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Berkeley County growing fast

July 19, 1998|By CLYDE FORD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Bill Robie's home-building company reflects the trend in building permits in Berkeley County over the past five years.

In 1993, Robie Homes built 25 new houses in the county. In 1994, the company built 30 homes; in 1995, 40 homes; in 1996, 43 homes; and in 1997, 60 homes. He expects the company will build 80 homes by the end of this year.

"People have discovered Berkeley County is a nice place to live," Robie said.

Homeowners aren't the only ones building in Berkeley County.

"The development is so many different areas. It's office buildings and new businesses and new industries," said developer Bruce M. Van Wyk, president of Van Wyk Enterprises.

A look at the building permits shows a solid amount of construction among all sectors, from single-family homes to office buildings.

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Over the past five years:

1993 - 1,771 permits were issued for a total of $69.5 million worth of projects, including 543 permits for residential homes, 339 mobile homes and 123 nonresidential commercial buildings.

1994 - 1,759 permits for $113.1 million worth of projects, including 523 permits for residential homes, 311 mobile homes, 196 nonresidential buildings, 15 office buildings and one industrial project.

1995 - 1,892 permits for $79.6 million worth of projects, including 496 residential homes, 387 mobile homes, 192 nonresidential buildings, 13 office buildings and one industrial project.

1996 - 1,781 permits for $91.4 million worth of projects, including 498 residential homes, 338 mobile homes, three motels, 27 office buildings, and 181 nonresidential buildings.

1997 - 2,000 permits for $211.3 million worth of projects, including 549 residential homes, 398 mobile homes, 27 office buildings, 190 nonresidential buildings and three industrial projects.

"The last five years have been the fastest growth I've seen," said Van Wyk, a developer for 24 years.

Among his projects in the past five years are the Foxcroft Building, a motel, the TLM aircraft factory, Lowe's, a Ruby Tuesday restaurant, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms office building, the Hampton Inn, a Huntington Bank branch office, the U.S. Coast Guard facility and about 200 homes at Spring Mills.

A lot of the land where the projects were built was once farmland and woods, and the growth has changed the face of the once-rural landscape.

Van Wyk said people can think about the lost farmland or consider it another way.

"On the land I've developed, there's 3,500 new jobs and $1 million in new taxes for the county and $300,000 in new taxes to the city and $15 million to the state, not counting the income taxes on the jobs created or the business profits," Van Wyk said.

Berkeley County Assessor Mearle Spickler said the county's assessed value has increased with the new growth.

"All the new construction is pushing it. Land values are going up, skyrocketing," Spickler said. "You see some farms being developed. A lot of big farmers are subdividing their property."

In 1993, the total assessed value of all residential property in Berkeley County was $576.1 million; in 1994, $777.5 million; in 1995, $812.9 million, in 1996, $862.1 million, and 1997, $899.1 million.

Commercial property in the county, known as class 3, and in incorporated Martinsburg and Hedgesville, known as commercial class 4, also have steadily increased, he said.

In 1993, the commercial property added up to $177.3 million in the county and $98.9 million in the two incorporated communities; in 1994, $233.1 million in the county and $129.3 million in the two cities; in 1995, $245.1 million in the county and $128.2 million in the two communities; in 1996, $252.4 million in the county and $130.6 million in the cities; in 1997, $258.5 million in the county and $137.5 million in the two cities.

"It's a phenomenal amount of growth," said Larry Barkdoll, president of the Eastern Panhandle Homebuilders Association. The group had about 40 members about five years ago and now has 110 members.

Robie and Barkdoll said they believe most of the home construction is being done by local builders.

"When the city builders come up here, they build homes at the same profit level as in the city and they price themselves out of the market," Robie said.

Van Wyk said he expects the growth in Berkeley County to continue. He attributes part of it to Interstate 81, "which provides the transportation for the jobs," and part of the reason to U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., who has helped locate many federal agencies in the Eastern Panhandle, from the U.S. Coast Guard site in Martinsburg to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Conservation Training Center in nearby Shepherdstown, W.Va.

Van Wyk said having a shopping mall open in 1991 also spurred a considerable amount of development around it, including restaurants and a new movie theater complex.

"It used to be we were the economic stepchildren of Hagerstown and Winchester (Va.), but now we have our own mall and we have our own economic identity," he said.

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