A proposal to acquire the majority of the former Westpark Golf Club property is not catching the interest of a majority of Leesburg Town Council members. And the lack of majority support could spell the end of any potential deal.
On Monday night, Town Council members again discussed the offer from JK Moving Services CEO Chuck Kuhn to purchase a little more than 134 acres of the property from him, for a price tag of $3.4 million. Kuhn has been under contract to purchase the property for several months, and has stated his intention to place the 134 acres into a conservation easement and then sell it to the town. He would retain the eight acres of the former golf club property that are commercially zoned for a hotel use. He has said he is unsure of his plans for the commercial land.
Kuhn recently extended the deadline for the town to sign a letter of intent to agree to a purchase to Sept. 15, back from the original date of July 1.
Prior to Kuhn signing purchase contract for the property, it was under contract to CalAtlantic Homes, which later merged with Lennar. The home builder sought a rezoning to allow construction of 96 townhomes. That application included a proposal to give to the town of the same land now under consideration for a purchase, to be maintained as open space or a park. In the face of strong neighbor opposition to the project, the council denied the application last year.
Several council members made reference to that Monday night. Councilwoman Suzanne Fox pointed out that, had the council approved the rezoning and taken the land as a gift, the staff had projected the development would result in $64,000 annual increase in costs to provide public services to the area. The staff had recommended denial of the rezoning.
“Why are we worried about $64,000 when we’re thinking about shelling out $3.4 million upfront,” she said. “There seems to me to be an inconsistency there. Six months ago, town staff said it wouldn’t be good for us because of the loss of $64,000 a year, but we’re taking a look at making a big lump sum payment here.”
Councilman Ron Campbell said pursuing a purchase of the financial magnitude of the Westpark property would need to be “the right deal, the right time, the right place and for the right price.” He suggested one option worth exploring may be a deal that allows Kuhn to develop some residential properties on the land, which could lessen or negate any funds the town would have to contribute to keeping the open space as town-owned property.
“Let’s be clear, residential feeds his interest in making a profit. Right now, the town feeds his interest in making a profit, but that’s not a good deal for the town,” he said.
Campbell also said it was not reasonable for the council to commit to a purchase before carefully studying the proposal. Town Manager Kaj Dentler said the staff has not ordered an appraisal or engineering study of the property, and awaits council direction on whether it should expend funds or staff time on further studying the proposal.
Mayor Kelly Burk said that the council continuing to discuss Kuhn’s proposal was an effort to gather more details to make an informed decision. She also shot back at a suggestion that entertaining residential development on the property was a good move for the town.
“I will tell you if you’re looking at building houses there, that’s why we turned it down to begin with. It was not free,” she said, referring to Lennar’s proposal to gift the town the 130-plus acres. “Anyone that says that property before was free is not accurate. It would cost us 96 townhomes, and the impact to schools and transportation. It was never free and it’s not free now and it’s never going to be free.”
“Whether you think it’s a good opportunity or a bad opportunity it’s one we need to assess,” Councilman Neil Steinberg said, in agreeing with Burk.
But it does not appear that is a direction the Town Council will take, as there was not a majority Monday to move forward with studying the land purchase. Only Burk, Steinberg and Vice Mayor Marty Martinez cited a desire to keep moving forward. Currently, the council has one vacancy on the dais as it has not yet filled the seat formerly occupied by Josh Thiel, who resigned from the council in May. An appointment is expected within the next month.