A fox races across Reston National Golf Course in Virginia. An owners’ group is seeking permission to build homes on the golf course, raising residents’ ire. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

The owners of a popular golf course near the Silver Line in Reston are pushing Fairfax County officials to allow homes to be built there, a move that has triggered fierce opposition from residents worried about the potential loss of treasured open space.

The publicly accessible Reston National Golf Course has been a draw for golfers, bird-watchers and joggers for decades, part of the “Live, Work, Play” motto that made the western Fairfax community a national model for planned suburban living.

But the 166-acre course sits close to a recently opened Metro station and the site of another station scheduled to open in 2018. That makes it a prime spot for developers who want to build homes within walking distance of the Metro line.

And while Fairfax said in 2012 that the land cannot be developed unless the area’s planning guidelines are changed by the County Board of Supervisors, the owners’ group is appealing that decision to the county’s board of zoning appeals. A ruling by that body is expected in April.

A six-hour public hearing on Wednesday drew about 500 residents of Reston, a community of 60,000 that is already expected to grow dramatically because of the Silver Line. Many wore matching yellow T-shirts that called to preserve the golf course on land they consider to be their “Central Park.” The course is used by high school golf teams and as a recreation area.

Ed Hass isn’t a golfer, but he loves walking through the natural setting of the course. “If this is developed, it’s just gonna ruin the whole thing,” he said. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

“This is what makes Reston unique, and this is what makes Reston great, and we cannot let a greedy company destroy that,” said Jay Szlamowicz, 69, who was part of a long line of residents who testified.

Fairfax zoning officials say that both the property’s original 1971 development plan and broader county planning guidelines for Reston would have to be amended to allow residential development on the golf course land.

But an attorney representing the RN Golf Management owners group argued that it has a right to build there because the course is on private property and in a section already zoned residential.

The owners group, which includes Northwestern Mutual insurance company, had redevelopment in mind and believed building was permissible when it bought the land in 2005 for $5 million, said attorney Frank McDermott.

“My client did its diligence” by confirming that no deed restrictions existed on the golf course, McDermott told the appeals board. “All the property owner is trying to do is confirm its property rights.”

County officials vehemently disagreed, at one point drawing a standing ovation from the­ crowd of residents gathered inside the county government center.

The appeals board deferred a ruling until April 15. Either side could challenge the board’s decision in Fairfax County Circuit Court.

A Northern Mockingbird, part of what residents love about the area, perches on a branch at Reston National Golf Club. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

The prospect of losing one of Reston’s two golf courses — the other is at Hidden Creek Country Club — has resonated deeply in a community where many already believe that the arrival of the Silver Line is generating too much growth.

Plans are underway to add 22,000 more homes in Reston, along with hotels and office buildings near the Metro line — growth that residents say will add more cars to local roads and place an extra burden on schools.

“The subway has been both a blessing and a curse,” said Carol Molesky, the coach of the girls’ golf team at South Lakes High School in Reston.

With few other public courses in Fairfax, she said, “we’re running out of places to go.”

Ed Hass, 72, has lived on the perimeter of the golf course since 1973, when he bought a house that offers an open view of the fairway.

“I have years of broken windows to prove it,” he joked.

Hass is not a golfer. But nearly every morning, he laces up his hiking shoes and ventures through the course’s briar ­patches or along its walkways and ponds, taking photographs of ­foxes, hawks or other animals that frequent the land.

The ritual offers a slice of rural living, Hass said, in an area that is also a short drive from a Whole Foods Market and new restaurants opening up in Reston Town Center.

“If this is redeveloped, it’s just going to ruin the whole thing,” Hass said.

“I mean, that’s what Reston is all about.”