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Development plan near historical park up for a vote

June 28, 2005|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. - A proposed 42-lot subdivision near Harpers Ferry National Historical Park is drawing criticism from some people who believe it could destroy the area's historic landscape and complicate traffic on U.S. 340.

The proposed Benview subdivision also is generating concern from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which is building a firearms training center near the property.

One reason the firearms training center was a good match for the area is because the site is surrounded by open land with a low population density, Thomas J. Walters, assistant commissioner of the Office of Training and Development, said in a letter to a county planning official.

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Walters said he is worried about "potential security issues" that could arise if the subdivision is built.

The development would be near the intersection of Bloomery Road and U.S. 340 and would consist of single-family homes, a recreation field and a walking trail, according to county commission records.

An attorney who is representing the developer of the project downplayed the concerns and is arguing that the Jefferson County Planning Commission has no choice but to approve the Benview subdivision.

Attorney Jim Campbell is basing his argument on delays that have occurred in the approval process for the subdivision.

One of the delays stemmed from a comment from a county resident who told the planning commission during a meeting that the public was not given a 30-day notice of a public hearing on the subdivision as required by county land-use regulations, Campbell said in papers filed in Jefferson County Circuit Court.

As a result, the planning commission delayed the hearing until June 28, which was 101 days from the submission of materials required for the project's final plat and 71 days after the submission of other supporting data, Campbell said.

Failure to take action on the project within 60 days after such materials are provided shall result in approval from the planning commission, Campbell said in a suit against the planning commission.

A public hearing on the final plat - the final approval needed for the project - is scheduled for tonight at the planning commission meeting. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. in the lower level of the Old Charles Town Library.

Campbell said in a telephone interview Monday that he and consultants for the project will urge the planning commission to approve the project tonight and will be available to answer questions.

Campbell said the suit was filed in case the planning commission does not approve the subdivision.

The suit, filed June 22, asks the court to compel the approval of the subdivision.

Paul Raco, head of Jefferson County Department of Planning, Zoning and Engineering, could not be reached for comment Monday.

The subdivision is being proposed by the Newton Gibson Trust, Campbell said. Jim Gibson, a former member of the planning commission, is one of the trustees, Campbell said.

Several letters have been sent to the planning commission office from people who oppose the development. Among the concerns is that traffic generated from the development will put a strain on the intersection of U.S. 340 and Bloomery Road, which is already a dangerous area, opponents say.

The project is within an area designated as part of a possible boundary increase for Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer Susan Pierce said in a letter to Raco.

The site of the subdivision is associated with School House Ridge, where a siege was conducted by Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson's troops in the Civil War, Pierce said.

"The approval of the final plat will be another step toward the possible destruction of this historic landscape. We ask that you consider this potential loss as you make your decision and, if possible, postpone your decision until alternatives have been considered for this area," Pierce said in her letter.

Campbell downplayed the concerns about the subdivision's effect on local historic sites.

If a radius were drawn around significant historic sites in the county, the circle could "envelop the whole county," Campbell said.

The developers say local roads can handle traffic from the development and Campbell said the concerns raised by U.S. Customs and Border Protection is of "no consequence" to the developers' rights to build the subdivision.

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