City should get new appraisal to buy Haymaker Forest

BY JoNELL STROUGH

Once again, unwise development threatens the Haymaker Forest, whose 42 acres border three Morgantown wards and are a key component in a potential greenbelt around the city. Destroying the forest benefits few of us. Preserving it benefits all of us.

The city should reopen negotiations to buy the Haymaker Forest in its entirety so that this last large, unfragmented wooded area on Morgantown’s southern boundary can be preserved forever.

Destroying half the forest in order to build 81 townhomes, as  developers intend to do, will mean hundreds of additional cars daily on Dorsey Avenue, a road that’s unsuitable for increased traffic due to being:

Narrow — much of it carved out of a hillside and already showing signs of slippage.

Winding — there are many blind spots.

And  very dangerous for pedestrians —having no sidewalks and nowhere to add sidewalks.

All of these problems with Dorsey will be compounded by the influx of more cars. Moreover, adding more vehicles to an unsafe road will create even more hazardous conditions for children trying to get to school. Both Mountainview Elementary and South Middle School serve children in  neighborhoods next to Haymaker.

The property, which borders three city wards (the First, Second and Sixth) and is within  walking distance for hundreds of residents, is designated as “reserve” land on both the city’s and county’s comprehensive plans. It should remain undeveloped in order to serve as a natural area in the city park system; it is well suited to this role because of its closed canopy forest and vibrant water features. Indeed, it has functioned as a de-facto park for more than 50 years.

Furthermore, if added to Marilla and White parks, it could serve as the keystone to a Morgantown “southern greenbelt,” which would both provide an alternative route for commuters and be a major tourist draw. A greenbelt would decrease wear and tear on our overburdened and pothole-strewn roads and enhance interest in what is already our most popular attraction: Our trail system.

According to the Greater Morgantown Convention and Visitors Center, tourists ask about trails more than any other subject. Imagine being able to tell visitors  that they could ride a bike from the  waterfront and be in a  forest surrounded by the sounds of songbirds and a babbling brook.

The primary barrier to the city’s purchase of the Haymaker Forest was the price tag, specifically the gap between the appraised value ($2.6 million) and the asking price ($5.2 million).

However, the appraisal that the city obtained, under a tight deadline set by the landowners, did not account for the ecological benefits  each tree in  Haymaker  provides nor did it account for economic benefits to the city of an undeveloped, preserved forest.

For example, the appraisal did not take into account the removal of air pollutants; summer cooling; reduced building energy use; improved water quality; reduction of storm runoff; and buffering of urban noise. Likewise, the appraisal did not account for the physiological and psychological benefits people would receive from spending time in Haymaker, let alone its value  to wildlife  there.

Furthermore, the appraisal did not factor in how development of the property would affect property values or economic development. People want to live in places where there are parks and commuter trails. Morgantown’s population is growing, and it is essential to offer residents easy access to the outdoors instead of unplanned, costly urban sprawl. Finally, the tourist draw of adding trails to a beautiful forest was not factored into the appraisal price.

A new, independent appraisal, agreed to by  the city and landowners and with some of the above benefits included, should be conducted. With a complete appraisal in hand, the city and landowners should negotiate purchase of the forest.

If the city doesn’t move quickly, however, the forest, and all it gives us now and will give us in the future, will be lost forever. Future generations, hunkered down in an overcrowded, gray city, might not know what they’re missing. But we’ll know. And we will regret it.

JoNell Strough  is a WVU professor of psychology, is the chair of the Mon Valley Greenspace Coalition. This commentary should be considered another point of view and not necessarily the opinion or editorial policy of The Dominion Post.

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