A new fight over Reston National Golf Course is brewing after two Baltimore, Md., developers announced on May 19 that they had closed a purchase of the 18-hole, 168-acre golf complex on Sunrise Valley Drive.
First reported by the Washington Business Journal, the sale to Weller Development Company and War Horse Cities does not appear to signal any imminent changes to the property, as the new owners say they have no plans beyond maintaining the existing golf course at this time.
However, the move fuels ongoing concerns from the Reston community that have simmered since 2012 and gained new traction when property owners RN Golf LLC put the course on the market in 2017.
Rescue Reston, a citizens’ group that formed in 2012 to oppose any development of the golf course, criticized the sale in a media statement.
“Rescue Reston is disappointed that a developer who fully intended to keep the 18-hole golf course and put the majority of the open space into a permanent preservation trust could not gain traction with RN Golf,” the organization said. “…Instead, they chose to sell to a developer whose long-term intentions clearly appear to be development of Reston’s open space.”
RN Golf LLC consists of Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance, which had a majority ownership of the property, and Billy Casper Golf, which manages and maintains the golf course.
Weller Development Company is a real-estate developer whose most prominent project is overseeing the redevelopment of the Port Covington neighborhood on Baltimore City’s waterfront.
War Horse Cities is an investment company led by former Under Armour executive Scott Plank. Its work so far has been mostly concentrated in Baltimore and San Francisco, Calif., based on the portfolio on the developer’s website.
A spokesperson for Weller Development declined to share details on the terms of the company’s Reston National purchase, but the Washington Business Journal reported that the sale price was $23.75 million.
“Billy Casper Golf has been retained to continue managing the golf course with no set plans for the property beyond that at this time,” Weller Development founding partner Marc Weller said. “Both Weller Development and War Horse are focused on building relationships and working with the communities we serve, and we look forward to being part of the Reston community for years to come.”
Potential development of Reston’s two golf courses has been a point of contention for local residents throughout the past decade.
The prospect that the Reston National Golf Course might not remain as a golf course emerged in early 2012 when RN Golf filed a letter with the Fairfax County Department of Planning and Zoning inquiring whether the property could be developed for residential use.
The county zoning administrator responded on June 20, 2012 that an amendment to the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan would be required for such a change, since the Reston Master Plan specifically designates the property as open space.
RN Golf appealed the decision and got a ruling in its favor from the Board of Zoning Appeals in 2015.
The Fairfax County Circuit Court then overturned the board’s decision and granted a motion for summary judgment on Nov. 6, 2015 to the county, which had filed the motion with the support of Reston Association and other homeowners and citizens’ groups.
The legal battle concluded for the time being on Mar. 4, 2016 when RN Golf attorneys filed a letter with the Supreme Court of Virginia indicating that they would not pursue another appeal, though future redevelopment options were not ruled out.
Resident opposition to any development on the Reston National Golf Course has been coupled with a fight to preserve the Hidden Creek Country Club’s golf course, a 160-acre property that sits north of the Dulles Toll Road near Wiehle Avenue.
After acquiring the country club on Oct. 25, 2017, developer Wheelock Communities unveiled a proposal to transform the private property into a 100-acre public park with up to 1,000 residential units to the Reston Association’s board of directors on Sept. 27, 2018.
A formal development plan has yet to be submitted to Fairfax County. As with Reston National, the Hidden Creek property would have to be rezoned, since it is currently restricted to private, recreational use in the comprehensive plan.
Development opponents say the maintenance of Reston’s golf courses is essential to preserving open space and the principles of a planned community championed by Reston founder Robert Simon, particularly with the arrival of Metro’s Silver Line spurring increased urbanization in the surrounding area.
In addition to offering space for public recreation, Reston National Golf Course is certified as a cooperative sanctuary by Audubon International, meaning that its owners work with the natural resources management nonprofit to meet environmental sustainability standards.
“The path to developing this land will run through the [Fairfax County] Board of Supervisors,” Rescue Reston president Connie Hartke said. “All county residents who care about preserving the recreational, environmental, and other benefits of our open space should carefully consider their choices for the board.”
According to Reston Now, all five Board of Supervisors candidates looking to represent Fairfax County’s Hunter Mill District, which encompasses Reston, have said they would want to keep the existing recreational open space designations for both golf courses.
All of the Hunter Mill supervisor candidates are running in the Democratic Party, which will hold primaries on June 11.