Haymaker Forest acquisition postponed following marathon public hearing

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — City Council voted 5-1 Tuesday night to postpone a purchase agreement for a 40 acre tract of forest land lying primarily outside of the city’s corporate limits.

Deputy Mayor Mark Brazaitis, whose property sits adjacent to Haymaker Forest, was the lone dissenting vote. Councilwoman Jenny Selin was absent.

The decision came mere hours after a Monongalia County Circuit Court Judge chose not to grant a temporary injunction to halt the city’s planned Tuesday night vote on the purchase agreement.

The purchase agreement passed by a 6-1 vote on first reading June 5. That agreement with ALP Inc., was agreed to at $5.2 million for the land, approximately just under 42 acres total.

Haymaker Forest, about 40 acres of land that sits adjacent to three Morgantown city wards, is considered by several council members to be “the best kept secret in Morgantown.”

In total, 47 residents spoke during the 3 hour and 45 minute public hearing. Adam Rosefsky, who lives on White Avenue, had been preparing to circulate a petition to recall the ordinance if it passed.

“I think everybody’s in favor of green space,” he said. “What I’m opposed to this is the irresponsible way in which the Council has gone about trying to force this ordinance down our throat.”

“They’ve had 11 months with this Council in office. (Deputy Mayor) Mark Brazaitis hammered this in his campaign that he had to get this forest purchased. They didn’t do anything for 11 months until suddenly it becomes an emergency.”

Before an appraisal was released Monday afternoon, the land had been valued by the County Assessor at $1.2 million. The appraisal released Monday afternoon valued the land at $2.5 million. The city’s offer was $5.2 million before Tuesday night’s postponement.

A number of funding mechanisms, including a levy next April, were tossed around as ideas by the City Manager and Council members during interviews on WAJR’s Morgantown AM.

“Put a levy out there for $10 million dollars to buy all of the green space in Morgantown,” Rosefsky said. “I’ll approve it. I’ll vote for that, because it’s important to have green space. But I’m not going to overpay. I don’t want to be forced into a bad contract with no short-term time frame and no money. Let’s do it right.”

Jonell Strough, a First Ward resident, spoke in favor of the purchase.

“If we build a system that connects the city through a trail system, it’s going to help give people an alternative (to driving),” she said.

That, however, wasn’t her only argument.

“I think that this expenditure is something that will continue to pay benefits to the citizens of Morgantown,” Strough said.

The original purchase agreement was negotiated as a result of concern about the land being developed, according to Councilwoman Jenny Selin. City Manager Paul Brake confirmed that interpretation of events Tuesday night, suggesting that a 140 town home development would be developed in that area.

“It’s just completely irresponsible,” Rosefsky said. “And no funding for it. They passed a budget a month ago, no mention of it in the budget.”

The lawsuit, filed by three Morgantown-based plaintiffs last week, was not dismissed in court earlier Tuesday. City Attorney Ryan Simonton made that motion Tuesday afternoon.

The postponement allows Council to revisit the ordinance at a later, unspecified date. Strough is hopeful Council will make good on that promise.

“I think future generations will look back and look at those trees in that park, those trees will outlast every single one of us alive today if they’re allowed to grow,” she said.

As for the price tag, Strough called it “an issue,” but said it shouldn’t torpedo the goal of acquiring green space.

“Value is subjective,” she said. “There are lots of things that it is hard to put a dollar value on.”

Morgantown City Council next meets June 26 for their informal “Committee of the Whole,” which is expected to include a presentation that ties into land preservation, according to City Manager Paul Brake.

Brake suggested the creation of a commission in Morgantown on land preservation is a worthy next step, regardless of this particular purchase.

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