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Berkeley County to protect 600 acres of farmland

November 14, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

The Berkeley County Commission gave the county's Farmland Protection Board permission on Thursday to move forward with the purchase of 600 acres on six farms, meaning the land forever will remain green space.

The farms, ranging from 44 to 140 acres, will be the first purchased by the Berkeley County Farmland Protection Board. Scattered throughout the county, the farms include ones in Back Creek Valley, Arden, off Butts Mill Road and off Files Crossroads. Two are contiguous, said Jim Moore, chairman of the board.

Of the more than $1.4 million needed to buy the six farms, $329,000 is expected to come from federal funding sources. More than $1.1 million will come from the county, Moore said.

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To help fund the program, the commissioners earlier this year approved increasing the real estate transfer tax from $4.40 to $6.60 per $1,000 of value. That fee is paid when someone buys a home.

Moore praised the commissioners for approving the purchases.

"Citizens 50 years from now will be thanking this commission and, hopefully, the Farmland Protection Board," he said.

With commission approval secured, board members plan to draw easement contracts and request federal funds.

Moore said he hopes to have the purchases finalized by June.

Among the six farms to be purchased is Cool Spring Farm. The farm, on 105 acres in Gerrardstown, W.Va., is used to raise beef cattle, owner Scott Trapnell Hilleary said.

"We are a family of conservationists and we love the Eastern Panhandle," said Hilleary, 55.

Citing a history of preservation, Hilleary said that in 1994 his mother, 91-year-old Eleanor "Polly" Trapnell Hilleary Dorsey Dosh, donated 23 acres in Baltimore to the Maryland Environmental Trust.

That land near Baltimore National Cemetery is one of the last remaining undeveloped tracts in the city, Hilleary said.

Two other wooded parcels in Maryland also have been preserved by the family, Hilleary said.

Hilleary, whose primary home is in Baltimore, rents Cool Spring Farm to a man who runs the Black Angus beef operation.

Features at the farm include a limestone spring and artifacts. Pottery fragments have been found, along with algae fossils estimated to be 580 million years old, according to Thornton Hilleary, Scott Hilleary's brother.

A farmhouse on the land dates to 1761, the brothers said.

A second farm owned by the family, 44 acres near Shanghai, W.Va., known as Mountain Glen Orchard, also is being purchased.

"One of the most attractive things about this area is the bucolic beauty," Hilleary said. "There's still time to save the Eastern Panhandle from becoming like Montgomery County, Md., or Northern Virginia."

Formed in June 2000, the Farmland Protection Board approved its program last December.

Land incorporated into the program cannot be developed for any commercial, industrial, residential or nonfarm purpose. Although its owner retains the right to sell or bequeath the land, subsequent owners are bound by the preservation agreement, according to a booklet detailing the program.

Any woodland in the easement cannot be used for commercial forestry. However, growing Christmas trees, orchards or nursery stock is allowed.

Land owners also cannot sell, lease or grant any portion of the land for utilities, including water, sewer or power lines, cell phone towers or sewage pumping stations.

Any farm owner who is contemplating participating in the program should do so, Hilleary said.

"It behooves everyone who can do it to do it," he said. "You're being paid to preserve something you already have."

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