Fairfax landowners choose paintball over McMansions

Jeff Waters and his wife could have sold their 200-acre property at 6390 Newman Road in Clifton in “two seconds” to a developer to carve into McMansion lots.

Instead, they’re developing it themselves — into the Fairfax County’s first paintball field. The special use permit application was submitted in June. The fees assessed: $16,375.

“We wanted to come up with some way for the property to generate enough income to justify keeping it,” Waters said. “The county wants it to stay an open space. Despite the fact that it’s taking forever, I think the county wants this to happen.”

The property, located south of Popes Head Road and west of the Fairfax County Parkway, has been in Waters’ wife’s family for 50 years. When his mother-in-law died two years ago, the couple absorbed the estate tax hit, Waters said, but it left them land rich and cash poor.

“We needed to come up with something,” he said.

And Castle Creek Paintball LLC was born. The next closest paintball park in Northern Virginia appears to be 24 miles to the west of Clifton, in Aldie.

“If we have a pretty good field, I would like to think enough people would stop here before driving an hour round trip,” said Waters, who owns a small development company called Stick Built Inc.

If approved by the county, paintball will consume 75 of the Waters’ 200 acres. Castle Creek will serve food (no alcohol, no nighttime play), and will employ two military veterans, one to run the office and the other to run the games.

The field of play will be located entirely in the woods. There will be six wooded play areas to start, on roughly 15 acres, expandable to 25 acres and 10 to 12 play areas if the business does well. It will never exceed that — the business will be limited to a single septic system that can handle up to 1,300 players per month, or 300 a week.

Only paintball markers (that is, paintball guns) fueled by high-pressure air will be allowed — no Co2 cartridges. And Castle Creek will sell, Waters said, “ecologically sound” paintball on site.

This will be green paintball. What could have been 40 lots, 40 septic fields and 36 new acres of impervious surface — or “1,000 pigs,” Waters said — will be a wooded game arena with a couple ancillary buildings.

And it will be costly, between $150,000 and $200,000 to get up and running. That includes a $50,000 septic field, a new parking lot and a rain garden for stormwater management purposes.

“It’s our home and we want to keep it,” Waters said. “This is not a ‘make a ton of money’ thing. It’s a ‘make enough money to preserve the property’ kind of thing.”

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