Morgantown Land Reuse and Preservation Agency under consideration by council

MORGANTOWN — A seven-member board tasked with the identification, acquisition, management and disposition of land desirable for development and preservation is under consideration by Morgantown City Council.
Council is expected to vote on adoption of the enabling legislation for the Morgantown Land Reuse and Preservation Agency during its Aug. 7 regular meeting.
City Manager Paul Brake explained that the agency, made possible by the West Virginia Land Reuse Agency Authorization Act, would be the first of its kind in West Virginia and operate with two main objectives — economic development and the protection of desirable properties.
“Looking at open spaces, connectors from one park to another, acquiring lands that could be adjacent to create that connectivity to nature and properties that have features that are worth preserving,” Brake said.
As for development, Brake said the work of Sunnyside Up in acquiring property to be repurposed for investment is an apt comparison
Much like the city’s Board of Parks and Recreation Commissioners, the board would have the autonomy to make purchases or acquire property through gifts or other means.
Council will appoint the members to three-year terms but would not have a final say over acquisitions.
“The agency, by the state law that establishes it, has the general corporate powers of a public corporation, which includes the power to contract and the power to acquire land by means of gift or purchase,” City Attorney Ryan Simonton said. “It does not include the power of eminent domain.”
Simonton went on to say that the agency would not have access to the city’s accounts without an allocation of funds from council and could not acquire property outside the city.
Brake noted that discussions of potential dedicated revenue sources for the agency will be among the first issues discussed after its formation, but clarified that a large part of its work will be focused on the pursuit of grants, foundations and gifts.
He said other details, like how the agency would operate in relation to BOPARC, also need to be nailed down.
Councilor Ron Dulaney said that while green space has been the hot topic of late, he sees the potential for tremendous benefits through neighborhood preservation.
“I hear constantly about three condemned houses within a block of each other in my neighborhood. For me, this kind of program is very exciting because it would appear to provide a mechanism by which the city could ensure those types of properties are redeveloped,” Dulaney said.
Prior to unanimous passage on first reading, council made some alterations to the proposed ordinance. Changes that prioritize acquisitions for the purpose of affordable housing, ensure equal representation of members with development and preservation backgrounds and mandate a majority of members be city residents, passed unanimously.
An amendment that would limit council’s participation on the agency to no more than two seats failed.
Mayor Bill Kawecki said the agency will ultimately give the city more options in shaping its future.
“Think of this as a tool,” Kawecki said. “This gives us capabilities that we don’t currently have.”

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