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Growth affects Berkeley County Schools

November 30, 2005|by DAVE McMILLION

MARTINSBURG, W.VA.

charlestown@herald-mail.com

Berkeley County Schools will need continued financial support from county residents and the state to deal with the type of residential growth that is being planned at the 895-unit Martinsburg Station along Delmar Orchard Road, Superintendent of Schools Manny Arvon said Tuesday.

Arvon said the planned development by luxury home builder Toll Brothers Inc. is another example of the rapid residential growth in the county, and indications are that it will not let up.

Arvon said he recently attended a meeting in Martinsburg where an economics expert from West Virginia University predicted that the area that includes Berkeley and Jefferson counties will experience a 17 percent population growth rate through 2009.

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That rate is daunting compared to an 11 percent growth rate that is predicted for the Washington, D.C., area and a 3 percent to 4 percent growth rate for the nation, Arvon said.

Arvon said Berkeley County residents will need to support the school system by passing more bond issues and that the state will have to help with more funding.

"It's going to require a lot of support from this community to keep up with that pace," Arvon said. "I believe that major growth is ahead of us."

The Horsham, Pa.-based Toll Brothers Inc. said it wants to build the Martinsburg Station project to tap into a growing number of people who work near Washington, D.C., but don't want to live along the Beltway.

Toll Brothers has been building homes in the Washington area for more than 10 years and the company's home prices average $633,000. The company's Web site shows luxurious homes with features such as grand dual staircases.

Martinsburg Station would be built on 233 acres near Orchard View Intermediate School, said Mike Covell, city engineer/planning director for the City of Martinsburg.

The property was annexed into the city about five years ago and previously was owned by the Oates family, Covell said. The property initially was zoned for business, but later was rezoned planned residential, Covell said.

Covell said the city held a public hearing about a year ago when the property was rezoned, and there was a public hearing about four to six months ago when a conceptual plan for the development was submitted to the city, Covell said.

Covell said he did not recall much public comment during the hearings.

Although the project is moving through the city's regulatory process, more work lies ahead, Covell said.

The developer and the city need to work out an agreement to extend city water service into the development, and Covell said the city saw the need to boost water pressure in one part of the development to make sure there is sufficient water pressure for fire protection for homes.

Toll Brothers Inc. said it will build 895 single-family and town-home residences, a clubhouse/community center, swimming pool and tennis courts.

Covell said Martinsburg Station will encourage pedestrian travel with sidewalks and decorative outdoor lighting, and there will be small "pocket parks" throughout the development.

"They've done a really good blend," Covell said. "It should be a really good project."

Mayor George Karos said Delmar Orchard Road is a good location for residential development because about $21 million has been spent to extend sewer and water service in the area, and it is close to Interstate 81.

"All you need to do is buy the lot and build the house," said Karos, adding that the city has been talking to many developers interested in building in the area.

Martinsburg Police Chief Ted Anderson said the city's police department will have to add more officers to its force to deal with developments such as Martinsburg Station.

Anderson said the city has a long-range plan to deliver public services as the city grows.

Berkeley County Board of Education member Rick Pill said he did not know of anything specific the school system would have to do to prepare for Martinsburg Station. Pill said the school system needs to look at how quickly the developers plan to build the subdivision.

Board of Education member Pat Murphy said he thinks county officials need to start considering use of school impact fees to help build new schools needed because of population growth.

The last school bond issue was passed in 2001 and provided $28 million for school construction projects, Arvon said. The state School Building Authority pitched in $15 million.

Arvon said construction projects paid for under that bond issue should be completed by next August, and he plans to go to the voters again in 2007 to ask for another bond issue.

Construction of Martinsburg Station could start as early as this spring, Covell said.

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