Ball field at center of debate

March 10, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

It's a tale that involves an old baseball field, city politics, a past-its-prime swimming pool, anxious neighbors and the timeless debate of development versus preservation.

To understand the story, one must first travel to the baseball field - Roush Field in Martinsburg - in the middle of a residential neighborhood and bordered by Stephen Street, Georgia Avenue and Alabama Avenue.

Standing in the middle of the field, one can easily imagine heroics accomplished in the bottom of the ninth inning, with two outs, a full count and loaded bases. Or a friendly flag football game taking place on one of the first brisk days of autumn, when the leaves are starting to show hints of red, orange or yellow hues.


Kids heading home after a game for a cup of hot chocolate on a frigid day. Adults heading out for a cold beer on a sizzling summer afternoon.

Fireflies flitting among the makeshift bases. Snowflakes dancing off the winter-beaten aged backstop.

Yes, a day on the field can conjure up the most vibrant of images.

A recent day spent at City Hall, as members of the Budget and Finance Committee tried to decide what to do with the field, was another story.

After discussing the issue for more than an hour, city officials decided to decide what to do at some other time.

Selling lots

In the 1950s, two parcels of land that would become known as Roush Field were deeded from Carrie Roush and Rod Cheeseman to the Berkeley County Church Recreation Association, according to copies of deeds obtained by Jim Rodgers, a local banker and Roush Field supporter. Church-sponsored teams played baseball games on the field for years.

As interest in the games dwindled, the church association deeded the land to Martinsburg-Berkeley County Parks & Recreation in 1992 for $10, Rodgers said. Because the Parks & Rec board cannot legally own land, the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Recreation Trust was formed and owns Roush Field, Rodgers said.

At that time, the Trust tried to sell the entire field, but a community effort and petition prevented it, Rodgers said.

Now, the Trust wants to sell just two lots, which are in the far left and center field areas and contain trees, rocks and brush. The lots are along Alabama Avenue, across from Rosemont Elementary School.

Each a quarter-acre parcel, one lot is priced at $34,900, and the other at $39,900.

At a recent public hearing, City Councilman Gregg Wachtel suggested that the city buy the lots and keep the entire area as green space.

Even if the two lots are sold for development, the rest of the field will be deeded to the city to remain green space, said Steve Catlett, Parks & Recreation director.

At their meeting last week, Budget and Finance Committee members voiced different opinions on the matter.

"They're not making any more land," said Councilman Max Parkinson. "There's very little green space left that can be used within the city limits."

Councilman Roger Lewis said he does not believe the lots are worth a combined $75,000.

Parkinson and Wachtel, however, said they believe the asking price is a steal.

In essence, the city has "dibs" on the land. Trust officials will not sell the lots to anyone else until the city makes its decision, said Brad Snowden, a Trust member.

Councilman Donald Anderson said the city should not buy the lots, which he called "junk."

"Go ahead and (sell them). You are not wiping out the green space," he said. "Selling those two lots, you would probably be improving the general area."

The $75,000 made from selling the lots will be used to repair the aging pool at Lambert Park in Martinsburg.

Catlett proposed that rather than buying the land so the pool could be fixed, the city could just give Parks & Rec the $75,000. In return, all of the land, including the two lots in question, would be deeded over to the city.

As they discussed the issue, various budget committee members made motions. One was to buy the lots, pending an appraisal. Another was to approach city council members (five of the seven councilmen sit on the Budget and Finance Committee) to see if $75,000 should be given to Parks & Rec in exchange for the land. A third proposal was to offer $60,000 to Parks & Rec for the land.

All of the motions died because nobody would second them.

In the end, Wachtel - who is not on the budget committee - proposed that the matter be discussed again at the City Council meeting Thursday night.

Everyone agreed.

Boyhood games

Wachtel and Rodgers remember playing games as children at Roush Field.

When he was around 11 or 12 years old, Wachtel played church league baseball games at Roush. Bleachers and dugouts present when Wachtel played are now gone, but memories remain.

"I've seen players hit the house" in right field, Wachtel said. "Me personally, I think I hit the fence once."

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