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Posted November 21, 2012 | comments Leave a comment

Strides made to protect Island Farm

By Alex Bridges

A preservationist group plans by June to raise funds needed to protect the Island Farm site from development.

Town Council on Monday heard an update on efforts by the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation to put 174.585 acres near Cedar Creek into a protective easement. The acreage spans the site once planned as a housing development -- a project stymied when the economy turned sour several years ago.

SVBF Conservation Director John D. Hutchinson said Tuesday the group anticipates closing on the sale of the property once they raise the rest of the cash.

"During the last two years we have been looking for funding sources ... and we're just about there," Hutchinson said.

The director calls the site prime agricultural land that also contains historic value as an extension of the Cedar Creek Battlefield.

Island Farm earned its name because of the oxbow curve bounding the property that once carried Cedar Creek. The oxbow presently holds perennial streams, wetlands and riparian areas running approximately 3.5 miles around and through the property, according to Hutchinson. Island Farm fronts approximately 1,000 feet of Cedar Creek, across from the foundation's Thoburn's Redoubt.

"It's a very dramatically, beautiful site," Hutchinson said. "It has a bunch of historic value, too, but it's just an incredible property."

After Strasburg annexed the property about six years ago and approved the rezoning for a housing development, the market soured and owner Doug Boyd put the project on hold. As Hutchinson noted, Boyd continued to farm the property over the subsequent years. Then, two years ago, town officials asked the foundation to discuss with Boyd the possibility of putting the property into a protective easement which would limit development of the land.

Boyd agreed to delay development of the land while the foundation made efforts to secure funding to buy the property, according to Hutchinson.

The foundation reached an agreement with Boyd this past summer under which he would sell the SVBF an easement on the property, Hutchinson said. The deal limits development of the property to one home and associated structures such as a garage, plus 10,000 square feet of agricultural buildings. A small tractor shed currently exists on the property, according to Hutchinson.

As the director noted, the annexation and rezoning drew controversy at the time. However, since then the membership of the Strasburg Town Council changed.

"The new council did not think that it was an appropriate place for a subdivision and that's why they asked us to see what we could do about it," Hutchinson said.

The foundation's option on the property runs until Nov. 30, at which time the organization plans to enter into a contract to purchase the easement, according to a memo Hutchinson sent to town officials. The contract runs until Dec. 21, though the foundation can extend the agreement by three months with a $32,000 payment toward the purchase price. The foundation can extend the contract again in March with another payment if needed.

The foundation estimates closing on the easement in early June.

In a memo, Hutchinson advised that two appraisals of the Island Farm Project determined the market value of the easement is $2,058,000 -- less than the initial estimate of approximately $3 million.

The foundation can use $1.03 million of a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm and Ranchland Protection Program, according to Hutchinson. That leaves the foundation to find another $1,071,000 in non-federal funds to match the USDA grant, Hutchinson said.

The foundation received commitments on grants totaling $838,937 from the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation, the Virginia Civil War Sites Preservation Fund and the Virginia Aquatic Resources Trust Fund. The SVBF would need to raise $232,063, according to Hutchinson. The foundation plans to apply for more money from state agencies as well as explore other sources such, as the American Battlefield Protection Program, The Conservation Fund, and the Trust for Public Land.

The total property for the easement also includes 11 nearly finished lots in the adjacent Oxbow subdivision.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com


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