Sacred ground in Leesburg containing the final resting place for 55 African-Americans will soon be up for lease.
Last week, the Town Council authorized the town staff to issue a request for proposal for the lease and maintenance of the Sycolin Cemetery. It’s property that has attracted the attention of community advocates, some of whom have charged that the town has not done an adequate job of maintaining the land.
Because the town-owned property is near Leesburg Executive Airport’s Runway Protection Zone, development on the land is extremely limited. The town purchased the eight-acre site across from the airport in 1989 and 1990 to provide a buffer for the south end of the airport runway. The discovery of the two long-unmaintained cemeteries was made in 2007. The burial areas were affiliated with the Lower Sycolin African American Community that existed in the area in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
A significant clean-up of the area, with the assistance of many community members and government officials, took place two years ago. But, since then, the site has been the target of illegal dumping on several occasions and critics have argued that the town has not maintained the land up to proper standards.
Although town staff had recommended the council look at creating a master plan for the area, a majority of the council appeared inclined to believe that the town should not be in the business of cemetery maintenance. The successful offeror following the RFP process will be the responsible party for all maintenance efforts on the 3.7-acre land.
The approved lease would be for a five-year term, at $1 per year, and then month to month unless terminated by either party, Deputy Town Manager Keith Markel told the council last week. The successful offeror will be financially responsible for all maintenance on the land.
The council approved the resolution authorizing the request for proposal process by a 5-1-1 vote, with Councilman Marty Martinez opposed and Councilman Ron Campbell abstaining. Campbell is executive director of the Loudoun Freedom Foundation, which is seeking to take control of the cemeteries and is expected to submit a proposal.
Markel said this week he expects the request for proposal to be issued by the end of the month. Proposals will be due sometime in late December or early January, and town leaders hope to award the contract by early February.