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City won't pay $1 for Boydville

August 17, 2007|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - A group's pitch Thursday to launch a foundation to keep open to the public a circa-1812 estate spared in the Civil War by President Lincoln did not convince Martinsburg City Council to buy the property for $1.

The City Council unanimously voted against taking ownership of the 13-acre Boydville estate from the Berkeley County Farmland Protection Board. Council members Donald Anderson, Gregg Wachtel and Betty Gunnoe were absent from the council's regular meeting.

Mayor George Karos said the city's ownership of the property would not be a "win-win" opportunity and reiterated the town's successful partnership with the Farmland Protection Board to stop a housing development proposed on the leafy estate's grounds in December 2005.

"We've done what the citizens wanted," Karos said of the city's $750,000 contribution toward the Farmland Protection Board's $2.25 million purchase of the property and plan to place a conservation easement on it.

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"We can not afford at this time to buy it for $1...," Karos said.

Upon establishing a "Boydville Foundation" with dues-paying members, Laura Gassler and Elaine Mauck told city leaders the property at 601 S. Queen St. can be a revenue producer for the city.

Gassler outlined foundation start-up goals of attracting 200 people to be members of the "founders club," with each paying a $500 initiation fee. A long-term membership goal would range from 500 to 1,000.

Along with membership renewal fees, Gassler and Mauck envision that fees collected for catered private and public events, weddings, teas, art shows and festivals would erase the financial burden currently seen by city leaders.

"This would make Boydville self-supporting," said Gassler, who also mentioned former Boydville owner LaRue Frye's interest in helping launch the foundation.

Mauck cited her own knowledge of the property's maintenance needs through a relationship she had with property owners prior to Frye's purchase of it.

Bonnie Rockie, who has separately advocated for keeping the property in public hands, presented the council with a 450-signature petition Thursday.

"I could have easily got 200 more," said Rockie, who was supportive of Gassler and Mauck's concept. "The citizens are very passionate about this."

Though hopeful that the property could be a site for "big things ... all the time," Councilman Richard Yauger cited maintenance costs amounting to as much as $40,000 per year and indicated he didn't believe the city could afford it.

Councilman Roger Lewis reiterated his belief that the property be returned to private hands to someone "who will love it and cherish it for what it is."

After the meeting, Mauck and Gassler said they would follow Karos' suggestion that they pitch their idea to the Farmland Protection Board and the Berkeley County Commission.

Mauck said she isn't convinced the property is as safe from development as much as city leaders believe, noting court action could reverse a conservation easement. The legal protection from development is expected to be placed on the property when the Farmland Board sells or transfers the title, which might happen through an auction or RFP (Request for Proposal) process.

"One vote from a judge could put this back in the public domain," Mauck said.

When it was purchased with city and county real estate transfer tax money and the city's one-time contribution of $750,000, some questioned the legality of the Farmland Protection Board's purchase of the property. None of the property was being used for what many consider to be traditional agricultural purposes.

With the city's decision Thursday night, the Farmland Protection Board is expected to move forward with plans to sell the property for a minimum $1.5 million.

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

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