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Charles Town plan criticized

November 20, 2000

Charles Town plan criticized



By DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer, Charles Town


CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Charles Town's proposal to make the Charles Town and Ranson area a focal point for commercial growth in future years was criticized Monday night as a "thinly disguised attempt" to restrict the rights of county property owners.

"The free-market economy is what built this country," Lee Snyder said after a meeting the Charles Town Council held to describe its plan.

During the roughly one-hour meeting, there was give and take between the public and the council about what the town's priorities should be with regard to future growth and downtown revitalization efforts.

But Snyder was clearly upset by what council members, primarily council member Matt Ward, were proposing.

The council held the meeting to bring the public up to date on several initiatives on which it has been working, including a proposed "urban growth boundary" that would be established around Charles Town and Ranson and redeveloping old abandoned commercial buildings around a railroad corridor in town.

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Ward said it is important that commercial growth be focused in the Charles Town and Ranson area instead of using "one of our precious farms" in the outer lying areas of the county.

Snyder told Ward during the meeting that the farms are not his.

"Wisdom is expressed by the common, not by a few people," said Snyder, member of Jefferson County Citizens for Economic Preservation, a pro-business organization that fought against a proposed building moratorium in the county earlier this year.

Others in the audience praised the direction the city is taking.

In addition to exploring ways to focus business growth in Charles Town and Ranson, the city is getting ready to spend $600,0000 to install new sidewalks in limited sections of downtown, plant new trees, install interpretive signs around the historic Jefferson County Courthouse and install new street lights downtown.

The council held the public meeting at the courthouse Monday night to ask city residents what kind of sidewalks they would like to have and how they would prioritize the improvements list.

Bill Ford, who recently opened a new business in Charles Town that promotes motorcycle riding in West Virginia, said he recently moved from Florida, where there has been significant urban growth.

Ford said people are "crying out" for quaint, historic areas like Charles Town for a change of pace.

"There's a lot of things happening tourism-wise. I think that's the direction we need to be headed," said Ford, who rents motorcycles and sells jackets, gloves and other accessories for tourists who come to the area to ride.

As part of its revitalization project, the council wants to bury overhead power and phone lines to make the town more attractive.

Some questioned why the city is hiding lines on George Street beside the courthouse and not on Washington Street, the main route through downtown.

Mayor Randy Hilton said the city is focusing on the lines on George Street because those are the ones that are the largest and most visible.

"We'd like to do the whole downtown. We don't have the money," Hilton said.

Some local business owners said they are concerned that not more businesses are locating downtown. They suggested that perhaps the city should focus on bringing more business to town rather than revitalizing it.

Nina Vogel said she is concerned about the pattern of business offices rather than retail business locating in downtown storefronts.

There was a discussion about restricting business offices from locating on first-floors of buildings downtown, but Ward said he was concerned about barring businesses from certain areas of town.

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