Sunday November 21, 2004

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.VA. – Untrue to its name, Faraway Farm is proving to be the source of a struggle close to many people’s hearts.

A plan to build more than 150 houses on land now used to grow hay – and that once was the site of a post-Antietam Civil War battle – has caused the formation of a group of about 60 members opposed to the subdivision.

Ideally, members of the group will be able to save the land from ever being developed. Pragmatically, they hope to keep any development on the land within reason.

Unlike soldiers in 1862 battling artillery, the new fighters have found themselves entrenched in tedious county rules and regulations.

"(The developer) can still make money and not be as blatant and destroy what remains of this community," said Edward E. Dunleavy, president of Citizens United to Save Faraway Farm. "It’s safe to say that our organization is not against development, but we want the rural zoning regulations enforced."

The Battle of Shepherdstown

Lodged in an exterior wall on the second floor of the property’s brick farmhouse is a black cannon ball. Although the original cannon ball was lost ("Stolen," amended Edward Moore, another person trying to save the farm), a replacement was added during later renovations, Dunleavy said.

According to records on the National Park Service’s Web site, the Battle of Shepherdstown took place on Sept. 19 and 20, 1862, on acreage to the west side of what is now Trough Road, including Faraway Farm, which is east of Shepherdstown.

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.

"Some Union artillery shells crashed into Shepherdstown itself, causing confusion and chaos among the townspeople and wounded rebels left there," according to National Park Service documents

As Union fire increased and the Confederate soldiers began to run low on ammunition, an order was given for southern troops to retreat once darkness fell.

Just before dark, an attacking Union group of around 500 soldiers waded across the river, forcing southern troops back and capturing a few cannons.

Believing that the entire reserve artillery had been captured, Lee and Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson ordered A.P. Hill’s and Jubal Early’s divisions to stop their withdrawal, turn and force the Union troops back across the river into Maryland.

The battle began in earnest.

"As the Confederates reacted to the assumed crisis, Union commanders were planning a follow-up to their raid. Three brigades from the 5th Corps crossed the Potomac at 7 a.m. and proceeded toward Shepherdstown and down the Charlestown Road," a National Park Service article states. Trough Road is the road referenced.

Advancing soldiers with A.P. Hill’s division clashed with the Northern troops, forcing many of them back toward the river.

Col. Charles M. Prevost, with an infantry regiment from Pennsylvania – the 118th, also known as the Corn Exchange Regiment – refused to withdraw, however, until he received orders from his direct superior.

"This was the (118th’s) first battle, the first opportunity many of them had to discover their issued Enfield rifles were defective and would not fire. Colonel Prevost was wounded trying to steady his men, other officers led a bayonet charge which was smashed, and the regiment broke apart," according to the National Park Service. "Some tried to escape by climbing down the bluffs under Confederate fire, and many died as they fell to the rocks below. Others picked their way past the old cement mill, ran across the slippery dam, or waded across at the ford. Of the 700 men in the 118th who crossed the river that morning, only 431 came back across."

Believing the Confederate army still "had plenty of fight left in it," Union Gen. George McClellan decided to delay any further effort to pursue the southerners.

In a letter written on Feb. 25, 1863, Hill wrote that "… a daring charge was made, and the enemy driven pell-mell into the river. Then commenced the most terrible slaughter that this war has yet witnessed. The broad surface of the Potomac was blue with the floating bodies of our foe. But few escaped to tell the tale."

The battle, which left more than 600 soldiers killed or wounded, marked the end of Lee’s first invasion of the North.

The administrative battleground

Dunleavy, 60, moved to Jefferson County 17 months ago after retiring from the investment banking field in Manhattan. Rather than trying to rely only on the fact that Faraway Farm once was the site of a battle, Dunleavy has dug deep into Jefferson County laws.

He’s paid for copies of county ordinances, sat in on county meetings and compiled a thick packet of information.

His group, Citizens United to Save Faraway Farm (CUSFF), has hired an attorney.

According to a sketch plan of the development provided by Dunleavy, the project’s developer is proposing to build 152 houses on 121 acres. The brick farmhouse would remain in place and on a 10-acre plot.

Such high density is not compatible with the area’s nature, Dunleavy said. He said he measured a one-mile radius from the property’s southeastern corner, which ends near the Potomac River.

In that one-mile radius are 181 existing lots – only six of which are less than two acres in size. The average lot size is 16 acres, Dunleavy said.

Dunleavy said his numbers do not include a small pocket of closely clustered homes that were grandfathered-in before the county established rural zoning regulations. Those houses are a third of a mile away from the development and comprise 0.9 percent of all of the acreage within the mile radius, Dunleavy said.

Developers who propose a housing development must go through the county’s Land Evaluation Site Assessment test. A development starts with a score of 100, after which county officials look at the property’s soil, distance to growth corridors, historic nature, water system, sewer system, effect on schools and proximity of emergency services.

Points are deducted for various factors. If a score of 55 or less is given, the developer can build. A score of more than 55 means the development cannot be brought before the county Planning Commission for consideration.

The proposed subdivision – to be named Faraway Farms – was assessed by the county and given a LESA score of 46.2.

Dunleavy, who performed his own assessment, believes the score should be 74.2.

Possible compromise

Members of CUSFF have filed an appeal of the county’s LESA score. The appeal also addresses administrative issues, including a failure to notify adjacent property owners of the development plans.

CUSFF members do not believe the development site is close to growth corridors and also believe adding more traffic to Trough Road would create problems.

Drivers who want to turn left onto Trough Road from Engle-Molers Road must do so blindly at the top of a hill, with no view of oncoming traffic.

The appeal tentatively is scheduled to be heard next month.

Jefferson County Planning Director Paul Raco did not return a phone call seeking comment and the developer, based in Maryland, could not be reached.

Dunleavy said the property sold in July for $1.5 million, which he categorized as "a steal." The sellers probably did not believe the land could be developed, given that it is classified as rural.

To recoup its purchase price, Dunleavy said the development company could build 12 houses on 36 acres on the southern end of the property – farthest from the river – and donate the rest to a preservation trust, which carries with it tax breaks.

That’s a compromise.

"If the organization had its druthers, we’d love to see the whole thing donated (to a trust) and have it preserved," he said.

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