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Track to seek county's OK to expand upward

March 30, 2001|By DAVE McMILLION, Charles Town

Track to seek county's OK to expand upward



CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Before dirt can be turned for a planned $60 million expansion of Charles Town Races, track owners need to go before the Jefferson County Zoning Board of Appeals to get permission to construct buildings that are taller than county laws allow, according to track President Jim Buchanan.

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Owners of the Charles Town Races plan an expansion of the oval and gambling facility to include a new entertainment center, a 1,200-space parking garage and a hotel.

Buchanan said it is unclear from county regulations what the county's height restriction is, although it appears new structures cannot be taller than 35 feet.

The entertainment center and parking garage planned for the track will be about 55 feet tall and the hotel will be about 101 feet tall, Buchanan said Thursday.

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Track owners are to go before the Zoning Board of Appeals on April 19 to seek a variance from the county's height restriction for the entertainment center and the parking garage, Buchanan said.

Track officials probably will seek a height variance for the planned motel in May, Buchanan said.

Jefferson County Planning Director Paul Raco could not be reached for comment Thursday regarding the county's building height restriction.

Track owners have long talked about building a hotel on the track grounds.

Many of those who go to the track to play slot machines and see live horse racing would like to stay over for a night or two, but may find local motels are packed, Buchanan said.

Track owners believe a hotel on the grounds not only would entice people to stay longer at the track, but probably would prompt patrons to visit other parts of the county, Buchanan said.

"We think it will be a huge boon to the area," Buchanan said.

Although parts of the $60 million expansion are in the planning stages, the hotel would be about nine stories and would have about 250 rooms, Buchanan said. It would be built near the grandstand in the first turn of the track.

The entertainment facility would replace a large tent that currently houses 480 slot machines outside the entrance to the track. The entertainment center probably would house the 480 slot machines and perhaps another restaurant and lounge, Buchanan said. The parking garage would be built nearby on the parking lot that faces Fifth Avenue.

"We're changing the whole orientation of the entrance to the building," Buchanan said.

The parking garage is needed because existing parking space will be used for parts of the expansion, Buchanan said.

If track owners are successful in getting permission to build structures higher than the county's height limit, construction could begin this summer and could be completed in about a year, Buchanan said.

Charles Town Races is owned by Penn National Gaming Inc.

The track hotel is the second to be planned in the area of the track.

Two years ago, Terry and Ronnie Marcus received permission from the City of Charles Town to build a 62-foot-tall motel on the property where their Turf Motel is located.

The Marcuses had to get variance from a town zoning regulation that limits buildings to 50 feet tall.

Terry Marcus said his project has been delayed because of changes in design and financing, and groundbreaking could occur in the summer.

"The number of people coming to the casino warrants our construction and warrants their construction," said Marcus.

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