Reston has two golf courses. Why not use that space for parks and homes?

A golf course near Leesburg with homes that overlook the course.  Image by James Forsberg licensed under Creative Commons.

What's better for Reston — a declining golf course, or a new park that could also include new housing?

Reston is home to not one, but two privately-owned golf courses. Both own property close to the Wiehle-Reston East Metro stop, making the sites lucrative spots for redevelopment. However, some residents have already organized against any changes.

This isn't the first time that plans to redevelop a golf course were met with opposition. The Reston National Golf Course is on the southern side of the Dulles Toll Road, and the other, Hidden Creek Country Club, is on the north side. Reston National golf course's owners tried to redevelop it in 2015, but the plans were shelved after a long legal fight that almost went to the Supreme Court of Virginia.

In the interim, Hidden Creek Country club was sold to new owners Wheelock Communities, leading to the same fears over potential changes.

Battle lines are already being drawn

A local group called Rescue Reston formed in response to the redevelopment proposal for Reston National. Members are already stating that they are totally opposed to any proposal that includes redeveloping the Hidden Creek site that isn't golf green or 100% “open space.”

Wheelock responded that as of yet, they don't have any specific plans submitted to Fairfax County. However, they do have plans to use space currently devoted to golf to create a new “Grand Park” that would include some residential and commercial space.

Wheelock has a tough round to play if they want to get it done. Rescue Reston already has one major victory under its belt with Reston National, and the updated Reston Master Plan states that both golf courses are “specifically to remain as golf courses.” That adds a procedural hurdle to any changes, including using the space for other parks and recreation needs.

That's just fine with Rescue Reston. In their recent op-ed, members say current homeowners need the reassurance the master plan provides by clearly laying out what's changing and what's not in Reston. They argue that neighborhoods in Reston need to be protected from the chance that new development might occur outside of the designated areas slated for more intense growth in coming years, and point out that abundant natural space is a founding principle set forth by Reston's founder Robert Simon.

Golf Cart Friendly Crosswalk in Reston.  Image by the author.

Golf isn't popular like it used to be

Of course, another founding principle is that Reston needs to be financially self-sustaining, and in recent years it has become clear that golf doesn't pay. Golf as a sport has been declining in recent years. Other golf courses in the Washington region have faced similar redevelopment proposals or closed entirely.

Reston has other park needs identified in the master plan, like additional athletic fields and public gardens. However, the plan lacks specifics on where those amenities should be, mostly because the expectation is that those things will be negotiated through zoning approvals. That's exactly what Wheelock's is thinking with its plans for a “Grand Park.” This would mean some reduction in open space, but could result in park spaces open to everyone and not just golfers (though some golf greens will stay).

One rendering of what a redeveloped golf course could include.  Image by Reston Association.

However, new recreational facilities and green space aren't always “open” space. Some people buy houses near golf courses because the expanse makes their backyards feel much bigger than they actually are. Maybe some nearby homeowners would prefer it if there is no one is bothering to actually play golf on the course. Parks are an important part of any community, but green space that's limited only to one thing (like golf) and mostly inaccessible to neighboring residents might not be the best of use of land.

It's still very early in the process. If the fight over Reston National is any indication, this could be an issue that takes a few years to resolve. We're still on hole one, and whether or not Wheelock or Rescute Reston can come in under par remains to be seen.