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Boydville funds OK'd by Martinsburg Council

December 21, 2005|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Barbara Bratina and her husband have just a few presents underneath their Christmas tree this year, having decided instead to mostly spend what they normally do on gifts to try to save Boydville.

Their gift, though, pales in comparison to a $750,000 grant Martinsburg City Council members unanimously approved Tuesday to try to save the historic property from being developed.

By a 6-0 vote, Council members approved the grant during a special meeting Tuesday evening.

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

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It is under contract to be purchased by Manassas, Va.-based The Rector Companies.

State Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley/Jefferson, said he expects to meet today with The Rector Companies representatives to try to convince the company to sell the property to the Farmland Preservation Board.

Noah Mehrkam, with The Rector Companies, declined to comment Tuesday night.

Bratina, of Martinsburg, said she and her husband recently turned to one another and asked, "What do we normally spend on each other for Christmas?"

After determining the amount, she said they decided that instead of buying presents they would mail a check for that amount to the Farmland Preservation Board, which they did a week ago.

"The presents underneath the tree are going to be few in number, but the one we hope will eventually be given will be given to us and all of the community," Bratina said. "I hope it's too big to go under the tree. Like 13 acres."

Forms to make a donation can be obtained from Grove & Dall'Olio Architects on West King Street in Martinsburg or L.A. Roberts Jewelers, owned by Bratina's husband, on North Queen Street in Martinsburg.

Council members Don Anderson, Betty Gunnoe, Shari Knadler Persad, Roger Lewis, Gregg Wachtel and Richard Yauger voted for the $750,000 grant. Councilman Max Parkinson, who is ill, was absent from the meeting.

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.

"It's just a wonderful victory," said James DiDonato, who lives on South Queen Street across from Boydville. "It's for everyone, whether they know it or not. Heritage and preservation are really part of an identity, especially in this area."

Once part of a 300-acre property, Boydville now consists of a circa-1812 manor house, a historic law office, a barn, outbuildings and a stone fort that DiDonato, a teacher, said predates the American Revolution.

During the Civil War, President Lincoln sent an urgent telegraph ordering Northern soldiers to spare Boydville from being burned.

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

A new history has evolved, beginning with plans proposed in October by The Rector Companies to build 120 town houses and condominiums on the property, drawing either outrage or support from community members.

After that plan was rejected by the city, the newer plan for duplexes was submitted earlier this month. Because it complies with the city's zoning ordinance - unlike the plan to build town houses and condominiums - it should be approved, city officials have said.

Councilman Donald Anderson has been a strong supporter of preserving Boydville in its present state.

"I think it's very important because how many open spaces do we have in this city?" he said after the meeting. "If you and I take a ride around town, there's not too many places that have land to it."

Mayor George Karos said the grant award was made in response to the numerous phone calls, e-mails and letters City Council members have received in support of preserving Boydville.

"That's what we're trying to do, to respond to what the constituents want," Karos said after the meeting. "It's such a historical site. There's not too many properties with that much history involved."

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