Citizens Air Opposing Opinions on Molsters’ Stable

Citizens Air Opposing Opinions on Molsters’ Stable

Great Falls Land Use and Zoning Committee Hearing draws a large crowd.

Charles “Chip” Molster and Sharon Molster have one last opportunity to answer questions and respond to concerns before the close of the Great Falls Citizens Association Land Use and Zoning Committee public hearing on their application for a Special Permit to operate a small riding stable on their 5.5 acre property on Blacks Hill Road in Great Falls.

Charles “Chip” Molster and Sharon Molster have one last opportunity to answer questions and respond to concerns before the close of the Great Falls Citizens Association Land Use and Zoning Committee public hearing on their application for a Special Permit to operate a small riding stable on their 5.5 acre property on Blacks Hill Road in Great Falls.

Stable Debate Continues


Photos by Andrea Worker/The Connection

Supporter Karen Washburn gave a brief history of equestrian land use in Great Falls. Washburn, a long-time area resident, real estate agent, writer and local historian commented that the Great Falls area was sending out the horse riding business to other places like Loudoun County, dimming its reputation as a piece of Virginia horse country.


Photos by Andrea Worker/The Connection

The public hearing on Special Permit application SP 2013-DR-052 to operate the Blacks Hill Riding Stables at 815 Blacks Hill Road in Great Falls by Charles and Sharon Molster drew a large crowd on Monday night, March 10. Although only seven presentations were registered officially in the agenda, there were plenty in the audience who wanted a turn to speak on both sides of the issue.

It was standing room only at the Great Falls Grange assembly hall on Monday night, March 10 and occasionally emotions ran a bit high as residents and other interested parties turned out in force for the Great Falls Citizens Association Land Use and Zoning Committee’s (GFCALUZ) hearing on a Special Permit application by the Molster family to operate a riding stable on their property at 815 Blacks Hill Road.

It’s not a new topic around Great Falls. Sharon and Charles “Chip” Molster have been deeply engaged in efforts to re-launch Blacks Hill Stables, LLC riding lessons on their own home ground. The Molsters began teaching riding at the property in 2009, but had to suspend their home-based operation after a complaint by neighbors was filed against the business in 2012, at which time they relocated their training to the Turner Farm at the intersection of Georgetown Pike and Springvale Road. “It’s a temporary fix,” said Chip Molster. “We now have to trailer our horses up and down the road, sometimes twice a day, creating more traffic and dust. And the facilities at Turner Park are just not for the youngest riders. We’ve had to stop those classes. And that’s a shame. Those ages, 6, 7, 8, that’s when the kids should be getting started.”

Eventually, Fairfax County ruled against the use of the residentially-zoned property for paid riding lessons, although by law, the Molsters can keep numerous horses on the property and can even accept remuneration for boarding horses, something both Chip and Sharon say they do not want to do. “We want our own horses and we want to teach, especially the youngest students,” they both agree. “We are not interested in boarding. That would mean more traffic and other possible negative impacts on the neighborhood.”

THE MOLSTERS appealed the County’s decision and are still awaiting the final determination. While the appeals process takes its course, the Molsters work their way through the Special Permit Application process. There have already been numerous meetings with neighbors, homeowners associations, GFCALUZ staff, Fairfax County authorities, other public hearings and the retained services of a land attorney, an engineer and other professional consultants. “The application alone cost over $16K, so if anyone thinks we’re in this to get rich, they should think again,” laughed Chip Molster. “Although the Special Application fee has since been decreased and the County kindly gave us a refund,” he added.

The March 10 public hearing was just the next round. GFCALUZ Co-Chair, and the evening’s Hearing Officer, William Harvey II, made the “call to order.” After defining the Committee’s purpose and function, Harvey explained that no decision would be immediately forthcoming. “The LUZ reports to the Great Falls Citizens Association Executive Board. Once we have gathered all of the facts and opinions and reviewed the possible solutions, we will present our report to the Board,” Harvey stated. “The Board makes an interim decision, then there may have to be a general membership meeting and vote.”

