NEW MARKET—Town Council members have agreed to write a letter of support for the Shenandoah Valley Battlefield Foundation, allowing the foundation to apply for a grant to purchase land and place it in a conservation easement.

The foundation is attempting to purchase land off Interstate 81 by the Quality Inn and behind White Tree Manor.

Council members were split on whether the decision should be handled without looking at the easement agreement or hearing from anyone besides representatives from the foundation.

A vote to postpone the decision until January’s meeting failed after a 3-3 tie and a 4-2 vote in favor of the letter moved the council members toward throwing their support behind the foundation’s effort. Tim Palmer and Scott Wymer voted against writing the letter.

Palmer said he was concerned about the council making decisions without seeing the agreement first and locking themselves out of future development opportunities for the town.

“We don’t really know what the easement says,” Palmer said. “The easement doesn’t necessarily have to be a 100 percent conservation easement … we’re basically voting on something that we don’t know what it says.”

Jason Ham, the town attorney, said he hadn’t seen the agreement but was sure the agreement would constrain development.

The SVBF is attempting to purchase three parcels of land near Interstate 81 to incorporate into its historic walking trail.

Similar to the parsonage the foundation purchased earlier this year, the preservationists needed the town’s approval to save the property in order to obtain funding to purchase the parcels. Without the backing of the town, the foundation would have had to find other ways to raise money for the land.

Daryl Watkins, a council member, asked Ham whether the letter the foundation was requesting was a simple gesture or whether it carried more weight for the future of the project.

Ham told council members the letter signified consent to preserve pieces of land, and while it would be a simple gesture on their part, it would mean funding for the land purchase would move forward.

Palmer said he was in favor of the walking trail, and liked the plan the Foundation had to build it and attract new businesses but he doesn’t want to concede development rights.

Peggy Harkness, a council member, said she understood Palmer’s position but disagreed with him in this instance.

“If you recall, a couple of years ago they wanted another piece of property and I was against it,” she said. “I think we have to be careful which we approve.”

Peter Hughes, a council member, said the Town Council had agreed to help the Battlefield Foundation establish its walking trail and greenway for the town. With that agreement in mind and a lack of other suitors for the land, council members should support the foundation, he added.

“I would love it if we were fending people off who wanted to create different kinds of businesses there,” Hughes said. “But if you go through those properties... it becomes pretty rugged country.”

“When we originally talked about this with the previous council, comments were made that this property isn’t really going to be useful for much development anyway,” he continued.

Hughes said he wants to help the Foundation get as far along in the project as quickly as possible so New Market can start attracting businesses to the town.

Palmer said he is doubtful about the foundation’s plans and communication with council members as well as property owners their trail will cross paths with.

Despite the foundation’s assurances that their plans were welcomed by New Market North and Shenandoah Commons, Palmer said he talked with district offices for both entities and they said they hadn’t heard anything about Shenandoah Valley Battlefield Foundation or their plans.

Todd Walters, New Market’s town manager, said council members had to take into account what the battlefield foundation’s goals were when they considered whether to write a letter of support for the purchase.

“The trail is one thing. And, personally, I think the trail is a good thing,” Walters said. “But the battlefield foundation is in the business of preserving battlefield land. You have to take that into consideration. The land they’re trying to purchase is battlefield land and one of their missions is to preserve that.”

Contact Max Thornberry at mthornberry@nvdaily.com