A natural way of life

August 16, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

BERKELEY COUNTY, W.VA. - Beyond a rusty metal gate off Buck Hill Road is a chunk of land filled with spectacular mountain views, meadows, forested inclines, natural ponds and bumpy roads.

Sixteen homeowners one day will be able to call this 320-acre parcel nestled by North and Third Hill mountains home. It might be one of the last chances available for those who admire the outdoors, farming and gardening, Lisa Dall'Olio said.

Dall'Olio and her husband, Matthew Grove, owners of Grove & Dall'Olio Architects, are handling the sale of 16 lots on the workable farm.


Buyers will own one acre and have a one-sixteenth share in the rest of the land. Organic gardening, farming, hiking and related activities will be encouraged.

While other large pieces of property in the area are being carved into five-acre lots, Dall'Olio said life at Broomgrass should be more like living in the middle of a large park.

Nearly all of the land except the 16 lots and room needed for some amenities, such as a 25-meter swimming pool, spa, cabana, bathhouse, barn and trails, will remain as it is now - wooded or farmland. About half is wooded.

Dall'Olio, her husband and their two children now live in downtown Martinsburg, above their King Street architectural firm. Since moving to the area 10 years ago, Dall'Olio said she has seen the rural character of the Eastern Panhandle continue to diminish.

"The evaporation of all these farms and orchards is just astounding to me," Dall'Olio said. "(Broomgrass) spares the natural landscape."

'Sweet opportunity'

Peter Bushman, his wife and two daughters hope to begin building their partially sheltered house later this year at Broomgrass. They chose a lot suited for a bermed home.

Bushman, who grew up working on farms, said he was attracted by several aspects of the property.

"Probably the biggest thing about it was the fact that it's not going to be developed in the future," Peter Bushman said.

Bushman said he also liked the fact that the small community will be based on earth-friendly techniques, with recycling, energy-efficient homes and natural farming without chemicals.

"'Tread lightly' philosophies," Bushman said.

Bushman said he hopes to grow vegetables and raise free-range chickens for meat and eggs. He also is excited about working with other residents on additional farming opportunities, such as raising beef cattle.

Today's typical farms will not be sustainable without major changes. Borrowing from tomorrow's earth to produce food today will carry consequences, Bushman said.

Bushman also was attracted to the practicalities offered.

"Another aspect of it is the inherent safety in the community," Bushman said, adding that he does not have to worry about "freaks and kooks" moving in next door and will feel safe when his daughters want to roam the property.

Both entrances will have gates and the entire property will be fenced or bordered by 1.6 miles of Back Creek frontage.

"I think it's a super-sweet opportunity and people that care about the environment and want to benefit themselves and benefit the environment at the same time should really consider it," Bushman said of Broomgrass.

Lifelong protections

An easement to the land will be sold to the Berkeley County Farmland Protection Board, ensuring the land never is further developed. Money from the easement will be used to build a barn and enhance the property's farming opportunities, Dall'Olio said.

Because the land will be farmed, traditional 40-foot roads are not required. Dall'Olio said the farm's current windy, narrower roads will remain in place, with a new layer of shale put down.

Next month, Dall'Olio and Grove will close on the property. After that, home sites officially will be offered for sale, with each one-acre lot priced at $195,000.

Although Dall'Olio said she could design a home for someone if requested, she imagines most people already will have a plan in mind.

After a tour of the property, Dall'Olio pointed to a large house on a nearly barren expanse of lawn nearby.

"It's not going to look like that," she said. Vinyl siding, such as that on the house in question, will be prohibited at Broomgrass.

If all goes well, life at Broomgrass will be ideal.

"Paradise," Dall'Olio said, with houses tucked neatly into the edges of fields and woodlands. "And some really cool people who love nature."

Grove's father and other investors bought the property in the 1960s. It has been farmed for more than 200 years and still is farmed by a man who lives down the road.

An old log home on the property, called the Gano House, could one day be restored, Dall'Olio said.

Dall'Olio said hundreds of names for the community were pondered, but everyone seemed to like Broomgrass the most. The name is derived from bromegrass - often called broomgrass - a type of grass Dall'Olio envisions would grow well on the land.

For Dall'Olio, moving to Broomgrass will be a reminder of her childhood. She grew up near a golf course that went bust, providing her with hundreds of empty acres on which to roam.

"I want my kids to experience that," she said.

Despite all the time and work they've devoted to Broomgrass, Dall'Olio said she and Grove have not yet picked out which lot on which they plan to build, though she has three in mind.

"I like sunset views, but I'd be happy with any of them," Dall'Olio said.

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