PARKERSBURG - Wood County commissioners discussed possible revisions to a proposed lease agreement with West Virginia University at Parkersburg relating to eight vacant Happy Valley lots.
The county has agreed to lease the lots to the local university for $1 a year as gardening plots for the agricultural school. The $1 fee covers all eight lots. The agreement would be for 10 years.
The vacant county-owned lots were obtained by the county as part of a federal flood mitigation program. Federal Emergency Management Agency regulations require since public funds were used to procure the land, the county is required to consider the "highest and best use" of the land.
Photo by Pamela Brust
Wood County Prosecutor Jason Wharton discussed changes to a proposed lease agreement between the county and West Virginia University at Parkersburg for eight Happy Valley lots.
Commissioners had been offering Happy Valley adjoining property owners first chance for neighboring lots for a fee equivalent to the new tax placed on the vacant land. Nothing can be built on the property under the FEMA guidelines.
Geni Astorg of the WVU at Parkersburg Foundation Inc. said earlier the school is beginning two programs and the land would be used in conjunction with the agriculture program. Crops grown could be used at the downtown culinary school once it is completed and offered at the Downtown Farmers Market.
Research and new farming techniques, including year round growing, would be part of the curriculum for the classes.
The lots covered through the proposed lease were unleased or no one is interested in leasing, according to county officials. The commissioners told Astorg future properties taken under the flood mitigation program could be turned over to the university as well.
Other properties with leases that expire in 2013 and 2015 also might be available.
The school was being asked to pay the $50 road association fee on lots within the area covered by a road maintenance association.
Prosecutor Jason Wharton was asked by commissioners to review the lease and proposed changes submitted on behalf of the university.
"One of the questions related to a 30-day notice for termination of the lease agreement," Wharton said Monday. A 90-day notification period was originally in the agreement.
"I don't see that as a big problem; they have to follow the FEMA guidelines; if they violate, terms of the agreement would be terminated immediately in that case; otherwise it would be 30 days," commission President Blair Couch said Monday.
Wharton said the road maintenance assessment could be based on property frontage or a prorated share based on acreage.
"We just want to make sure it's fair to the residents out there, that the university is paying the same amount," Couch said.
There is a provision in FEMA regulations that would allow the county to convey its interests in the property to the university with approval of the regional FEMA director. Such a move would relieve the county of any liability or responsibility relating to the lots. Transfer can only be done to another public entity.
"The university just wants to get the agreement taken care of so they can get started," Couch told Wharton. "We might want to take a look at transferring the property at some point."
"My gut feeling is we should keep going under this contract for now. We can keep our options open, then we could possibly consider transferring the property later if we decide to do that," Commissioner Wayne Dunn said.
Wharton said he would draw up the revisions and submit the new proposed agreement back to the county administrator by Monday afternoon for review and then it will be turned over to the university officials for review.