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Posted March 27, 2013 | comments Leave a comment

Shenandoah County accepts parkland gift

By Alex Bridges

WOODSTOCK - Shenandoah County can add 300 acres to its cache of parkland thanks to a gift from an area family.

The Board of Supervisors voted 4-2 at its meeting Tuesday to accept a donation of almost 300 acres of property in the southwestern part of the county. Zula Wagner, who died last spring, left the land to the county in her will on the condition that the local government invest and develop the property for parks and recreational uses.

The county's Parks and Recreational Advisory Committee unanimously endorsed the acceptance of the gift. But supervisors took time over several weeks to answer questions about the donation, the associated requirements, possible hurdles facing the county's use of the land and other issues with the gift.

The board had until April to decide on whether or not to accept the land. At their meeting Tuesday, supervisors gave their opinions about the family's offer.

Supervisors John "Dick" Neese and David E. Ferguson voted against accepting the gift. Reasons given by Neese included the land's distance from the nearest towns, inaccessibility to water, and the cost to the county to improve and maintain a park. Neese said the county should spend the money on existing parks rather than to turn the Wagner property into a park. The supervisor also noted that the property lies closer to Timberville

Ferguson said he worried about the restrictions that may tie the county's hands should they accept the property.

The remaining supervisors said the gift presents opportunities for the county to offer more recreational amenities. The choice to accept the gift, described as a once in a lifetime opportunity, would benefit the county through tourism and economic development.

Chairman Conrad A. Helsley advised the board that the county would get no second chance should supervisors turn down the gift. However, if, at any time in the future the board decides the county can't use the land for recreation, supervisors can return the property to Wagner's heirs.

Supporters said the county would not turn the Wagner property into a park with ballfields and other, more intensive uses. Rather, Morris said he envisioned the park as a place for bird watching, stargazing and possibly rustic camping.

An earlier motion made by Ferguson and supported by Neese to not accept the land gift failed by a vote of 4-2.

Also at the meeting, supervisors:

  • Approved a memorandum of agreement with the Toms Brook Volunteer Fire Department to provide funding to the agency for renovations to the sleeping quarters for firefighters.

  • The board also approved a request for $94,655 in county funds from the fire department for the renovation project. Neese voted against both items and said he feared the action would open the board up to more requests from other fire departments looking for money.

    Other supervisors explained that the county has a process in place by which volunteer departments may make requests. The board then takes each request on a case-by-case basis. Toms Brook is the first such department to take the county up on the offer.

    Representatives of the fire department and supervisors commented that the current living quarters do not meet certain safety requirements and the agency has a temporary permit to allow firefighters to stay in the station's office. The local firefighters' association endorsed the request, according to supervisors.

  • Held a public hearing on an amended schedule of fees for the building department. No one spoke during the hearing.

  • Approved an appropriation request from the School Board for $300,842 in federal funds.

  • Approved a request to set a public hearing for a proposed change to the county's ordinance on conservation easements. The amendment would make the Board of Supervisors a third-party enforcer of such easements.
  • Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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