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Island Farm deal on hold

By Alex Bridges

An effort to protect Civil War battlefield land in Strasburg remains in the hands of a Virginia department and the landowner.

The Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation had hoped to close on a deal this past June that would put 174.5 acres near Cedar Creek into a protective easement. But as a foundation representative explained Wednesday, the landowner and the Virginia Department of Historic Resources must come to an agreement on the terms of the easement that would protect the land from development.

Foundation Executive Director W. Denman Zirkle acknowledged the importance of the parties reaching an accord.

"If the agreement between the DHR and the landowner doesn't come through there is no deal because there has to be an agreement on that easement language," Zirkle said Wednesday.

The easement has to do with the Civil War battlefield as well as ground disturbance.

Property owner Doug Boyd sought the easement for the land that came as part of a larger site once planned as a housing development, which fell through due to the poor economy.

The effort attracted support from several agencies as well as Strasburg and Shenandoah County leaders.

Strasburg Town Manager Judson Rex updated council members on the project on Monday. Some members voiced disappointment that the effort could fall through if parties don't reach a deal. Strasburg council in late 2012 approved a motion to direct staff to evaluate the pros and cons of entering into a joint conservation easement with the foundation. The town would serve as co-holder of the easement, but would not spend local money on the project.

Zirkle explained that at the outset of the project four entities came together with the organization to support the effort. Shenandoah County, Strasburg, First Bank and the property owne. Doug Boyd, put up money or other means of support for the project, Zirkle said. This enabled the foundation to move forward and begin the process of seeking to purchase the property or put the land into a protective easement.

Boyd preferred the foundation put the property into an easement rather than purchase the land, Zirkle said.

The foundation paid to have the property surveyed and appraised. The landowner tentatively accepted the deal proposed by the foundation, Zirkle recalled.

"So what we have now is a deal that is in place," Zirkle said. "We have all the funding secured and the funding is significant -- it's over $2 million. It comes from a variety of interests because the property has such unusual value over and above just a Civil War battlefield."

The foundation obtained financial support from the Virginia Aquatic Resources Fund, the Virginia Land Conservation Fund and the Farm and Ranchland Protection Program. Zirkle noted that many agencies expressed interest in the effort to protect the property from possible development.

The foundation has since turned the process over to the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, the agency that would serve as a co-holder of the easement. However, Zirkle explained that in order for the easement to be signed or the purchase to occur, the landowner and the Department of Historic Resources must agree to the language of the easement.

Easements dictate the restrictions for development, if any, on a piece of property.

"Basically, we're kind of on the sidelines now cheering on the landowner and the Department of Historic Resources since we have the money to make the transaction," Zirkle said.

Island Farm earned its name because of the oxbow curve bounding the property that once carried Cedar Creek. Island Farm fronts approximately 1,000 feet of Cedar Creek, across from the foundation's Thoburn's Redoubt.

The foundation reached an agreement with Boyd in the summer 2012 under which he would sell the SVBF an easement on the property. 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.

The foundation received grants totaling $838,937 from the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation, the Virginia Civil War Sites Preservation Fund and the Virginia Aquatic Resources Trust Fund.

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

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