Residents, officials debate future plans of Boydville property

November 06, 2005|By CANDICE BOSELY

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - According to legend, it was President Lincoln who saved a manor house named Boydville in Martinsburg from being destroyed by Union troops during the Civil War.

With a controversial 120-townhouse and condominium development planned for the 13-acre property on the outskirts of town, some have found themselves recently asking: Who can save Boydville now?

The answer might just be the development company itself, although plans to preserve the circa-1812 mansion, its outbuildings, barn, historic law office and acres of green space have not prevented an outcry of protests against the development.


Barbara Bratina's concerns center on practicality rather than passion.

Although her "pie-in-the-sky" fantasy would be for the entire property to be preserved, she said she realizes Boydville owner LaRue Frye has a right to sell her property and that the property can legally be developed.

"We would all love for Boydville to never be developed," Bratina said. "But that's not a reality,"

Bratina's concerns are that 55-foot condominiums and 48-foot townhouses planned for The Village at Boydville, as the development will be named, contrast with the character of the quiet residential neighborhood of South Queen Street.

"This is a massive development," Bratina said. "It's just too huge for this neighborhood."

Noah Mehrkam, a representative of The Rector Companies LLC - the Manassas, Va.-based company developing the property - said he is aware of the height complaints.

"We're looking at the height issue and understand that's a concern," Mehrkam said, but noted that a few hundred feet away is a six-story housing complex for older residents.

Mehrkam said he believes the development could be a regional model of how to combine preservation with new growth and could be a boon for downtown Martinsburg.

Those who live at The Village at Boydville can walk to the train station to catch a MARC train to Washington, shop downtown, eat at downtown restaurants and, perhaps, walk to work, Mehrkam said.

Mehrkam said his company has a contract to buy the property, but he declined to give the price. He also would not speculate on what houses in the development will cost.

Past and present

Frye declined to give an extensive interview, but said one point needs to be made clear.

Boydville will be developed. Houses will be built there, she said.

Although the company buying the property wants to obtain a certain zoning classification, it can and will move forward without it. The Rector Companies has no contingencies in its contract to buy the property, Frye said.

"The question is not whether or not it will be developed," Frye said. "The issue is how it will be developed. It's already zoned for development. It's zoned for six houses per acre."

Frye said she is comfortable with the development because townhouses leave the smallest "footprint" on the property.

"It's integrating history into present needs," Frye said.

An easement will be forwarded to the Berkeley County Historical Landmarks Commission to ensure the manor house, other historic buildings and green space totaling about four acres will forever be preserved.

Frye said her reasons for selling the property for development were "to open the property to the public and to support downtown Martinsburg."

It's the "height of greed," she said, for three people - herself and two tenants - to live on a 13-acre piece of property that bears a "Private Drive" sign at the entrance.

"Thirteen acres in the middle of Martinsburg. It's misused property," Frye said.

The development plans call for an "open space within the village (that) includes walking trails, sidewalks, benches, trees, and street lighting similar to downtown to encourage passive recreational activity and to reinforce the sense of community," according to written information from The Rector Companies.

"It will, I think, become a destination for Martinsburg," Frye said.

While the historic manor home will be sold as a private residence, Frye said she hopes its owners will consider opening it as a museum.

The property is on the National Register of Historic Places, but that offers no protection from development. It is not in the city's downtown historic preservation district.

The numbers

To understand the ins and outs of the development, an overview of city planning rules and regulations is needed.

That's where Mike Covell, Martinsburg's planner/engineer, comes in.

Currently, the area of town that contains Boydville is zoned RUA, or Urban Residential A.

"That's geared toward single-family homes and duplexes, period," Covell said.

It's not single-family homes or duplexes, however, that The Rector Companies wants to build, prompting the company to ask that the special zoning classification of RP, or Planned Residential, be applied to the project.

Under RUA zoning, about six single-family homes or eight duplexes can be built per acre, while an RP zoning classification allows for as many as 15 dwelling units to be built per acre.

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