The EPA defines green space as "land that is partly or completely covered with grass, trees, shrubs, or other vegetation".
Why is Green Space Important?
Land use decisions and infrastructure investments have the power to greatly affect the quality and sustainability of our natural environment. The consequences of haphazard or undirected development can linger for generations and their effects can be profound. Morgantown sits in a region known for its natural beauty, and its residents are eager to protect those attributes for generations to come.
The 2013 Morgantown Comprehensive Plan lists protecting environmentally significant areas and natural resources as one of the primary objectives to protecting the environment. This was added to the plan because residents, for both environmental and recreational interests, voiced an interest in retaining or increasing the amount of green space in the city and protecting natural areas in the county.
Haymaker Forest and Proposed Land Preservation Program
On June 5, 2018, Morgantown City Council had the first reading of an ordinance to approve the purchase of the Haymaker Forest at a purchase price of $5.2 million. The ordinance passed first reading with a 6-1 vote. On June 19, 2018, Morgantown City Council voted, 5-1, to postpone a final decision on the acquisition of Haymaker Forest. This was done to allow council time to evaluate information related to the purchase, review public input and formulate a strategy for moving forward.
Haymaker Forest Appraisal
Following the June 5 meeting, the City received a completed appraisal report from an outside firm that was previously retained to conduct an appraisal of Haymaker Forest. The appraisal can be viewed here. With the appraisal now in hand, the City is exploring the best options for moving forward and will present these to council at its June 19 meeting; when the Haymaker Forest ordinance will be up for a second reading.
Where is Haymaker Forest?
Haymaker Forest sits within or adjacent to the 1st, 2nd and 6th Wards of Morgantown along the city's southern boundary. Most of the approximately 40-acre property sits outside of city limits. The forest is one of the last large, intact, unfragmented forest stands near a medium to high density residential development of mixed demographics and economic status. Haymaker Forest was identified in the 2013 Comprehensive Plan as a piece of property that should be considered for preservation.
What is so important about Haymaker Forest?
Haymaker Forest lies in the headwaters of Aaron's Creek, a sub-basin of Decker's Creek watershed. A report on Haymaker Forest from the West Virginia Land Trust states that "the forest plays an important role in protecting downstream property from stormwater runoff and flash-flooding". The report also details the dollar value of the pollution stormwater runoff filtration system and the carbon value removed from the air. The report found that the total value to the Morgantown community of an undeveloped, protected Haymaker Forest greatly outweighs the value of development. You can view the report here.
Development of Haymaker Forest could have negative impacts on traffic. The property sits near Dorsey Avenue, a major connector of Don Knotts Boulevard and Greenbag Road. As areas adjacent to the City are proposed for development, entrances to those areas are sometimes proposed through existing neighborhoods, which will result in increased traffic in quiet residential neighborhoods.
Haymaker Forest contains an essential connector between White Park, the South Hills and South Park neighborhoods, and Marilla Park. Preserving or adding pedestrian and bike trails through the area will promote alternative transportation.
Proposed Land Preservation Program
A future ordinance would be presented to City Council to create a proposed Land Preservation Program. The program would be established to acquire, preserve, and protect natural areas throughout the City and close to the City boundaries. The ordinance would also set up a Land Preservation Advisory Board to oversee the program. The board would be made up of residents with an expertise in land preservation and economic development. The LPAB would help guide council with stewardship and land management. Once established, the LPAB could seek purchases of additional properties adjacent to residential areas. Those acquisitions could be completed through donations, grants through state and federal government and funds from private foundations.
WVU College of Law Land Use and Sustainable Development Law Clinic - Land Reuse Agency Presentation to City Council (PDF)
Why Should We Consider This Purchase When the City Has So Many Other Needs?
City staff has compiled a five-year capital improvement plan addressing our aging infrastructure and equipment needs of the community, as well as City operations. The purchase of the property will not impact progress toward these goals.