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Developer Lowe heartened by support for center

December 19, 1998|By DAVE McMILLION

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - The scrutiny was turned up on Ken Lowe's latest project last week, but it was met by a cross-section of Shepherdstown-area residents who say the developer has turned a new tide for the town.

One even called the Eastern Management Development Center off W.Va. 480 a "gift from God."

The Rev. Ernest Lyles, a civil rights activist, said Lowe and his staff at the federal government training center have actively recruited minority employees, a way of business that has not always been evident in the area.

"I think we should be proud of employers that step forward and make this move," said Jim Tolbert, a Charles Town, W.Va., resident and president of the state chapter of the NAACP.

Others who defended Lowe's project during a zoning appeals meeting in Charles Town last week praised Lowe for reaching out to families in the community to give them temporary lodging, and for offering exercise facilities for heart disease patients.

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Denny Alexander, coach of the men's basketball team at Shepherd College, said the center, which also operates as a Clarion hotel, has been a perfect place for visiting teams to stay when they play in town.

Lowe said the support was "just overwhelming."

The comments came as a result of an appeal from a group of area residents who have not been happy about what they have seen at the center, which was built to train mid- and upper-level managers in the federal government.

That group said a Clarion hotel was never described in the plans, and they worry that the hotel along W.Va. 480 would open up the area to commercial development. The area is currently zoned residential.

The group wanted Eastern Management Development Center to be limited to the uses that was set out in its application.

On Thursday, the Jefferson County Zoning Board of Appeals rejected the appeal, saying officials realized how the center would be developed.

'Misunderstanding'




Zoning board member Mike Meyers said a tape recording of a July 31 hearing about the development center mentions a hotel. Meyers said concern over the project resulted from a "misunderstanding or they didn't listen."

Lowe rejects the notion that people in town were surprised that he had teamed up with Clarion to run the center.

"I think this whole thing was about anti-growth," said Lowe.

"That's kind of silly," responded Davitt McAteer, who spoke on behalf of the appellants last week.

McAteer said the appeal was filed because he wanted the county to review the process it had followed to grant Lowe permission to build the $20 million facility.

At last week's hearing, McAteer said he was concerned about projects being changed during the planning process "without any justification, without any notice."

"You have subverted the process," McAteer told the zoning board.

Other people at the meeting complained about bright lights from the center, noise from traffic entering the facility, and being able to see the center from other parts of town.

Easing concerns




After last week's hearing, Lowe said he sat down with some of his colleagues and talked about ways to ease the public's concerns.

Lowe said Callas Contractors is looking at a drainage grate at the entrance of the center to see if anything can be done to address complaints about noise when cars drive over it.

Lowe said he also spoke to Allegheny Power about installing shields on the tops of lights around the center so light would be directed away from nearby homes. Also in the works are more landscaping and plants to screen the center from the rest of the neighborhood, Lowe said.

Lowe said he invited people to discuss concerns about the center with him when it was being planned. But he said no one took him up on the offer.

"All you have to do is ask me, and I will try to resolve it," said Lowe.

Lowe built the center and leases it to the federal Office of Personnel Management. About 70 percent of the people who stay there are being trained through the federal government. But when it is not being used by the government, it is open to the public, said Lowe.

Lowe said he joined with Clarion because the hospitality chain can help him with training and provide him with better buying power to run the center.

The center has 168 sleeping rooms, a health spa, indoor track, sauna and massage areas, the Rumsey tavern, the Byrd dining room and the Rockefeller grand ballroom, which seats 300, said Lowe.

Some local groups said they like the center because it gives them room to have large functions or conferences.

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