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Boydville might return to private owners

August 07, 2007|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A majority of Martinsburg City Council members do not want to take public ownership of a leafy historic estate they helped save from development in 2005, even if they don't recoup all of the $750,000 they spent to preserve Boydville.

Four members of the council's Budget and Finance Committee who met Monday in City Hall unanimously supported returning the 13-acre estate to private hands.

They were Greg Wachtel, Roger Lewis, Max Parkinson and Richard Yauger. Committee member Donald Anderson was absent.

The City Council is expected to act on the committee's recommendation Aug. 16.

"I see it as a great expense to the city," committee chair Yauger said of the proposition of taking ownership of the property.

Boydville, at 601 S. Queen St., is in the city's second ward, which Yauger represents on the council.

The acreage around the circa 1812 mansion on the property is expected to be protected from development through a pending conservation easement when the Berkeley County Farmland Protection Board is able to transfer ownership of the property.

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But that restriction does not prevent the home - once saved from fiery destruction by direct order of President Lincoln during the Civil War - from being torn down.

If the board is unable to sell the property for at least $1.5 million, "we'll be at square one," board chairman Clint Hogbin said after meeting with council members Monday.

"We'll be where we are now," Hogbin said.

If the property sells for $1.5 million, the city would recoup $500,000 of the $750,000 they allocated to effectively stop a town house development planned for the Boydville property in December 2005.

The remaining portion would be returned to the Farmland Protection Board's conservation program, Hogbin told city leaders.

In presenting the three land-transfer options developed by the board, Hogbin noted a "large public interest" in keeping Boydville and the grounds around it open to the public. But he also noted that two public-private partnership concepts that the Farmland Protection Board received for the property were, in his view, "dead ... not moving."

If sold to a private entity, Hogbin said the mansion and up to two acres around it could be exempted from the conservation easement that the board places on the property.

"I'd like to see it all preserved, everything," said Councilwoman Shari Persad, who joined the committee members and Mayor George Karos at the meeting.

Appearing before the committee with Hogbin, Farmland Protection Board Executive Director Lavonne Paden told city leaders that the expense of maintaining the grounds amounted to about $10,000 a year, but that didn't include insurance and a $10,000 or $11,000 tax bill recently levied by Berkeley County Assessor Preston B. Gooden.

"That's something we're all scratching our head at," Hogbin said of the bill for a publicly owned property. The Farmland Protection Board is appointed by the Berkeley County Commission, which was empowered by state lawmakers to create the conservation program and the governing committee.

The maintenance expenses have been "more or less" covered by revenue generated by events and tours of the mansion, including the West Virginia Wine & Arts festival, but Hogbin conceded the house, though structurally sound, was in need of repairs.

Though faced with the potential prospect of losing public access to the property, Karos said the city accomplished what it set out to do.

"Our goal has been completed, we preserved it," Karos said.

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