Suddenly, Reston National Golf Club’s corporate masters have pulled back from the Oct. 24 hearing they demanded as a matter of urgency before the Fairfax County Board of Zoning Appeals. Lawyers for Northwestern Mutual Insurance sought the hearing hoping to overturn a ruling by a Fairfax County zoning official that barred the Golf Club from turning some or all of its 166 green acres into condominiums or other residential development without going through lengthy Fairfax County processes to change the approved use of the land. Reston National took the position that Reston’s original, wide open zoning already permits residential development on that land. The zoning administrator disagreed.
Why the sudden change by the corporates? My suspicion is that they are taking a course of action often used by developers or a friendly supervisor when a proposal has caused considerable upset in the community. The idea is to delay for a few months, trusting that the intensity of the upset will dissipate. With luck, folks in the community will barely notice it when the deed is finally done. This was exactly the course taken recently by Supervisor Hudgins when she delayed a final decision on the proposed 23-story building on Reston Parkway, a project vehemently opposed by Town Center residents and three major community organizations. As in that case, there is a presumption here that the outcome favoring the large-scale development will not be well received in the community.
There is another, perhaps more wishful-thinking line of thought that contends Reston National’s case for a BZA reversal of the zoning official’s ruling is so weak that the corporates decided to delay in order to work further on the case or possibly even to rethink their position. It could also allow more time to help the local pols build some cover and change position again on the issue. The latter is less plausible because, unlike the County Planning Commission, which is filled with political appointees who do the bidding of appointing officials, the BZA has considerable autonomy from direct political pressure from supervisors.
The fact that the giant insurance conglomerate had to pull back and seek a delay is definitely a positive in any case. It is exceedingly positive if they, in fact, have concluded their case is so weak that they actually fear losing the appeal and facing a very long public process to attempt redevelopment.
If they are only delaying in order to dissipate the tremendous community energy created by well-organized Rescue Reston with firm support from an increasingly effective Reston Citizens Association and the Reston Association, showing more independence under new leadership, that is a credit to all three organizations. But, as we saw with the RTC 23-story building proposal, delay can be effective, too.
In either case, this is not a time for resting on potential laurels. Rescue Reston and Reston Association have both hired law firms to fight Reston National at the BZA hearing and beyond. Both should use this delay time to prepare the best possible case for the hearing on Jan. 30. Also, they must keep pressure on the local pol who has already changed position once on the issue. The corporates behind Reston National most assuredly will do so.