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Homeowners spark Martinsburg's renaissance

December 18, 1999|By DAVE McMILLION

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - LouAnne Claucherty's work to chart a new course of development for downtown Martinsburg began as an attempt to boost her bed and breakfast business.

Claucherty and her husband, Gordon, ran their bed and breakfast in stately Aspen Hall at 405 Boyd Ave., but they were concerned about the run-down condition of some of the homes their patrons would have to pass on their way to the inn.

So the Clauchertys began buying the homes and renovating them.

In 1995, the couple bought the house at 308 Boyd Ave., then purchased the house at 309 Boyd Ave.

The Clauchertys gutted the historic homes, revealing attractive features and architecture inside. They now lease the houses as single-family dwellings.

The idea of refurbishing Martinsburg piece-by-piece caught on.

The Clauchertys met Bob and Kitty DiPanfilo, who lived nearby on North Maple Avenue, and the couples agreed to continue the crusade.

They purchased a house at 218 W. Race St. that was about to be torn down, then they bought the property at 216 W. Race St.

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They put all their energy into renovating the house at 216 W. Race, refinishing hardwood floors in the home and stripping paint from a wooden fireplace mantel.

A clawfoot bathtub that was in a cramped bathroom upstairs was moved into a large room in the middle of the house.

Two pedestal sinks were added to the roomy new bathroom and it was finished with flowering wallpaper and wainscoting. The downstairs rooms were finished in an attractive two-tone green color with a wallpaper border across the ceilings.

City officials were so impressed with the finished product they invited the public into the house last Thursday to give people an idea of what can be done with historic properties downtown.

"I came in here before they started and I am amazed with what they have done," said Martinsburg City Council member Glenville Twigg.

Twigg and a number of other city building inspectors, county historical officials and architects used the occasion to brief the community on a variety of low-interest loans, tax credits and other funding programs that can be used to renovate historic commercial buildings and homes downtown.

The group said they believe Martinsburg is turning a corner in revitalization efforts, and now is a good time to invest in properties downtown.

The Clauchertys and the DiPanfilos received a $10,000 low-interest loan from the West Virginia Housing Authority to renovate the house at 216 W. Race, which is roughly 100 years old.

There are practically no closing costs for the loans and they have a 6 percent interest rate.

Homeowners can also get up to 30 percent back from what they invest in historic homes through a series of tax credits offered by the state Historic Preservation office, said LouAnne Claucherty.

The incentives may be attractive, but what can convince people to buy and invest in homes in an area like West Race Street, which was once notorious for its drug trafficking?

First, good deals, according to LouAnne Claugherty and Kitty DiPanfilo.

Houses in the area can be bought for as little as $10,000, they said. The homes they bought on West Race ranged from $8,000 to $27,000.

The second reason, they said, is great potential.

With the hope that the renovated B&O Roundhouse brings to town, Martinsburg could become a great place to live, said DiPanfilo.

Young professionals who do not know how long they will be living in town will be looking for attractive homes to lease downtown, especially ones that are only several blocks from the Caperton Train Station, where they can commute to work, she said.

City officials say they are also willing to do what they can to help spur investment in downtown.

Mike Covell, city planner and engineer for the city, said his staff will visit homes free of charge to help homeowners determine what they need to do to renovate a home. Covell said many people only view his office as the agency that enforces building codes, but they also want to help.

"We are a tool to be used by the community," Covell said.

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