An application to rezone a former golf course to a townhouse neighborhood never found the community support the applicant desired, and the Leesburg Town Council swiftly quashed those plans Tuesday night.
By a 5-2 vote, the council denied an application by Lennar Homes, the contract purchaser on the former Westpark Golf Club property, to rezone the land permit the construction of 96 townhouses. Also contained in its rezoning application was a proposal to give the remaining 129 acres of the property, which largely falls within the floodplain, to the town to maintain as open space or a public park.
For the second time in as many weeks, neighbors flooded the Council Chambers. The majority of the speakers during the public hearing urged the council to deny the application, with many pointing to concerns about the impact the project could have on roads and the quality of life.
A few neighbors brought with them a flier that had been delivered to their homes, urging support of the project. Although it was not confirmed whether the fliers had been distributed by the developer, some residents criticized efforts undertaken to woo public supporters.
“The applicant has repeatedly used smoke and mirrors and scare tactics,” to try to win support, Cindy Boyce said.
Suzanne Smart said the photographs in the flier depicted a “utopia” that she did not buy into. She and others who spoke against the project said she believed that leaving the zoning on the property unchanged was the best way to proceed. The majority of the 141-acre property is zoned R-E, which could accommodate the by-right development of 27 homes. A small portion of the property is zoned for a hotel use.
While some residents said a hotel would be a better use of the property, other speakers who represented the real estate industry said that use wasn’t a good fit for the site.
“It’s not a spot that is highly desirable. It’s seven acres that doesn’t have a lot of access, frontage, it’s on a dead end road. To overlook the entire application because you want to save that seven acres of commercial is probably short-sighted,” commercial realtor Scott Munchel said.
Matt Benson, another member of the real estate community who spoke in support of approval, agreed that the site was not right for a hotel. He said townhouses would be much more compatible with the surrounding residential uses.
But council members largely agreed with the public’s takeaways, and decided there was not enough merit to the application to approve it.
“I’ve never been one big on trading housing for parkland,” Councilman Tom Dunn said. “Housing should stand, and the benefits thereof, on its own. I don’t see that here.”
Councilwoman Suzanne Fox referenced the large amount of correspondence the council had received about the project, and estimated about a 4-to-1 ratio in favor of those opposed to the project.
“I respect what the applicant has tried to do, but don’t think this is an application that is airtight,” she said.
Vice Mayor Marty Martinez and Councilman Ron Campbell opposed the denial. Martinez said he saw an opportunity with the open space donation to create trails or recreational or park amenities for southern quadrant residents to complement what is offered on the north side of town at Ida Lee Park Recreation Center.
“I was not happy with the [residential] density, but I also know the value of open space and parkland,” he said.
At the council’s previous business meeting, John Foote, an attorney from Walsh Colucci representing the applicant, had suggested that Lennar could potentially pull out of the purchase of the property if the rezoning application was denied. The golf club property went on the market in the late summer of 2017 and golf course operations recently ceased at Westpark after 50 years in business.