Big changes may be coming to Buffalo Lake and Lake Jeanette.

Both lakes were built and owned by Cone Mills, and when International Textile Group (ITG) bought Cone, it got the lakes as a bonus.

Now the lakes are under contract to be sold to Jess Washburn, who lives on Buffalo Lake, and Will Dellinger from Charlotte. The price for the two lakes is reportedly $1 million, and they total about 462 acres.   But the question in everyone’s mind is: What do you do with a couple of lakes, particularly since the land around them has largely been developed?

A lot of people are concerned that if the sale goes through, the new owners plan to drain and develop the lakes.

When asked about that Washburn said, “Oh Man, heavens no. I’d get run out of town.”

Washburn said that he and Dellinger had bought a number of abandoned industrial properties from ITG and had been successful in converting them to new uses, including selling water from one facility, which is how they got involved in buying two Greensboro lakes.

He said, “Another reason why I bought it is I really didn’t want this property in someone’s hands that wasn’t a Greensboro person and all they want to do is make money.” He added that the lakes were too valuable an asset to go to an outsider who didn’t know Greensboro.

Washburn said, “In terms of draining the lakes, that would be devastating.”

He said, “I live on Buffalo Lake and would like to give people the option of building docks and stuff on their property.”

Another aspect of the purchase that people have questioned is the liability, particularly in owning a dam.

Washburn said he recognized the liability and that “you get insurance and do proper due diligence.” He said some work was being done on the spillway of Lake Jeanette right now.

He said that down the road, 10 years or so, he could see selling water like they were doing in Virginia.

Currently, not only are docks not allowed on Buffalo Lake, boats aren’t allowed either. Washburn said that they planned to allow people to use the lakes with canoes, kayaks, paddleboats and perhaps boats with electric motors.

Marty Kotis is planning to open a Darryl’s at the restaurant location on Cone Boulevard where Ham’s Lakeside used to be, which backs up to the lake and is on lake property. Washburn said he could imagine people going out their back door, down to their dock and traveling to Darryl’s by boat, which would be brand new for Buffalo Lake and Greensboro.

Lake Jeanette, the other lake purchased by Washburn and Dellinger, allows boats as long as they are put in at the Lake Jeanette Homeowners Association Marina. Washburn said that the current plan is to allow people who live on Lake Jeanette the opportunity to build docks. He also has plans to open the lake up to more recreational uses.

Lake Jeanette, at about 270 acres, is considerably bigger than Buffalo Lake, which is about 69 acres.

Along with the land underwater, the property involved in the purchase would include a 50-foot buffer around Lake Jeanette and a 10-foot buffer around Buffalo Lake.

Currently, homeowners on Lake Jeanette cannot even remove dead trees from the 25 feet closest to the lake without permission from the homeowners association. The buffer is supposed be left in its natural state.

Dixon Johnston, the president of the Lake Jeanette Homeowners Association board, said that he had met with Washburn and Dellinger and he said, if they do what they say they are going to do, which is allow private docks on the lake, some people would be upset, but most of his members would be OK with it.

Johnston said, “I have mixed feelings about it.” He added, “A lot of people are strenuously opposed” to the idea of private docks and boathouses on the lake. He said that others would be interested in building a dock, but he thought that number would be limited.

Johnston said the board had looked into the possibility of the lake being drained and developed, but because of the numerous regulations on waterways, wetlands and riparian buffers, it simply was not possible.

He said, “Are they going to drain it? Clearly they cannot do that.”

Johnston said he had asked Washburn and Dellinger how they planned to monetize their million-dollar investment and they didn’t really answer that question. He said, “We’re still a bit puzzled.”

Johnston said he didn’t think that by selling the rights to build docks they could recoup their investment.

He added that most homeowners were not happy about any possible changes because they liked things the way they were.

Johnston said there were 234 lakefront lots at Lake Jeanette but he thought the number that were well situated for docks was limited. “They aren’t going to get rich building docks,” he said.

He said the initial investment wasn’t the only cost, and that, for example, the cost to maintain the dam at Lake Jeanette is about $50,000 a year.

Johnston said they can’t drain the lake, and Washburn said they have no intention of doing it and that one of the reasons for buying the lakes is to make certain that no one else comes in and tries something like that.

But the liability of owning a lake held back by an aging dam is considerable. Greensboro recently had to replace the Lake Townsend dam at a cost of about $40 million.

The Lake Townsend dam replacement was completely unexpected. Routine maintenance showed the concrete in the dam had deteriorated to the point that the dam could not be repaired but had to be replaced.

At one time the City of Greensboro looked at buying the two lakes, but the water from Lake Jeanette feeds into Lake Townsend, so it really wouldn’t increase the city’s water supply and Buffalo Lake was determined to be too small to be of much use. It’s a relatively shallow lake with relatively poor water quality because of all the surrounding development.

Cone Mills built the lakes to supply water to their textile mills. Water from Lake Jeanette was pumped into Buffalo Lake, then sent to the Cone water treatment plant at the corner of Church Street and Cone Boulevard, and from there to the mills.

Washburn did say that at some point they might be able to sell water from the lake.

Around the last turn of the century, when Greensboro was running out of water, the city might have been interested; but when Randleman Lake came online, it solved Greensboro’s water problems for the foreseeable future. Randleman Lake is currently only producing about one quarter of the water it could produce, so there is a lot of room for growth before Greensboro runs out of water.

Washburn sounded excited about all the possibilities with the lakes, and selling water was only one idea.

But with so much talk of development, it seemed worth finding out what a lake is zoned in Greensboro. There is no “L1 Lake” zoning district.

Buffalo Lake is zoned residential single-family R3, which means if any plans were made to develop the lake it would have to be rezoned, unless the plan was to build single family homes on big lots. But developers say the only way you could hope to get your money out of a project like that would be commercial zoning, which would mean the land would have to be rezoned.

Lake Jeanette was developed as a planned unit development (PUD), and one of the conditions is that the lake remain a lake. So any development of that land would require a rezoning as well.

Even if it were possible to get around all of the environmental and riparian regulations, no doubt there is a spotted one-eyed Lake Jeanette newt living in the wetlands somewhere that is an endangered species. Surely, it would be nearly impossible to get the land at either lake rezoned when you consider the overwhelming opposition it would face from residents, nature lovers, the spotted one-eyed Lake Jeanette newt protection society and everyone else. (As far as we have been able to determine, no one has yet discovered a spotted one-eyed Lake Jeanette newt, but you get the idea.)

It appears that Johnston is right; the lakes cannot be developed.

If Washburn and Dellinger follow through with their plans, it will certainly be a big change for Buffalo Lake, and it would be great to see that lake being used for something other than a pretty backdrop.

As boating is allowed on Lake Jeanette, changes proposed for that lake appear to be less dramatic, but having private docks would certainly make it more accessible.

Perhaps the biggest change would be in having the lakes owned by someone who is interested in improving them and making them more accessible rather than by a more or less absentee landlord.