By Sue Guinn Legg
UNICOI — With neighboring homeowners committed to forming a private association to operate Buffalo Valley Golf Course, a committee of Unicoi residents and officeholders on Thursday voted to recommend the town make an offer to purchase the course from the city of Johnson City.
The Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen will take up the committee recommendation in a called meeting set for Monday, two days ahead of the city’s deadline for submissions of proposals on the course.
Mayor Johnny Lynch and others at Thursday’s night committee meeting lamented the short timeline they are working under to deal with the complexity of issues surrounding the golf course.
Lynch and Alderman Jeff Linville, who chairs the golf committee, told the property owners in the committee’s last meeting the town did not have the means to operate the course and would also be limited in its ability to make to an offer.
Last week, Lynch said, “hypothetically,” the town could offer Johnson City up to $550,000 for the course to be paid over a period of years, and only on the condition a private organization assumes responsibility for operating the course.
Linville said Thursday he had seen one media report on the golf course in which a city official cited an $665,000 assessment of the course and that a comparable course near Knoxville had sold for $750,000. Other assessments of the Buffalo Valley property range as high as $2.7 million.
Lynch said the Board of Mayor and Aldermen will need to decide if they would like to make a “lowball” offer and wait for a counter offer from the city or “how we want to handle it.”
Cooper said he had recently spoken with a state environmental official who told him the city would not be allowed to sell the small wastewater treatment plant located on the golf course to a private association or to homeowners group, and that the state would closely monitor the certification and capability of any corporation that proposed to buy and operate the course.
Linville said the solution to that would be for the city to exclude the wastewater plant from the property sale, continue to operate the plant or transfer it to Erwin Utilities.
Committee member Deborah Perry, who voted against the recommendation to make an offer on the course, cited this week’s closing of the Bristol Country Club golf course as a reason to doubt the financial viability of Buffalo Valley and other unforeseen costs that she said place a tax burden on all Unicoi residents.
Lynch told the property owners they had done a good job in the limited amount time they have had to come up with a proposal, but joined Alderman Roger Cooper and other committee members in requesting a more a in-depth written proposal with “dollar figures,” and the number of property owners committed to plan.
“You’ve done a good job but I feel we do need more,” Lynch said. “The time element is killing us.”
The property owners’ proposal to form an association to operate of the golf course calls for a 36-month low-cost lease with an option for the association to purchase the property at the town’s cost in order to help secure investors in the association.
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