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City to buy parking lot from American Legion

July 06, 2006|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - City officials have agreed to purchase a parking lot from a veterans organization for $90,000 that will provide more space for the Berkeley County municipality's employees, Mayor George Karos confirmed Wednesday.

"We just closed the deal on that," Karos said.

The purchase of the lot from American Legion Post 14, headquartered in a red brick building at 125 W. Race St., could provide about 30 parking spaces, Karos said.

The city began renting the parking spaces in January after they were used by the city at no charge for years, Karos and Post commander David L. "Robbie" Robinson confirmed.

Since reaching the purchase agreement, Karos said P.C. DiMagno Engineering and Surveying of Martinsburg was hired to conduct a survey of the lot, which adjoins the city's existing parking area behind city hall. The Legion's lot now is accessed from College Street.

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"Once that's shored up, we're looking at expanding City Hall," Karos said.

City Hall opened in the mid-1980s, but was not built to structurally support additional floors. Growth in the city's police and planning and building departments is approaching capacity, officials said Wednesday.

"We're close to being maxed out," City Engineer/Planning Director Michael M. Covell said of his department.

The Legion's lot, along with several others, was identified in a downtown plan prepared by a consultant in March 2004 as a potential "shared" parking area for the public.

Karos said city officials are in the process of retaining a consultant to update the downtown plan and expect to determine whether a parking garage is needed downtown.

City Manager Mark Baldwin was unavailable to clarify when bids would be opened for the consulting work.

The downtown plan incorporated "a few of the highlights" of a parking management study presented to city leaders in January 2002, according to the 2004 document's author, John D. Edwards.

And until the parking management study data is updated by a consultant to reflect the city's influx of residents since 2002, officials are out in "spaceland" on what should be done about a garage, Karos said.

Limited funding has prohibited other elements of the downtown plan from moving forward and Karos readily admitted his first priority is to establish a second, north-south route for vehicles traveling in and out of downtown.

Known as the Raleigh Street Extension, the yet-to-be fully funded project will connect North Raleigh Street to the intersection of Edwin Miller Boulevard and U.S. 11. Officials hope the alternative route would alleviate often heavy congestion on North Queen Street and eliminate height-clearance concerns posed by a CSX Transportation railroad overpass.

Fourth Ward Councilman Roger Lewis, whose district includes downtown, said city leaders have prioritized phases of the downtown plan and are trying to find matching funds for the project. Among the changes envisioned in 2004 are brick crosswalks, landscaping, lighting and revamping of the town square.

"We're gonna do it," Lewis said. "We (just) can't do it today."

The sale of the parking lot, according to Robinson, will allow for the veterans organization to address some financial matters and possibly make some building improvements. Several fans were being used Wednesday to cool the organization's bar.

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