Concerns arise over proposed W.Va. home community

February 12, 2000



- Dave McMillion

By DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - A week after a Tysons Corner, Va., firm announced plans to build a 3,300-home community in Jefferson County, a debate is developing over whether the county can handle the influx of growth the development would bring.

Jefferson County Board of Education member Peter Morgens is concerned about how the county will pay for the new schools needed to accommodate students from the Hunt Field development.


Before Greenvest L.C. announced the Hunt Field project last week, the board of education was already planning to build a second high school to accommodate growth in the county's school population, Morgens said.

If Hunt Field is approved, another high school and elementary school will have to be built, according to Morgens and school board member Pete Dougherty.

Morgens said the board of education has almost reached its bonding capacity for more school construction.

"Where is the money going to come from? I think it is unwise to proceed without any mechanism to pay for this," Morgens said.

"There's a lot of work that has to be done before a decision can be made. I think this will take a lot of time to develop," said Board of Education member Paul Manzuk.

While other county officials acknowledge Hunt Field could pose challenges, they say the proposed community has attractive features.

The fact that Hunt Field is a self-contained community is a plus, said Jefferson County Commissioners President James G. Knode. Besides the homes, it will contain a shopping center, business offices, a community center and other amenities. If the amount of growth associated with the proposed development were scattered throughout the county, it would be more difficult to provide the needed services, Knode said.

The 1,000-acre tract south of Charles Town that is being considered for the developed community is appropriate, Knode said. The land is zoned for residential and commercial growth, and because there have been other large developments proposed for the area, water and sewer are ready to go in.

"So I think there are a couple of ways to look at it," Knode said.

Greenvest L.C. has said it will donate 75 acres to the board of education for up to two schools, but Morgens said the firm needs to make a larger commitment. Morgens also thinks Greenvest should help pay for some of the school construction costs.

A group of county residents asked the commissioners last week to consider a moratorium on new subdivisions in the county, and Morgens said the board of education should take a position on the proposal. Morgens would like to see a building moratorium imposed to give the county time to consider impact fees as a way to raise money for schools.

Shepherdstown area resident Paul Burke asked the commissioners last Thursday to pass a moratorium that would halt subdivisons with more than three lots from being built. Burke wants the moratorium to remain in effect until tighter subdivision regulations are approved.

The request for the moratorium brought a range of responses.

Supporters of a moratorium said the county needs to rethink how it wants to grow, especially in light of farmland being lost to development. Economic development officials are worried how a moratorium would affect their efforts to subdivide new industrial sites.

At least one of the commissioners was open to the idea of a moratorium.

Commissioner James K. Ruland said he can feel "the sands moving underneath our feet," and that taking a step back makes sense.

Commissioner Al Hooper said it is difficult to determine what Hunt Field's impact on the community will be. He noted Hunt Field will be developed over 12 to 25 years, so its impact will be gradual.

Although the 8,800 people who are expected to live in the community will use about 800,000 gallons of water a day, the city of Charles Town has plenty of water to serve the development, said Hooper. Although Knode said Hunt Field would be built in a good location, the influx of people it would bring could pose problems to the county if it is built in 12 years.

The Jefferson County Planning Commission has been issuing about 300 building permits annually for new homes in the last several years. If that pace continues along with the development at Hunt Field, the county could be hard-pressed to offer the services expected by people moving to the county, Knode said.

"I think that would be a big deal and rather a challenge," Knode said.

Charles Town Council member Matt Ward said he believes Greenvest needs to be clear about what kind of businesses it will have in Hunt Field. City officials are considering conducting studies to determine if downtown Charles Town could support businesses such as movie theaters and bakeries, and Ward said he hopes Hunt Field would not have businesses that would compete with Charles Town merchants.

"We're building a big city out there if it happens," Ward said, referring to Hunt Field.

Morgens said he is sorry to see the county considering a project that is "so poorly defined."

Last Thursday, the Planning Commission agreed to grant Greenvest a variance to submit a less detailed set of drawings of the proposed development. Developers are normally required to submit a sketch plat that shows where building lots would be located in a subdivision.

Because of the size and complexity of the Hunt Field project, it would be tedious and meaningless to draw all the lots for the development, according to Charles Town surveyor R. Michael Shepp. Greenvest was allowed to submit a "bubble" plan, which will show where the various types of development will be located in the community and how they will be connected by main roads.

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