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Reaction mixed on money for Shepherdstown battlefield land

October 31, 2007|By DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - About 30 people at a public hearing Tuesday night heard varying points of view on whether Jefferson County government should pitch in money to help preserve a Civil War battlefield near Shepherdstown, W.Va.

Some Jefferson County residents began discussing the idea of establishing a park to save the battlefield off Trough Road east of Shepherdstown following a controversial proposal to build 152 homes on 112 acres.

Far Away Farm LLC's proposal to build the homes generated opposition from residents and preservation groups who say the site was part of the Battle of Shepherdstown.

After winding through a long county regulatory process, members of the Jefferson County Zoning Board of Appeals turned down a conditional-use permit for the development, saying it was not compatible with the area where it was going to be built.

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The developers are appealing the decision through the state Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, members of a local organization trying to save the battlefield, the Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association Inc., have been raising money in an attempt to purchase the site.

The asking price for the property at one time was $3.6 million.

The Jefferson County Commission hosted Tuesday night's hearing at the Charles Town Library to gather public input on the commissioners possibly putting $100,000 toward the purchase of land to establish a park.

The battle fought in Shepherdstown on September 19 and 20, 1862, brought to an end the Army of Northern Virginia's Maryland Campaign and was a significant factor in Gen. Robert E. Lee's decision to retreat deeper into the Shenandoah Valley.

Despite its role in the war, there is "no protection, no interpretation, nothing whatsoever," said Thomas G. Clemens, professor of history and political science at Hagerstown Community College.

Clemens and others like Del. John Doyle, D-Jefferson, supported preserving the site and talked about the tourism benefits that could fall on the county by establishing it as a park.

Joe Coakley questioned spending taxpayer money on a battlefield and suggested the county instead concentrate on buying land for ball fields. Coakley also cautioned about spending money on a battlefield when questionable economic times lie ahead, like possible drops in slot-machine revenue.

Commissioner Dale Manuel proposed that the commission consider lowering the amount of money the commission would spend on the battlefield.

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