It’s back to the drawing board for the Leesburg Town Council, and it will begin 2019 looking anew for the best way to manage town-owned land containing African-American burial sites.
Following a week of harsh criticism levied by Leesburg’s black community leaders, the council in a special meeting Wednesday night rescinded its November action issuing a Request for Proposals for an outside group to maintain cemetery land. The Sycolin Cemetery, on land in the Leesburg Executive Airport’s Runway Protection Zone, contains 55 burial sites between two cemeteries affiliated with the Lower Sycolin African American community that existed in the area in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
November’s vote to authorize the RFP came after community leaders criticized the unkempt conditions of the cemetery land, and council members questioned whether an outside entity would do a better job of maintaining the land, and providing access to the burial sites, than the town.
But with Wednesday night’s 6-1 vote to rescind the RFP, the council is back to square one. In two separate actions, the council also scheduled a Feb. 11 work session to discuss next steps and, under a motion by Councilman Tom Dunn, the town will also advertise ahead of the meeting for any groups interested in maintaining or potentially owning the land to make their desires known to the town staff ahead of time.
Some have called for the land to be given to an outside entity to own and maintain the burial sites. However, town staff members have maintained that because the land is within the Runway Protection Zone and was purchased using FAA funds, development options are limited. Transferring ownership could also mean that the town would be required to reimburse the FAA for the land purchase.
An option previously endorsed by the town staff seems to have new life. Council members suggested the creation of an ad hoc committee, with staff and council representatives as well as community members, to decide on next steps for the cemetery site.
Dunn was the only council member to vote against rescinding the RFP. “We’re stopping a process to turn around and restart a process,” Dunn commented. He expressed hope that, going forward, dialogue can be conducted in an appropriate manner, rather than “name-calling and insinuations.”
Other council members expressed similar hopes.
“I can understand the emotional discussion and what was said,” Councilman Marty Martinez said. “I hope going forward we can have a more honest discussion.”