Housing booms in Berkeley County

March 09, 2000|By DAVE McMILLION, Charles Town

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Local builder Joe LeMere is not even concentrating on Berkeley County's hot home construction market, and he has enough work to keep him busy.

As owner of Martinsburg Contracting, LeMere specializes in historic home restoration, remodeling and additions.

While new home construction continues at a rapid pace, many of those moving into Martinsburg have also come to love the area's older homes and are looking to LeMere for help in improving them.

"My phone never stops ringing. The growth is just phenomenal," said LeMere.

LeMere also runs a Web site,, on which he answers e-mail questions about the area.

LeMere said he is gets many inquiries from people who are thinking about moving in. Many of the inquiries come from people who are working for the U.S. Coast Guard and the Internal Revenue Service and are considering taking jobs with centers the two federal agencies operate in Berkeley County.


The rate of growth is reflected in the Berkeley County Planning Commission's annual report, which shows the number of new building lots created in the county last year was 861, more than double the 377 that were created in the previous year.

The new lots are in 48 subdivisions and cover 2,025 acres, according to the report, released in January.

Though Berkeley County's rate of growth may surprise some builders, County Planning Administrator Harry "Sonny" Carter is used to it. Carter said there have been times when he thought there would be a lull in construction. It used to slow down during the winter months, but seems to run at a constant rate now, he said.

Stacey Yates, manager of Cedar Creek Builders in Hedgesville, W.Va., said her company is "turning down work left and right."

Martinsburg builder Don Wean said Berkeley County is an attractive place to live now because home prices here are lower than they are in booming areas closer to Washington, D.C.

Prices of homes in Berkeley County are "less than in Hagerstown, a lot less than in Frederick (Md.) and a whole lot less than what you are paying in Leesburg (Va.)," said Wean, owner of Royal Builders Inc. on Boston Tea Street.

"Right now the Eastern Panhandle is the Frederick of 10 to 15 years ago," Wean said. "The only thing that would ever slow that up is if mortgage rates get completely out of hand. And even then, people still need someplace to live."

What concerns some residents is how the growth is controlled.

The Planning Commission uses subdivision regulations it drafted 25 years ago, and that can be a problem, Carter said.

In last year's Planning Commission report, the staff said the regulations are outdated. With a lack of comprehensive land-use controls in Berkeley County, the subdivison regulations are the only means to manage growth in the county, last year's report said.

Planning Commission officials say they have tried to rewrite the subdivision regulations but they have been hampered by a lack of staff.

"It's basically just not enough time to do it," Carter said Wednesday. Carter said it is important to update the regulations because many issues have changed in land planning since 1975.

"Green space was something that wasn't even thought of in 1975," Carter said.

Carter, however, said he is hopeful that county Engineer William Teach will start rewriting the regulations next month.

Even though she manages a building company, Yates agreed, saying she hears complaints that Berkeley County is starting to look like crowded areas of Northern Virginia.

"The growth rate is just going to steadily increase," she said. "Taking smart growth options ... would be good for our community."

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