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Charles Town leaders to discuss major plans Monday night

November 18, 2000

Charles Town leaders to discuss major plans Monday night



By DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer


CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Discussion of a major downtown revitalization effort leads a full agenda for Monday night's Charles Town City Council meeting.

The council will update citizens on five town initiatives under way, including revitalizing the downtown shopping area at an estimated cost of $600,000, making an old railroad corridor through town a new "commerce corridor," improving Evitts Run Park, implementing a new "smart growth" strategy for Charles Town and Ranson, and cleaning up dilapidated properties.

Charles Town Council member Matt Ward said it will be a challenge juggling all the issues during the meeting, which begins at 7:30 p.m. on the second floor of the Jefferson County Courthouse.

The main issues to be discussed are:

Washington Corridor Revitalization. Council members will announce they are ready to begin a downtown revitalization project that will include installing red brick sidewalks in designated areas, planting new trees, placing new seating around the Jefferson County Courthouse and putting up interpretive signs around the historic courthouse to inform tourists about local points of interest.

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The city also plans to bury overhead power lines near the courthouse and install new downtown street lights that better match the historical character of the town, Ward said.

Work will probably begin next year after winter weather breaks, he said.

The $600,000 was raised through a number of sources. It includes $350,000 that was awarded from Gov. Cecil Underwood last July.

City officials applied for another $160,000 from the U.S. Department of Transportation but were turned down, so the revitalization will not be as extensive as some officials had envisioned. Officials hoped the renovation project would involve much of the downtown area, but the focus has been narrowed to the intersection of George and Washington streets.

Council members want to use the historic four-corner area as a springboard for downtown revitalization efforts. Ward said the town will continue working toward its goal of raising $1.2 million for additional phases of a downtown renovation, although it is not vital to do so.

"Even if we never raise another penny, it will be a successful project," Ward said.

Railway Corridor Revitalization. Charles Town and Ranson city officials want to redevelop abandoned commercial properties along a CSX line in Charles Town and similar properties in Ranson to attract new business.

The two towns are considering sharing the $4,000 cost of having a Frederick firm put together a redevelopment proposal for the commercial areas. The firm, Brownfield Restoration Group, would also be responsible for applying for a $250,000 grant from the federal Environmental Protection Agency to fund the redevelopment effort.

The Charles Town Council has agreed to pay its $2,000 portion of the cost, but Ranson Council has not taken action.

Smart Growth. As the county prepares for expected additional growth, Ranson and Charles Town officials have ideas about how they should fit into the picture. Because Charles Town and Ranson are the main population centers in the county, retail and commercial growth should be focused in those areas rather than allowing "scatter development" across the county, Ward said.

Charles Town officials propose an "urban growth boundary" that would extend roughly to Leetown Road to the north of Charles Town, the Davenport farm to the west of town and Cave Road to the south.

Establishing the boundary to the east, where retail growth has quickly expanded, will be a tougher challenge, Ward said.

Ward and Mayor Randy Hilton support limiting how far development spreads to the east because they are concerned about how it will affect tourism around Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. Ward and Hilton fear that if development is allowed to spread near the park on U.S. 340 north, it could detract from the rural areas that surround the park and make it less attractive.

"We don't think that would enhance the area or enhance tourism," Hilton said.

Establishing a smart growth plan would require cooperation from the Jefferson County Commissioners because zoning might be needed to focus retail development in Charles Town and Ranson and control it near the park and other open areas in the county, Hilton said.

Jefferson County Commissioner James K. Ruland said he usually supports smart growth initiatives. Ruland declined to comment on Charles Town and Ranson's plan until he learns more about it.

Ruland said everybody has different ideas about what smart growth should be, adding that the definitions of it can be "very blurry."

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