Board talks Keister Park fate

WOODSTOCK – Shenandoah County likely will hold on to an undeveloped park rather than sell the property as some leaders desire.

The Board of Supervisors took up the proposal Thursday to sell approximately 150 acres known as Keister Park near Strasburg that are within the Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park. District 5 Supervisor Marsha Shruntz broached the idea to the board with support by District 4 Supervisor Cindy Bailey.

The county bought the property with the intention of turning the land into a park. However, the Virginia Department of Transportation requires an access road into the site at a cost the county can’t afford. After hearing a report from County Administrator Mary T. Price as well as receiving information from transportation officials, supervisors began to debate the proposal.

Chairman Conrad Helsley asked supervisors if they wanted to move the proposal forward to a regular meeting. Vice Chairman Richard Walker, who recently visited the property, noted “it is not in our lifetime with our available funds going to become the viable park asset that it was intended to.”

“I can’t see Shenandoah County coming up with $4.5 million to develop what that master would have,” Walker said.

The vice chairman suggested the county could work with federal agencies to see if the national park would take the property in a way that the local government could recoup some of the costs incurred to develop the land. Walker stopped short of suggesting that the county sell the property.

Shruntz did not side with Walker, noting that she brought up the proposal to dispose of the property in some manner. Shruntz suggested that the county attorney define “recreational” as worded in the deed restricting the use of the property.

“I mean is that just Marsha Shruntz walking across your yard?” Shruntz said. “How many definitions does recreational cover? I don’t know the answer to that.”

Bailey said she agreed with Shruntz that the county should get out of the deed either through selling the property or by some other means.

Walker reiterated that he doesn’t think the land is a viable asset for the county because of the location and access challenges. Environmental regulations now prohibit the county from leasing the land to farmers, Walker said. The vice chairman added that he would like to continue the discussion with other stakeholders. But Walker said he didn’t think that an attorney could undo what already has been done.

Shruntz said she disagreed and thinks an attorney could at least look at the county’s options.

“I want to warn the taxpayers of Shenandoah County that as far as funding for this project they better watch out, watch your back because there’s three members on this current board that would think nothing of selling bonds to develop this property,” Shruntz said.

Helsley retorted, “Now I don’t know who those three members are but, unless you’ve got some evidence to say that, you shouldn’t be saying it in public.”

“Well, I did say it,” Shruntz said.

“You did say it in public and it’s incorrect,” Helsley said. “It’s not an accurate statement and I assume one of those is me and I resent the fact that you’re trying to put words in my mouth that aren’t there.”

Shruntz asked Helsley how he would propose the county develop the site.

“I’m not going to develop it,” Helsley said. “It’s been sitting there ever since I came on the board. I’m going to leave it exactly like it is.”

Helsley added that he felt Walker made some good points and agreed that county officials could continue to talk to the other stakeholders about the future of the property.

“Why do you want to change it?” Helsley asked Shruntz.

“Because I’m predicting, looking ahead into the future for the next generation of taxpayers even, to develop this property you’re going to have to sell bonds,” Shruntz said.

The future of the property likely lies in the hands of other boards, Helsley said.

Shruntz asked Helsley if he would support putting the question of selling bonds as a referendum on a ballot. Helsley said the county should leave the property as it is and continue discussions about the land’s future. Helsley asked District 2 Supervisor Steven Baker if he would want to dispose of the property.

“Certainly not,” Baker said.

Shruntz asked District 1 Supervisor John R. “Dick” Neese if he would support a referendum.

“No, and along that line I am sick and tired of having things brought up from previous boards, trying to reverse them,” Neese said. “Evidently, the previous boards were dumber … on some issues. I’m tired of wasting staff time, my time, all these people’s time. It’s gotta stop.”

Walker said he doesn’t consider the discussion a waste of time but rather positive and informative. Helsley said the board would leave the property as it is and continue discussions with the national park representatives and transportation officials.

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

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