By Alex Bridges
NEW MARKET -- A proposal to turn a 300-acres land gift into a regional park could benefit New Market, say some members of Town Council.
But elected leaders on Tuesday stopped short of endorsing or opposing the idea and instead decided to further discuss the proposal at a future meeting.
Mayor Douglas Bradley asked for a show of hands of members who supported the proposal and indicated he wanted to send a letter with their position to the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors. Council members Timothy Palmer and Peggy Harkness raised their hands. Councilman Eddie Litten said he would sign a letter of support, given that the county faces a deadline to either accept the gift or lose it. But Litten added that he would abstain if they had more time to decide.
"I understand these issues but I also think that for the future we need to be thinking about regional park development and bringing people from Shenandoah and up on the Massanutten Mountain into our little town," Harkness said.
Palmer said that the council still needs more information.
Members decided to discuss the item at the next public works committee meeting.
The Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors is considering accepting a gift of nearly 300 acres of land from the estate of Zula Wagner. The county must use and maintain the property for parks and recreational purposes if leaders accept the donation. The county's Parks and Recreation Advisory Board has endorsed a proposal to turn the land into a regional park and, in the early stages, offer recreational activities such as stargazing, hiking and possibly horseback riding but likely would not feature ball fields.
Town Council heard from Larry Smith, a New Market representative on the county panel. Smith advised council the board delayed taking action on the Wagner tract until their meeting March 12.
"It will benefit the economic development of the New Market area because we know there are three things that cause people to move into an area: good safety, good schools and good recreation," Smith said. "It'll improve the quality of life in the southern end of the county."
Shenandoah County Supervisor Dick Neese, who represents the New Market area, reiterated his concerns about the park proposal. The state road to access the property remains too narrow for a dividing line; patrolling the site may prove difficult for law enforcement, the county still would need to spend money to upgrade and maintain the regional park as well as to cover liability insurance for the facilities, Neese said.
"It would serve the county better to improve the existing facilities," Neese said.
The timing isn't right, according to Neese. The supervisor said he has received more than 30 calls, e-mails and less from residents. All but five of those calls expressed opposition to the proposal.
Neese noted that towns such as New Market already maintain parks. He also noted that county owns property, known as the Keister tract, but has not yet made any improvements to the land. He added that the property lies much closer to Timberville and the Rockingham County line than to Mount Jackson and New Market.
"Just because it's free does not mean we have to accept it," Neese said.
Town Manager Evan Vass advised he distributed a memo to council from the parks board regarding the matter. Smith noted the memo gives some history about the property. The county would lose approximately $1,400 in revenue if the property is taken off the tax rolls, Smith said.
Parks and recreation officials anticipate minimal cost to the county, but Smith acknowledged some costs remain unknown until the county accepts the land, conducts a survey of the property and creates a master plan for the park. Parks officials still need to assess the building on the property.
"So some of the questions are hard to answer until the property's actually acquired," Smith said.
Supervisors were asked to submit their remaining questions to the parks board that can then try to provide answers at the March 12 meeting, Smith said. Supervisors have until early April to make a decision.
Also at the meeting Town Council:
• Approved amendments to the current budget of $45,000 to replace water filter modules at the treatment plant and $9,150 to cover the remaining cost of a new police vehicle. No one spoke at a public hearing held on the budget increases. The town would take money from the capital reserve fund to cover the $45,000 expense, Vass said. A police cruiser sustained damage in a crash in early August, according to Vass.
• Approved changes in the town code pertaining to seasonal leaf and grass collection.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org