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Public input sought on uses for Boydville

February 02, 2006|by ROBERT SNYDER

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Residents wanting to chime in on possible uses for Martinsburg's historic Boydville property will be able to present their ideas later this month during a powwow planned by Berkeley County's Farmland Protection Board, which bought the property late last year.

Farmland board Executive Director Lavonne Paden said groups and individuals wanting to propose possible uses for the property are invited to attend an open brainstorming session Feb. 18 in the Berkeley County Commission chambers in Martinsburg.

The uses will be determined based on which of two choices is ultimately decided for it, Paden said.

"It really comes down to two separate paths. One, the property is resold into private hands, in which case it is closed to the public ... or it could also be (used) for a public purpose," Paden said.

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The county's farmland protection board purchased the historic 13-acre Boydville property for $2.25 million in December to prevent the site from being developed after the Rector Companies, a Manassas, Va., development company, proposed building a residential subdivision there.

One idea being considered is to make the property a place to hold events, Martinsburg-Berkeley County Convention and Visitors Bureau President Bill Lucht said.

"I would like to see it open to the public for events like weddings and receptions ... to make it a place where people can do things there," Lucht said.

CVB will discuss proposals for the property at the group's next meeting, Feb. 8, Lucht said.

One event that won't be finding a future venue at Boydville is the annual West Virginia Wine and Arts Festival, which has been held at the property for almost 10 years. The annual Memorial Day weekend event, which was initiated by the CVB, has been sponsored by the Arts Centre at Boydville for about eight years, Arts Centre Executive Director Donnie Pomeroy said.

Pomeroy said her organization was unable to meet the cost asked by the FPB to stage the event there.

The farmland board voted to set a price of $2,500 to lease the property for events, which was equal to the deposit and balance price charged for the 2005 event by the property's former owner, LaRue Frye, Paden said. She said the board arrived at its figure to help offset anticipated costs to prepare the property for events.

"I think the thinking was that there was a bit of work to get it in shape to hold it there," Paden said.

The farmland board voted at a recent meeting not to allocate transfer tax funding on maintenance and improvements for the property, Paden said.

"The property has to be self-sustaining," she said.

The property's purchase, which was aided by an infusion of funds from the city of Martinsburg, was not without its critics, both by those who did not want to see public funds used, and by others who questioned the right of the farmland board to own property.

Paden said the board can purchase property according to the language of the West Virginia Voluntary Farmland Protection Act, which was approved by the state Legislature in 2000.

Under a section labeled, Acquisition of land and disposition, the act reads that the farmland protection board can acquire property which qualifies for agricultural protection under the terms of the program and may lease the property for farmland or sell it as a farm.

Berkeley County was the first county in West Virginia to create a farmland protection board, establishing it that year.

County Commission attorney Norwood Bentley said he believes the farmland board is prevented by state statute from holding property.

"There's nothing in the statute that permits them to rent it out as an office or for parties or anything like that," Bentley said.

Bentley said the board should either sell the property or lease it as a farm.

"It makes sense to sell it," he said. "I think they ought to find somebody who's going to give them their money back, who will live there and take care of the place and not mind not being able to develop it.

A new wrinkle to the ongoing episode of Boydville occurred last week when the County Commission asked the farmland board to insure the Boydville property itself, rather than through the commission's policy with the state Board of Risk Management, after commissioners learned the property had been included as an asset to the county.

Smith-Nadenbousch Insurance Co. representative Stewart Borger said the county will pay about $2,000 annually to insure the property.

Borger said he saw nothing inappropriate in adding the property to the county's list of assets.

"There was never any question in my mind that (the farmland protection board) fell under the umbrella of the county," Borger said.

Paden said the board will offer to insure the property itself, which could cost as much as $5,000 annually.

The commission budgeted $397,022 last year for its annual insurance premiums, said county Administrator Deborah Hammond. That figure, which Hammond said is less by about $50,000 than the commission paid for coverage, covers insurance for liability, real property, vehicles and bonds.

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