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Planners approve track's expansion

February 11, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

Despite concerns that the project could increase traffic, Jefferson County planners Tuesday night approved a site plan for a $25 million expansion of Charles Town Races & Slots.

The Jefferson County Planning Commission unanimously approved a site plan that calls for an expansion of the track's parking garage and construction of new office space.

A $54 million expansion at the track, completed last year, included construction of a 1,500-space parking garage.

It's not unusual, however, for the parking garage to be full on Saturdays, track President Jim Buchanan has said.

The expansion of the parking garage will result in 1,000 more spaces, track officials have said.

Planning Commission member Bill Lewandowski said he was concerned about how increasing parking capacity at the track might affect traffic congestion in the area.

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Traffic congestion already is a problem in some areas of Jefferson County, and the planning commission needs to keep its "eyes open" on the issue, Lewandowski said.

Planning Commission member Richard Childs said he did not believe the parking garage expansion would mean a correlating increase in traffic. The parking garage is designed to make parking more convenient for people who already travel to the track, Childs said.

When the parking garage is full, patrons are directed to 2,000 spaces in parking lots.

Under the expansion plan, the four-story parking garage will be extended 144 feet along Fifth Avenue, said Ken Shultz, vice president of design and construction for Penn National Gaming Inc., the company that owns the track.

"It's not going to be any higher than the one there now," Jefferson County engineer Mike Stevens told the planning commission.

The planning commission staff will review the plans for the expansion and, if satisfied that requirements relating to building codes and other issues are met, building permits will be issued, Shultz said.

The parking garage will be built first and should be open by July 1, Shultz said. Construction on the office space will follow and could be completed by early fall, Shultz said.

The offices that will be constructed mainly are related to horse racing and include a steward's office, racing secretary office, a Horsemens Benevolent and Protective Association office and human resources office, Buchanan said.

The current racing offices are in an old part of the track.

To make way for the new offices, a maintenance building and water tower will be torn down, Buchanan said.

Track officials will construct an area of about 25,000 square feet, possibly to house 600 more slot machines, although that is part of some longer-term planning, Buchanan said.

Apart from the current proposed expansion, Shultz said Penn National Gaming officials probably would go before the planning commission soon to discuss expanding the horse barn area.

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