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Property behind depot attracts interest

April 14, 2005|by TRISH RUDDER

trishr@herald-mail.com

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.VA. - Another group is interested in purchasing the land behind the old train depot on Williams and North Washington streets.

John Webster, director of the Morgan County Chapter of Sustainable West Virginia, and John Williams, CEO of Natural Lifeways Inc., said they are working to get a group of citizens together to make an offer on the property. Webster, Williams and others are opposed to a development proposal for senior citizens housing there by Pennsylvania developer Judd Roth.

The property is owned by CSX, and John Webster said he contacted the railroad company but has not received a response.

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Last Friday, Webster presented the Morgan County Commission with the Green Business Development proposal to develop the property into a transportation and tourism coordination center.

The proposal includes "adding adjacent sports and recreation facilities, a multiuse community center, senior housing and redeveloped warehouses along Mercer Street."

"There has been a lot of discussion for the need for a community center with a teen center, and this would be a good spot for the Boys & Girls Club and the Senior Center," he said.

Webster said affordable housing would be built around the property and the senior housing would be close to the center.

"The transportation and tourism center would include bus service, bicycle rentals, retail stores for convenience shopping and even carryout lunches," he said.

"This could be a community-oriented development for the town and the county. It would be community driven, not developer driven," Webster said.

Last Friday, Roth also met with the Morgan County Commission and introduced Richard Smith, executive director of the Eastern West Virginia Community Action Agency in Moorefield, W.Va. The agency is a "community-based nonprofit organization focusing on senior housing," he said.

Roth said Smith's agency is interested in becoming an equity partner, meaning that they would not be seeking any financing through the county.

"Owned as a LLC, (Limited Liability Corporation) we need to seek out an investor," Roth said. This would be a joint venture between Roth and the Eastern W.Va. Community Action Agency, "which will give us both ownership," he said.

Smith told the commissioners about the Community Housing Development Organization (CHDO) block grant.

"States get these federal grants and each state is mandated to create and support financially to serve the program needs," he said.

Smith said the county could apply for both grants. The CHDO would be the "bricks and mortar part" and the Small Cities block grant would be used for infrastructure.

Smith said Roth will seek a federal loan.

"The county would not be involved in the lending," he said.

In February, Roth asked the Morgan County Commission to support a Small Cities Community Development block grant for the development of senior citizens housing at the site. Roth asked the commission to apply for a $500,000 block grant from the West Virginia Development Office and lend the money to him for the property purchase and site work, Commissioner Tommy Swaim has said.

The Morgan County Commission has not set a date for the public hearing regarding the block grant proposal.

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