by Dave McMillion, (Hagerstown) Herald-Mail
CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - A "historic jewel," a "golden opportunity" and "one of the best kinds of economic development" were some of the terms used to describe the site where the Battle of Shepherdstown was fought and the proposal to save it.
Speakers at a public hearing Wednesday night to gauge support for establishment of a national park to protect a Civil War battlefield near Shepherdstown, W.Va., gave overwhelming support for the idea and said it is a way to boost tourism and teach the world about West Virginia history.
"We got a chance to do this right. We just need to protect places like this," said Jefferson County resident Lew Pamplin, one of more than 15 people who spoke to the Jefferson County Commission during the public hearing at the Old Charles Town Library.
About 60 people attended the hearing.
Commission members began discussing the idea of establishing a park to save the battlefield off Trough Road east of Shepherdstown following a controversial proposal to build 100 homes in the area.
Far Away Farm LLC's proposal to build homes on 112 acres generated opposition from several residents and preservation groups who say the site is part of the Battle of Shepherdstown.
The Battle of Shepherdstown took place Sept. 19 and 20, 1862, on acreage to the west side of what is now Trough Road, including Far Away Farm, according to the National Park Services Web site.
After the Battle of Antietam, Gen. Robert E. Lee began to pull his Army of Northern Virginia back across the Potomac River, crossing at Pack Horse Ford.
Union soldiers arrived on the Maryland side of the river the following morning and began to shoot at southern troops across the water.
More than 600 casualties were recorded.
After winding through a long county regulatory process, members of the Jefferson County Zoning Board of Appeals turned down a conditional use permit for the development, saying it was not compatible with the area where it was going to be built.
The developers are challenging that decision in Jefferson County Circuit Court.
Attorney Richard Gay claims the zoning board of appeals made errors including that the board refused to accept evidence by a traffic expert that the traffic impact from the subdivision - a key issue in the debate over the subdivision - would comply with the county's land-use laws.
The zoning board of appeals also disregarded a development review system which would determine the compatibility of the property for higher housing densities, Gay said in the paperwork.
Nathan Cochran, who is representing Gay's law firm, was critical of several points involving the attempt to save the site, arguing at the hearing there has been no determination of where the battlefield exists.
Cochran spoke of a landowner's right to develop but said there is an obvious attempt to "abrogate this."
The site has existed for years, but it was not until there was an attempt to develop it that an "anti-growth group" came forward to oppose it, Cochran said.
Tom Clemens, a professional historian, said it is "absolute nonsense" that the location of the battlefield is unclear.
Ed Dunleavy, president of the Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association LLC, the group which has been leading the charge to save the battlefield, pointed out that the owners realize its historic value.
Dunleavy showed the commissioners a real estate listing for the property where the owners describe it as being "not subdivideable as it has been declared as a battlefield." Dunleavy said the owners are asking $3.6 million and that his organization made an offer for the land.
The owners made no counter-offer, said Dunleavy, who declined to discuss specifics.
Speakers said establishing a park at the battlefield would be a way to boost tourism in the county and reap benefits like those enjoyed at Antietam National Battlefield and Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, which attract more than 200,000 people a year.
The commission was informed about two resolutions in favor of preserving the battlefield. One was from the Shepherdstown Historic Commission and the second was from the Shepherdstown Town Council.
"I know the sentiments are shared by neighbors and friends in Shepherdstown," said town council member Hank Willard.
County Commission President Rusty Morgan said the comments made for a "fascinating evening" and said the commission may today consider a resolution of its own in favor of saving the battlefield.