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Berkeley County preservation's new chief wants to bridge gap between developers and farmers

September 02, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- The Berkeley County Farmland Protection Board's next executive director said he would like bring the development and agricultural communities together to develop a vision for protecting the best farmland and also avoid a "hopscotch" pattern of open space and construction.

Gregory Carnill, 58, said establishing close cooperation between the two interests groups will be a challenge to tackle in moving the county's farmland conservation program forward.

Carnill is replacing Lavonne Paden, who is resigning to become director of the West Virginia Agricultural Land Protection Authority.

Paden made her resignation effective Sept. 30 to help with the transition of a new program manager.

A former regional director for the American Farmland Trust in California, Carnill will be paid $45,000 without benefits, Farmland Board chairman George Miller said.

"We needed someone that had a background in closing of easements," Miller said of the board's hiring decision.

"He seems to be a go-getter and is on top of things," Miller said.

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Carnill's arrival comes as seven conservation easements are nearing closure and the last of the Farmland Board's original members steps aside to comply with term limit rules.

Carnill's professional background includes stints with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington and acting as a farm adviser in California, a position he said could be compared to an extension agent in West Virginia.

"We're real fortunate to get this type of resume," said board member Clint Hogbin, who will step down at the end of September after serving two four-year terms.

While working with the Farmland Trust in the early 1990s, Carnill said the problems of development pressure on farmland in California's fertile central valley region do not appear much different from what the Eastern Panhandle has grappled with during the housing boom.

Founded in 1980, the American Farmland Trust (AFT) is a nonprofit membership organization that is dedicated to protecting strategic agricultural resources across the nation.

With the AFT, Carnill said he worked not only to protect valuable farmland from development, but supported better urbanization practices.

"It's not like we solved it or anything," Carnill said. "It's an ongoing battle to protect your better resources."

Though pressure to sell farmland for development has eased with the slump in the Eastern Panhandle housing market, real estate sales have dropped by roughly half and that has cut into tax revenue used for conservation easements, Carnill said.

Seven county-approved conservation easements are expected to be finalized within the next several months, increasing the amount of protected farmland to nearly 3,000 acres, Hogbin said.

Though proud of being part of program's beginnings and what has been accomplished, Hogbin said he wished that a resolution for the historic Boydville property in Martinsburg could be found before he leaves the board.

Once part of a 300-acre farm in the early 1800s, the 13-acre Boydville estate that remains along South Queen Street was purchased by Farmland Protection Board in a partnership with Martinsburg City Council for $2.25 million to stop a housing development eyed for the historic property's leafy grounds.

The estate is comprised of a circa-1812 manor house and law office, a barn, outbuildings and a stone fort believed to predate the American Revolution. The manor house was spared from being burned by direct order of President Lincoln during the Civil War.

"I don't like to leave unfinished business," Hogbin said.

Carnill said last week the creation of a foundation dedicated to Boydville's conservation may be a necessary next step to help map the property's future use and eventual transfer in ownership.

A conservation easement will be placed on the property when the transfer happens, said Carnill, who has set up his office at the property.

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