Army Navy Country Club members sue club's leaders over bike path

Map showing proposed connection allowing bikers and pedestrians easier access to I-395
Gene Thorp/The Washington Post
By Annie Gowen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 13, 2010

When officials at the Army Navy Country Club in Arlington County decided to replace the fraying clubhouse with a $49 million facility offering expansive views of the Washington skyline, club members -- including many generals and other high-ranking military officers -- gave the project hale and hearty support.

Until they learned that the views would come with a price: Arlington agreed to let them build a new clubhouse about 20 feet higher than zoning rules would allow -- if the club would let the county build a public bike path on the eastern edge of the golf course, which abuts Interstate 395.

A public bike path? Cyclists and skateboarders whooshing by? Distracting concentration on Red Hole Five? That would not do.

"Once the word gets out to the younger generation there is a secluded place to come and visit and have some fun, you can bet they're going to be there," retired Navy Capt. Louis Kriser said at a recent public hearing. "Gangs. Rivals. Hazards to pedestrians coming in and out. . . . I can see The Washington Post: 'Golf Ball From Army Navy Country Club Fifth Hole Hits Baby.' "

Last week, the normally staid country club was roiled by controversy when 14 of its members sued the club's leaders, saying that they cut an inappropriate deal with the county for the bike path -- or "hell's canyon," as one called it -- without a vote from its members, which they say violates the club's bylaws.

"They risked their lives in Iraq and can't even get a vote at their own country club," one supporter said.

Benjamin Chew, an attorney for the "disgruntled generals," said that his clients think the entire club, which includes 2,400 local members, should be allowed to decide the matter.

"All our clients want is due process and a vote. That's as American as it gets," Chew said.

The club, which was founded in 1924 for military families' recreational use, sits on 254 rolling acres. The golf course has 27 manicured holes, and the club also has tennis courts, a swimming pool and plenty of trees. It even has a magnolia bog, a rarity.

Retired Army Lt. General Ernest Graves, a member of the club's board, said the club had long planned to replace the clubhouse, which hasn't had major alterations since 1940. The club's members voted in 2008 to embark on the project. A design team drew up plans last summer for a building inspired by a Virginia manor home, with high-ceiling terraces offering a sweeping view of the Washington Monument.

For years, Arlington planners and cycling enthusiasts have hoped to forge a new pathway from the Arlington Ridge neighborhood to the Pentagon City area under I-395 at Army Navy Drive, but previous efforts to cut a deal with the club had failed. When the club approached the county last year to get permission for the new building, Arlington officials saw an opening. They also required as a condition of the deal that the building be energy efficient and that the county be able to use the path for emergency vehicles.

"I don't know that we were holding anybody hostage," said Bob Brosnan, Arlington's planning director. "This has been on our [transportation] plan for a long time. We thought it was a good time to try and implement it."

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