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Developer to build, despite council's 'no'

November 11, 2005|by CANDICE BOSELY

MARTINSBURG, W.VA.

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

The votes for arguably one of the most controversial projects in the city of Martinsburg were taken Thursday night based on the order in which City Council members were seated.

Councilman Don Anderson, sitting to the far left of the council's bench, voted first and said "No."

Councilman Gregg Wachtel asked if he could refrain from voting and was told by the mayor he could not. He then voted "No."

With five City Council members present, the next vote - that of City Councilwoman Shari Persad - was crucial.

Seemingly every breath in the room was held.

Persad paused and then quietly said, "No."

Two subsequent "Yes" votes by Council members Richard Yauger and Betty Gunnoe became moot, with Councilmen Max Parkinson and Roger Lewis absent.

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By a 3-2 vote, Martinsburg City Council rejected a plan to build 120 town houses and condominiums - which the developer had proposed to reduce to 98 units - on the 13-acre historical property on South Queen Street known as Boydville.

Still, Noah Mehrkam, a representative of The Rector Companies LLC - the Manassas, Va., company developing the property - said houses will be built on the property, despite the decision.

Instead of town houses and condominiums that require a special zoning classification - the classification that was rejected by the 3-2 vote - Mehrkam said other types of houses will be built.

Building single-family homes or duplexes on land zoned as Urban Residential A (RUA), the classification in existence for Boydville, is basically rubber-stamped provided the developer's plans comply with set requirements, City Engineer/Planner Mike Covell said.

"We're moving forward under RUA," Mehrkam said. "We'll do the best we can."

He said he could not speculate on how the development will look, saying all of The Rector Companies' energy had thus far been put into "the good plan."

Opposition speakers



Before council members voted, seven people spoke against The Village at Boydville plan, while six people spoke in favor of it. The council's meeting room was filled to capacity, with extra folding chairs set up to accommodate the crowd.

The Rector Companies had asked that a special zoning classification of Planned Residential (RP) be approved by City Council. Members of the city's Planning Commission had already approved the RP plan, which would have allowed the developer to build town houses and condominiums that exceeded height, density and other typical subdivision requirements.

Part of the RP proposal included preserving about 4 acres of green space along with the circa-1812 manor house and other historic buildings on the property.

Mehrkam told Council members before the vote that if the RP zoning was denied and the company was forced to move forward under RUA zoning, the manor house would still be preserved.

However, he said houses will be built much closer to it.

Robert Willgoos, a history professor at Shepherd University who lives on South Queen Street in front of Boydville, spoke against the development.

"Can we trust their goodwill?" he asked, referring to the development company.

Several "disturbing" terms were used during a presentation by the developer, Willgoos said, including that the project would be based on "market conditions" and that the developer had been "entertaining" or "proposing" certain ideas concerned with the development.

He likened the out-of-state company to carpetbaggers who moved south after the Civil War, stripped an area of its resources and then left with the money they made.

James Barbour, also of South Queen Street, agreed.

"This project is purely for greed," he said.

Barbour said The Rector Companies could not guarantee the town houses and condominiums would be sold to young professionals and empty-nesters as planned, and that no guarantee existed the development would not turn into subsidized housing or rental units.

An official with the National Trust for Historic Preservation also spoke against the project.

Local architect Matthew Grove, the last person allowed to speak against the development, ended his presentation by handing to the city recorder a thick stack of petitions containing the signatures of 754 people opposed to the development.

Some of those who spoke in favor of the development own downtown businesses, including Laura Gassler, who owns a party supply store.

She said the group of buyers targeted to buy homes in The Village at Boydville are of the right age and in the right socioeconomic category to aid in downtown revitalization and economic growth.

"We need these people," she said.

Mehrkam had said the homes likely would be priced in the mid- to upper-$200,000 range.

Willgoos said after the meeting that lawmakers and various other agencies have been contacted in hopes of finding a way to forever preserve the entire 13-acre property from development.

He said he intends to continue pursuing that plan.

"That is our primary goal," he said.

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