Morgantown City Council considers acquisition of Haymaker Forest

MORGANTOWN — Morgantown City Council will consider a $5.2 million acquisition of about 40 acres known as Haymaker Forest, situated in or adjacent to the city’s 1st, 2nd and 6th Wards — largely between Courtney Avenue and Southpointe Circle on one side, Dorsey Avenue and Rosemary Drive on the other and East Oak Grove Cemetery to the south.

The issue appears on the agenda for Tuesday’s Morgantown City Council meeting, which was distributed Thursday afternoon along with a press release from Communications Director Andrew Stacy.

According to a memorandum from City Manager Paul Brake included in the packet, the acquisition, management and preservation of such properties could be handled through a land preservation program and advisory board, and  funded through a dedicated tax levy, should council choose to do so.

“In creating this ordinance, I would also recommend a taxation ballot question be presented to the voters (at the next regular election — April 2019),” Brake states in the memorandum, offering a prospective rate of 2 cents for every $100 of residential property and 4 cents on $100 of commercial property.

At those rates — about $24 annually on a $200,000 home — the city would generate $414,519.81 annually.

Additionally, Brake explains, the city will soon make the last annual bond payment of $263,268 on the Public Safety Building. Those funds could be redirected to paying off the purchase of Haymaker Forest, which, he notes, would require an annual payment north of $200,000.

The agenda item also includes a report from Rick Landenberger, of the West Virginia Land Trust, who explains the forest is a mix of 40- to 60-year old deciduous trees and worth the asking price based on location and ecological benefits.

Deputy Mayor Mark Brazaitis has advocated for the purchase of the property as part of creating a city “green belt” meeting the transportation, recreational and ecological desires of the city.

Brazaitis, who’s Courtney Avenue property borders the forest, is quoted in the city’s release.

“Green spaces are essential to the physical, mental and economic health of our community,” he said.

“They offer vital natural protection against extreme weather events, including floods and heat waves, thereby saving enormous amounts of money. They are places where we can find peaceful refuge from our hectic lives. They are also guarantors of economic stability, drawing dynamic businesses and talented individuals to our community and enhancing property values. It’s vital that we preserve and extend our green spaces.”

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