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Legal advice sought on Boydville estate uses

September 26, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- The Berkeley County Farmland Protection Board voted Thursday to obtain a legal opinion to determine what uses are allowed at the 13-acre Boydville estate in Martinsburg since development is limited by a pending conservation easement.

The unanimous vote came after board member Susan Whalton proposed the property be donated for vocational education purposes, citing potential for courses such as organic gardening, tourism, hospitality and culinary arts to be taught at the South Queen Street property.

Boydville, which is known for being spared from being burned in the Civil War by direct order of Abraham Lincoln, was spared from being encroached upon by a proposed residential development in December 2005, when it was deeded to the farmland protection board.

The estate, which includes a circa-1812 manor house, a law office, barn, outbuildings and stone fort, was purchased from a Virginia-based developer for $2.25 million. The farmland protection board's purchase was supported by the Martinsburg City Council, which allocated $750,000.

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Since then, the board has struggled to find a buyer, who will be restricted from developing the property by the conservation easement.

That limitation would not legally restrict educational programs inside the historic home or other buildings, said Lavonne Paden, former executive director of the board.

Paden, who helped write the state's farmland protection legislation in 1999, said Friday she previously found the need for additional parking was the only significant limiting factor for allowing educational programs there.

"That would be an issue," Paden said.

Blue Ridge Community & Technical College had considered purchasing a blighted commercial parcel behind Boydville off South Raleigh and South streets known as the Kimco property to solve the parking concern, Paden said.

The college's Board of Governors' consideration of the property was all but snuffed out in 2007, when the Berkeley County Commission acted on an option to purchase the former shopping plaza, which was the former home of a Martin's Food Market and CVS Pharmacy, for $3.5 million.

Since then, at least two county commissioners have said they were interested in selling the property.

Concerns about maintenance and preservation of the Boydville estate also continue to grow.

On Thursday night, board members discussed efforts to repair the steps leading to a porch of the manor house in advance of an event scheduled for next month.

While acknowledging past failed efforts to sell the property, board President George Miller said he still would like to recoup some of money that was spent to purchase it, even under a donation arrangement.

"I would like to see us get a lot more than $1 a year," Miller said.

In a two-page proposal letter, Whalton suggested the Boydville property could be used as a showcase for green energy installation and intensive gardening, and remain an attractive venue for weddings, receptions and other events in a collaboration with education institutions.

"Boydville would offer ... students a unique opportunity to operate and learn within a venue in which they would be invested and which would be ultimately open to the public, affording students not only 'front of house' experience, but hands-on training in creating and maintaining an enterprise with which they would have custodial/proprietary relationship," Whalton said in her proposal.

"I can't think of anything better for kids," Whalton said Thursday to fellow board members.

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