First up on the agenda were the applicants. Chip Molster was the designated speaker for Blacks Hills Stables. Using a power point presentation with maps, graphics and photographs of the property and some of their students, Molster gave the details. “We have made numerous changes to our original program to address the concerns of our neighbors,” said Molster. “Our request actually calls for less usage than what can be allowed ‘By Right’ versus Special Permit under the law. We would restrict the days of operation to no more than 5 days per week, and the number of students to a maximum of twelve, no more than four at any one time. Students would have to be transported to the property by carpools. With instructors, we are talking about no more than 4 – 6 cars per day travelling to and from the property on Blacks Hill Road,” he said. “And no lights or PA systems would be used,” he added.

Molster also spoke of the facility’s charitable efforts within the community, supporting various organizations and persons in need, fundraising and providing horses for special community related events. He also noted that since 1992 his family was among those that worked to improve the condition of Blacks Hill Road and that they continue to play a major role in its maintenance. “We operated for three years without complaints,” said Molster. “And we have tried to be totally transparent and willing to discuss any issues with our neighbors and work through their concerns.”

AFTER A BRIEF HISTORY of equestrian land use in Great Falls by long-time resident, equestrienne, real estate agent and local historian Karen Washburn, who supports the application, Bob Buenzle, the primary opponent to the proposal took the floor. “The Blacks Hill Riding Stables just doesn’t fit deep in a residential neighborhood,” Buenzle began. According to Buenzle, the Molsters began operating the riding stables without prior notice, even though the Buenzle property is immediately adjacent to the Molsters’. We saw things happening, old growth trees being cut down, buildings going up, but we never heard from anyone. The zoning laws don’t permit this type of business in this area. They didn’t ask. I resent this.”

Buenzle insists that his efforts to communicate his concerns to his neighbors went unanswered, so he ultimately filed the complaint with the Fairfax County Planning and Zoning Commission. “This is not about being anti-horse. We had horses for 25 years. The Molsters have no right to do this. The only way to make it right is to move it out of our neighborhood.”

Other Blacks Hill Road residents and representatives from Falls Manor and Timberlake Estates North HOAs expressed opposition. The recurring concerns included increased dust on the unpaved gravel road, increased traffic and potential safety hazards to children and residents, noise, security concerns with the addition of non-residents passing through the area, dangers to local wildlife, the potential negative impact on property values and the possibility of residents bearing the burden of monitoring compliance with the special permit conditions.

SUPPORTERS of the Molsters’ application were equally vocal, and included Howard Clark, an area resident for 45 years. In addition to supporting the proposed riding stable, Clark added, “you should be thanking the Molsters for all they do to keep up the road and the area.” Shirley Johnson has lived on the road for 32 years, keeping a variety of livestock on her property without “any safety-related issues in all that time.”

Parents of Blacks Hill Stables students like Eamon McCrann who grew up and learned to ride in the area also spoke in support. “We need to use common sense here,” he said. “This is not the Home Depot we are talking about.” Kim Karanik is fighting a similar battle, and worries that the equestrian way of life in Great Falls will eventually give way to “nothing but a lot of housing developments.” Karanik also asked why it was acceptable for home businesses to get permits to teach art, piano and other lessons for as many as eight students for only a $50 licensing fee. “Horse riding lessons seem to be the only activity being singled out,” she said.

The number of “walk-on” speakers ultimately far outnumbered those who had registered to speak on the agenda. GFCALUZ Co-Chair Harvey eventually had to bring the proceedings to a close, but assured the attendees that the Committee was willing to hold additional meetings and that anyone still wishing to add their opinion, ask questions or raise concerns was more than welcome to do so. The Great Falls Citizens Association website at includes phone numbers and email addresses for further information and for submissions. Later in the month, the Fairfax County government website should have available the report to be used for the Appeals Hearing scheduled in April.