The Leesburg Town Council is considering acquiring the Westpark Golf Course, which has been a mainstay of the rapidly growing town for almost a half-century.
A standing-room-only crowd packed the council chambers as residents who live near the golf course implored the council to acquire it and keep it as open space. More than 100 people filled the room after learning that the property is for sale, and that it is zoned for commercial and residential development.
The council unanimously approved a motion Oct. 24 by council member Thomas S. Dunn II asking town staff members to look into options for the property, including the possibility of entering into partnerships with Loudoun County or the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority to keep it operating as a golf course. The crowd gave the council a rare standing ovation over the vote.
"I personally golf there, love it, don't want it to go away," council member Fernando "Marty" Martinez said after the vote, bringing the audience to its feet.
Although most residents left the meeting after the vote, some stayed to address the council during time designated for public comments.
"I look out my back window and I have this extraordinary view," resident Renay Lang said. "It's an exceptional, natural space. It has huge, mature trees and conifers. It has a creek. In the 12 years that I've lived off of the golf course, I have seen herons and hawks and toads and peepers and all sorts of wildlife. It is absolutely worth preserving, even if just as a municipal golf course."
The 18-hole, public golf course was built in 1968 at the southwest edge of Leesburg. Since then, the town's population has increased tenfold, to more than 50,000. Some of the residential growth has occurred in neighborhoods that surround and extend beyond the golf course, as fairways now wind through mature, leafy neighborhoods.
Several residents who live alongside the golf course said they appreciate the open space and are accustomed to finding golf balls in their yards and seeing golfers pass by.
"The beauty of it is looking out your window and seeing nothing but green," said Rick Jackson, whose yard backs up to the second fairway. "There's untold beauty out there.
"Rather than having 20 or 30 estate homes scattered on the golf course, [this] may be a perfect place for wetlands, green areas and the golf course," Jackson said, adding that when he moved to the neighborhood 30 years ago, he never anticipated the course might someday be developed.
Chris Reynolds, the listing agent for the golf course, said a variety of commercial and residential developers have expressed interest in the property, which has been on the market for about two months.
"The property is quite unique," he said. "It's predominantly a golf course, and then there's a section of it that is commercially zoned. So there are lots of possibilities, depending on what can be approved through the town of Leesburg."
Under current zoning, a hotel or motel and up to 27 single-family "estate lots" could be built on the 142-acre course. The marketing brochure for the property lists other potential uses, such as an assisted-living facility or corporate campus for the section zoned for commercial development.
Last month, Leesburg's Parks and Recreation Commission voted to recommend that the council consider buying the property and operating it as a public golf course.
In an Oct. 17 letter to the council, commission chairman Rob Fulcer wrote that the availability of the golf course presents "a unique opportunity for the Town to preserve an important recreational amenity and a significant amount of green space for our Leesburg residents."
Dunn said he "would love to see some type of partnership" that would keep the golf course operating.
"My guess is that to purchase that property is going to be many, many millions of dollars, and that is a tough burden for the town to pick up — especially since we have to figure out how we can put in tens of thousands of dollars in sidewalks, never mind millions of dollars for a golf course," Dunn said.
"We're open to any options," he said. "We'll see where we go."