as tasty as it sounds) out of Reston, there hasn't been an example of a proposal being stopped completely when it goes through the "standard process."

Of course, there's a difference between approving dense development in areas where dense development makes sense and approving it on a golf course intended to be open space. We'd hope that our elected supervisors and planning commissioners will continue to get that in the years to come. But we need to pay attention, and to vote accordingly.

Give us some good prepared statement, BFFs at Rescue Reston:

"While we have won this round, the fight is not over and RN Golf still has other options available to it including appealing today’s ruling or attempting to amend the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan. We must remain prepared to continue the fight so long as RN Golf remains committed to its attempts to destroy our community’s valuable open space.”

Update: Along with appealing Friday's ruling or filing a formal development application, Rescue Reston offers RGNC a third option:

Accept that No means No. Northwestern Mutual inquired and was told about the land use of permanent open space BEFORE they invested in the golf course in 2005. They’ve been told the same at least 3 times since then. No (residential development) means no.
Rescue Reston isn't holding its breath, though:
RN Golf’s attorney made it known very shortly into this long hearing that they intend to challenge any ruling not made in their favor. This means an appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court, and we will know in just a bit over 30 days from now if they will take this action.
Judging by RR's account of the golf course's attorneys' arguments made Friday, we're guessing the answer to that question will be yes:
Over the 3 years of this battle I have heard some folks worry about the property rights of the landowner of the golf course. They do indeed have property rights, the same as all of us, and their attempts to sidestep our County process have cost us all a lot of money, time and angst. I can tell you that Judge Devine did not react favorably when the attorney for RN Golf suggested that Fairfax County Zoning staff and our Board of Supervisors do not know what they are doing.

RN Golf’s attorney also did not seem to win any favors when he complained to the judge about the costs to file development plans that could then be properly evaluated and ruled on.


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