Martinsburg panel to vote on Boydville aid

December 18, 2005|By CANDICE BOSELY


As a student at Martinsburg South Middle School years ago, John Unger and his classmates were given an assignment to draw three historical structures.

While others drew buildings such as the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, the U.S. Capitol and Mount Rushmore, Unger drew the Roundhouse, Adam Stephen House and Boydville, all in downtown Martinsburg.

Now a state senator, Unger is trying to prevent 54 duplexes and eight single-family homes from being built on the 13-acre property known as Boydville, on South Queen Street.

After discussing it with Unger, members of the Berkeley County Farmland Preservation Board voted unanimously on Dec. 6 to pledge up to $1.5 million to help buy the property before it is developed.


On Monday, the city's Budget and Finance Committee will decide whether to allocate any funding to the effort. The agenda for that meeting indicates committee members are considering granting up to $1 million.

The property is under contract to be purchased by The Rector Companies LLC of Manassas, Va.

A prior proposal to build 120 town houses and condominiums on the property was rejected by Martinsburg City Council members last month, prompting The Rector Companies to submit plans in early December to build the duplexes and single-family homes.

The latest plan complies with the city's zoning code and will be approved, provided it adheres to specified guidelines, city officials have said.

For the earlier plan, The Rector Companies had sought several exemptions to the normal zoning code, including to building height, setback and lot size requirements.

About three acres of green space would have been preserved under the first proposal, as well as all of the buildings, including a barn, on the property. The newer plan calls for tearing down all structures except for the circa-1812 manor house and historic law office, and does not preserve any green space except that needed for storm-water management.

The manor house on the property was built by Elisha Boyd, a lawyer, legislator and war general who was one of the wealthiest men to ever live in Martinsburg.

'Victory garden'

While the Farmland Preservation Board's final offer to buy the land likely will be well short of what The Rector Companies could make by developing the property, Unger said he hopes the company will write off the difference as a donation, enabling the company to earn tax credits.

Making such a donation could build good will with the community, said Unger, D-Berkeley.

Phone calls to The Rector Companies and LaRue Frye, who now owns Boydville, were not returned.

Jim Moore, chairman of the Farmland Preservation Board, said this is the first time the organization has attempted to buy land.

"We normally wouldn't buy," Moore said. "What we buy are the development rights, and then people keep the land and farm it."

Moore said he never has been on the property, which is private.

He said the history of Boydville would be lost should it be developed.

"It's for sale, and we feel we can put in one and a half million (dollars) if it can be purchased and saved," Moore said. "The only way to save it is to buy it."

Exactly how the property would be used - should the board's effort succeed - has not been determined.

Ideas discussed include opening it to senior citizens and community groups, allowing people who do not own land to have garden space - an idea Unger calls a "victory garden."

Unger said the board also has considered reselling it, with an easement in place to ensure no portion of the land is ever developed.

Although some have voiced reservations about using farmland preservation money to buy Boydville, Unger argued that it is an appropriate expenditure.

The board receives its money every time a house in the county is sold. Buyers pay $6.60 per $1,000 of value.

The fees are assessed for all homes sold, including those in Martinsburg, yet no acreage in Martinsburg has been preserved.

"Every once in a while, an opportunity comes by where you can reinvest these dollars back into a city," Unger said. "We see it as a reinvestment of monies that have been paid by city residents."

The purchase of Boydville would be done using the Farmland Preservation Board's provision for open space since the land is not a farm.

Where you've been. Where you're going.

While a lot of people have complained about plans to develop Boydville, members of the Farmland Preservation Board and the city have offered a solution. Private donations to help buy the property also are being accepted.

"There are a lot of people that are concerned, but they don't always act on it," said Unger, who complimented those working toward an answer.

"If not now, then when? And if it's not us, who?" Unger asked. "I'm very positive that we can make this happen."

Unger said he expects the city will help, provided the property remains open to the public. It could be the site of weddings, concerts, picnics, historical re-enactments and other events, Unger said.

A "Boydville Society" could be created to maintain the property, with officials from state and federal agencies assuring Unger that they will work to secure grants needed to perform about $100,000 in necessary repairs on the property.

Unger said the society could be comparable to one created in Pocahontas County, W.Va., to maintain the publicly owned home where author Pearl S. Buck was born.

Saving Boydville, Unger said, could be a way to set aside bitter arguments that surfaced over the controversial 120 town house and condominium plan.

"This will be an opportunity for the community to come together," Unger said.

Preserving Boydville might also be a way to ensure the community maintains its sense of history and identity, which Unger believes is slipping away because of continued growth.

"If you don't know where you come from, how do you know where you're going?" he said.

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