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City committee OKs money for Boydville

December 20, 2005|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Applause came at the end of a meeting Monday involving members of the city's Budget and Finance Committee, which recommended granting up to $750,000 to help buy a historic property in town known as Boydville.

The money will be combined with $1.5 million the Berkeley County Farmland Preservation Board has dedicated to try to buy the historic 13-acre property on South Queen Street, which is slated to be developed into 54 duplexes and eight single-family homes.

The grant still must be approved by City Council members during a meeting set to begin at 5 p.m. today. Members of City Council make up the Budget and Finance Committee, with four of seven council members saying Monday that they support preventing Boydville from being developed.

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"I think it's a no-brainer," City Councilman Gregg Wachtel said.

Councilman Roger Lewis said that as a boy he played on the property, known then as "Faulkner's lawn."

"Boydville needs to be kept the way it is," Lewis said.

Donald Anderson also spoke strongly in favor of the grant, saying the city only has one chance to try to save Boydville.

Although he votes only if a tie occurs, Mayor George Karos said he would back the proposal.

"I think the path for this council to do is the path to save it," Karos said of Boydville.

Budget and Finance Committee Chairman Richard Yauger said he had mixed feelings about the idea, given his opinion that a prior proposal to build 120 town houses and condominiums on the property - while preserving a few acres of green space and all historic buildings on the land, including the 1812 manor house - was a good plan.

However, he said, it's a win-win situation if the property can be preserved in its current state, adding that his mixed emotions lean toward preserving the property rather than developing it.

If approved today by City Council members, the funding would come from the city's Mortgage Revenue Fund, which contains around $900,000.

That fund was created in 1979 when the city sponsored mortgage revenue bonds for homeowners, allowing them to receive reduced interest rates, city Finance Director Mark Spickler said.

Since then, as mortgages have been refinanced, the savings have been set aside in that account.

As Yauger stressed, "quote, taxpayer money" would not be used to help buy Boydville.

State Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, said the offer to buy Boydville will be forwarded Wednesday to The Rector Companies, a Virginia-based company that has a contract to buy the property and wants to develop it.

Unger said the offer will be well below what The Rector Companies could make by developing the property, but that he hopes company officials will write off the difference and claim associated tax credits.

To do so, the deal must be finished by the end of the year, Unger has said.

If the property is sold to the Farmland Preservation Board, it would retain ownership. City Council members added that should the Farmland Preservation Board ever sell the property - with an easement in place preventing any future development - the city should receive a prorated share of its funding back.

Exactly how Boydville would be used should the purchase prove successful is not known.

Ideas discussed include opening it to senior citizens and community groups, allowing those who do not own land to have garden space.

Unger said the property also could be the site of events like concerts, weddings, picnics and historical re-enactments.

Before the vote was taken on the grant request, Yauger allowed those in attendance a chance to speak.

He first asked to hear from anyone opposed to using city funding to try to save Boydville, but nobody commented.

Turning to those in favor of the request garnered four speakers, including Barbara Bratina of Martinsburg.

"It's one of the most important properties we have in this town," she said, adding that she and her husband will contribute a donation to the effort and are encouraging others to make pledges.

Boydville has been and continues to be part of the city's identity, she said.

"This is a true vision for the city of Martinsburg," she said.

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