The Leesburg Town Council will wait a couple of weeks before debating its options on the potential purchase of the former Westpark Golf Club property.
JK Moving Services CEO Chuck Kuhn, the contract purchaser on the just over 140-acre property, sent a letter to Mayor Kelly Burk on May 11 offering the town the opportunity to purchase 134 acres of for $3.4 million. Under the offer, the land would be placed into conservation easement allowing it to be used as a town park, and Kuhn would retain the eight acres of commercial land. The letter put forward a deadline of July 1 for Kuhn and the town to agree to the terms and execute the contract.
The item was on the council’s agenda Tuesday night for discussion, but at the onset of the meeting Councilman Ron Campbell made a motion to remove the agenda item and postpone discussion until the council’s next business meeting on June 9. In making his motion, Campbell disclosed he had met with Kuhn, who had expressed a willingness to both ask for an extension on the deadline to agree to terms on a land purchase, and also to explore other options for a transaction with the town. Campbell said Kuhn was amenable to reaching out to Westpark’s current property owner, Dittmar Company, for an extension until possibly September. He also said the two discussed a potential public-private partnership.
The delay “would give us all time to step back and think about the possibility of moving forward without losing the opportunity of what might and could benefit the town and Mr. Kuhn,” Campbell said.
He also said that in the interim, Kuhn could find out if a delay would be accepted by the property owner, which would give the council a better deadline to work with.
Councilman Neil Steinberg offered an alternate motion, which did not pass, that would have directed town staff to come back to the council June 9 with specific information gathered by town staff, including financing options should the town move forward with a purchase; exploring options the town has regarding uses in a conservation easement; and conducting an independent appraisal of the property, among other items.
“Town staff has been given no direction on how to proceed,” Vice Mayor Marty Martinez said in support of Steinberg’s motion. “We need to talk about where we want to go with this. We need to talk about whether we even want the town manager to move forward.”
Campbell’s motion to postpone passed by a 4-3 margin, with council members Tom Dunn, Suzanne Fox and Josh Thiel in support. While a full vetting of the options before the council will wait until June, some council members didn’t hesitate to trade a few barbs on how the offer to the town to purchase the property has unfolded.
Both Campbell and Dunn criticized Burk for not keying the Town Council in on her early meetings with Kuhn to discuss a possible town purchase of the property.
“The initial meetings with [Burk and] Mr. Kuhn started on March 13, and the council was not informed as a body until May 14. So whatever considerations about time, about direction, about feedback in conversation, could have and should have been given long before May 14 in full disclosure,” Campbell said.
Dunn also reiterated his displeasure with Burk “going to the public first, getting them riled up so they could do her bidding for her,” referring to social media posts by the mayor about the land purchase opportunity.
Burk emphasized that, in her capacity as town mayor, she meets with many people, and there was no concrete information to share until the letter of intent was sent by Kuhn. That letter was then shared with the rest of the council.
“I think we’re being very petty,” she said. “I think certain people are mad because they feel like they should have been informed. There was nothing to inform until [the letter of intent] came out. This is why it was on the agenda to get more information. Staff does not have the ability to check anything out until we give them direction. We’re asking them to find out information that we can use. I don’t know why we are at this point that we can’t have a discussion.”
The matter is expected to come back for discussion June 9.