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Hearing set to discuss W.Va. battlefield park

October 14, 2005|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA. - Members of the Jefferson County Commission voted Thursday to hold a public hearing on efforts to establish a national park near Shepherdstown.

The park would preserve a Civil War battlefield that was at the heart of a recent controversy involving a housing development.

Commission members voted 4-1 to hold the hearing Nov. 9. It will begin at 7 p.m. and probably will be on the ground level of the Old Charles Town Library, said Commission President Rusty Morgan.

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The goal of the hearing is to gather input on establishing a national park where Far Away Farm LLC has proposed building 100 homes on a 112-acre tract off Trough Road east of Shepherdstown.

Far Away Farm LLC's proposal to build homes there generated opposition from several residents and preservation groups, who say the site is part of the Battle of Shepherdstown.

The Battle of Shepherdstown took place Sept. 19 and 20, 1862, on acreage to the west side of what is now Trough Road, including Far Away Farm, according to the National Park Service's Web site.

After winding through a long county regulatory process, members of the Jefferson County Zoning Board of Appeals turned down a conditional use permit for the development, saying it was not compatible with the area where it was going to be built.

One of the issues surrounding the development was the amount of traffic it would generate on Trough Road.

The road is less than 16 feet wide in some places and farmers often haul their equipment on the road, said Ed Dunleavy, president of the Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association LLC, which has fought to preserve the battlefield.

An additional 300 cars would be traveling on the road if the housing project is built, Dunleavy said.

Dunleavy, who was at Thursday's county commission meeting, said Eastern Panhandle lawmakers have been supportive of preserving the site as a Civil War battlefield.

Morgan said perhaps the battlefield could come under the jurisdiction of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park or Antietam National Battlefield.

If the site would become a national park, Morgan said other spinoff projects could be pursued, such as building a bicycle path between the battlefield and Harpers Ferry.

"I'm really excited about the option. I think it would really be a coup," Morgan said.

The idea of establishing a national park at the site brought a different reaction from Commission member Jane Tabb.

Tabb, who voted against the public hearing, said she thinks the park proposal is an attempt to stop development and she pointed to the fact that part of Dunleavy's property is on the battlefield.

Tabb said after the meeting she thinks Dunleavy might be pushing for the park to keep land around his house from being developed.

"I'm fearful where you are going," Tabb told the rest of the commission members. "I think you need to look at the bigger picture."

Dunleavy said outside the meeting room that Tabb is showing her pro-development stance and said her comments obscure the fact that the land is the site of a significant Civil War battlefield.

"I don't know what her issue is," Dunleavy said.

Morgan and Commission member Jim Surkamp voiced support for having a public hearing on the park proposal now in hopes the proposal could be included in a long-term plan for Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

The park is currently putting together its long-term plan, Surkamp said.

Richard Gay, a Berkeley Springs, W.Va., attorney who represents the developers, could not be reached for comment.

Donald Campbell, superintendent of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, said in a telephone interview that the issue of preserving more land could be mentioned in the park's long-term plan.

But any acquisition of land for a park would be up to Congress, Campbell said.

Morgan said it is important to have a public hearing to show members of Congress whether support exists to establish a park at the site.

Campbell supported efforts to save the site.

"That battlefield is significant. It should be protected in some way," Campbell said.

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