Reston Spring

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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Commentary: Reston National Golf Course and Our Community's Future, Colin Mills, RCA President, Reston Patch, August 29, 2012

Those 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 redevelopment of the Reston National golf course 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, RCA passed a resolution calling for the golf course property to be preserved as open space.  Our resolution follows in the wake of RA's adoption of a similar position last week, and the formation of a group called Rescue Reston, 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, Cathy Hudgins.  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 Reston organizations working together, 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.

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