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Owner offers to sell Lake Osceola to county for $3M

Lake Osceola, shown from North Lakeside Drive, is currently drained while work continues on the dam. Lake Osceola, shown from North Lakeside Drive, is currently drained while work continues on the dam.

The owner of Lake Osceloa is offering to sell the lake to Henderson County for $3 million, which he says is a fifth of the cost of building a new lake today.

The lake's owner, Todd Leoni, told Henderson County officials in an email that he is offering the county the exclusive right to buy the lake as long as it remains a lake forever, maintained by the county and made open to the public. The lake, which has had problems with its dam for many years, is not currently filled as work continues on the structure.

"I am upgrading the dam and it will be in full compliance when I turn it over to the county," Leoni said.

County Manager Steve Wyatt said Thursday county staff had done no investigation of the offer.

"I’ve been asked to do nothing," he said. "The board is going to have to express an interest in it." If commissioners were interested "there would be a lot of due diligence. The gentleman’s asked to be on the agenda. The chairman asked to put him on the agenda."

Reached in Miami, Leoni said he's had no discussions with county officials beyond an email that spelled out his offer.

"I just submitted a letter telling them I thought it might be good idea to be able to offer this lake as a park space to the county," he said. "We’ll see where it goes. I'm repairing the dam and they're going to get it as a brand new operating lake."

Besides the 32-acre lake, Leoni owns lakeside land that he says could be developed for public access. He also owns Mountain Lake Inn on North Lakeside Drive.

"It’s killed my business for the past two years to have it down," he said of the dam. The inn is still open "but we have very limited check-ins because we don’t have a lake."

Once filled, the lake could be a destination for local people and tourists, he said.

"It’s so close to town. And the county doesn't have a lake like this," he said. "This is really a gift. I grew up on the lake. That was my summer camp. I bought it back in 1990 and I’ve owned it since then. I don’t want to have to throw people off the lake. I’d like the county to take it on" and develop boat launches, trails and fishing areas. "It would be beautiful," he said.

Under conditions of his offer, Leoni asks that the property be "maintained as a lake forever, that the county maintains it and manages it and opens it up to the public."

Less than two miles from the middle of town, a public lake "would be a great asset for the residents of Hendersonville and especially the visitors including fisherman, birdwatchers, bikers, walkers and many other uses," he told the county. Included in his offer was a map of the lake and proposed lakeside amenties. A 2.7-acre site on the southside could have a small music pavilion, canoe and boat launch and wildflower walking trails and a 3.4 acre northside park could include parking for 20 cars, fishing and a 1.5 mile walking trail.

The offer is on the agenda for the next regular meeting of the Board of Commissioners at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.