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Some residents opposing park land donation

By Alex Bridges

WOODSTOCK -- Doubts remain over whether Shenandoah County should take a gift of nearly 300 acres for public parks.

The Board of Supervisors at its meeting Tuesday continued the discussion about the offer from Zula Wagner's estate.

The Wagner property lies near Timberville and Broadway -- west of Mount Jackson and New Market -- close to the Shenandoah/Rockingham County line.

County Administrator Douglas Walker noted that the land gift comes with the requirement that the locality maintain the property for use as a park. The level of maintenance required to do so remains unclear.

"The issue rests with the board from a policy standpoint as to whether this is ... the right time and right place to receive this gift with the stipulations as they have been given, addressed within the will," Walker said.

Supervisors need to balance the benefit of the gift with the future cost to the county to maintain the property as a park area for the public, the administrator said. Walker added that he did not see the cost as having a major impact on the county's budget.

Opposition to the effort has grown. Supervisor John "Dick" Neese told board members some neighbors of the Wagner property don't want the county to turn the land into a park.

"Most of the neighbors ... are in favor of keeping it as a farm," Neese said. "They aren't looking for the excess traffic it could bring in."

During a public comment portion of the meeting several residents spoke on the issue, most in favor of using the land for a park. Tim French told the board the county should let the property remain a farm and use the money on other needs.

"We could make it work if we needed to, but in these times we need to keep our money to the straight-and-narrow and this is probably not where it needs to be," French said.

Wagner family friend Eddie Dean told the board that a developer likely could afford to buy the property before a farming operation would. But taking the land and turning it into a park would keep a developer off the site.

While park maintenance may not cost much, Neese added, the county would still need to provide security for the park.

"I think it's admirable of them to want to do that, but I would rather see the money spent on existing parks," Neese added, noting that several towns and the county operate such facilities. "I think our money would be more well-spent trying to have more activities at those parks than to try to find a new park."

Supervisor Sharon Baroncelli expressed a desire to vote on the land gift.

"Why are we holding off?" Baroncelli asked. "Are there still unanswered questions that we need to research?"

Vice Chairman Dennis Morris told the board he wanted all supervisors present before they take a vote on the gift. Chairman Conrad Helsley did not attend the Tuesday night meeting.

The county has until early April to make a decision and take action, Morris said.

The Parks and Recreation Commission recommended the county accept the land.

Such a park could help the county meet certain recreational needs not currently met, according to Baroncelli, who echoed the comments of the advisory board and residents.

"I would hate to set a precedent ... that when a gift is given -- and one as substantial as this with over 300 acres -- to not accept this gift with a minimal cost of overhead to the county," Baroncelli said. "If it's not accepted ... as stipulated in the will the citizens do face the possibility of this land being developed."

Neese discounted the threat of development.

"I think with the current zoning it would take a long time to develop," Neese said.

The board put the matter on its Feb. 12 meeting for a possible vote.

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


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