Mayor opposes annexation of site near Harpers Ferry

March 17, 2007|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

RANSON, W.VA. - Charles Town Mayor Peggy Smith wishes a proposed $200 million office/hotel development project for a 638-acre site near Harpers Ferry National Historical Park could be closer to the city, but said Friday she was opposed to annexing the property.

"I truly cannot support this annexation," Smith said after presiding over a special session of city council convened at Independent Fire Co's station in Ranson, W.Va., to hear a presentation about the proposal.

Though located about five miles from the city's boundary, the land could be annexed through the city's use of U.S. 340 as a "pipestem" to connect to a cluster of properties the site entails - the Old Standard quarry, Alstadt's Corner and Bugler's Rest. The acreage is south of the intersection of Millville Road and U.S. 340, officials have said.

In a computer-aided presentation, attorney James P. Campbell on Friday said the developers would be willing to limit residential development to a maximum of 200 units, which he said was only 6 percent of the maximum allowed now through current Jefferson County zoning rules.


Campbell also said the development would bring about 6,000 new jobs and $1 million in real estate and hotel room tax money to the city. The latter didn't include potential business and occupation tax revenues, he noted.

Smith said the project represented "everything" the city is looking for, except for the fact that it was not closer to the city's boundary.

She also noted receiving objections from town leaders of Bolivar and Harpers Ferry

"I'm hoping it will be tabled," Smith said after the session.

Despite Smith's apparent objection and at least two council members concerns aired on Friday, Campbell said after the session that his clients plan to move forward in the municipality's process for annexation request.

The annexation proposal is scheduled to be presented to the city's planning commission on Wednesday and then would be reviewed by the Finance Committee before a first reading by the City Council.

Campbell, meanwhile, didn't rule out asking the towns of Bolivar and Harpers Ferry to consider annexing the property.

"It is our intention to convince people that this project has merit," Campbell said.

The Charles Town attorney declined to say how much the cleanup of the quarry portion of the development would cost, but Charles Town councilwoman Amy Schmitt said Jefferson County leaders would spur the cleanup of the old industrial site, which Campbell said had shut down in the 1970s.

Campbell said about 200,000 cubic yards of burnt limestone or slay was left at the quarry and said the landscape's "moon-like" appearance was already visible from neighboring properties.

Opposed to the site's development, Harpers Ferry National Historical Park superintendent Donald W. Campbell offered his own idea for converting the quarry site into a state park recreational area and ideally purchasing the remaining acreage for expanding the national park, which he noted contributes millions of dollars to the state's economy.

"We could more fully tell the history that occurred there in 1862," Superintendant Campbell said, noting the Confederate troop movements led by Maj. Gen. A.P. Hill in the Civil War Battle of Harpers Ferry.

Also attending the meeting was County Commission President Frances B. Morgan, who said she was personally "horrified" by pipestem annexations and would support the site's inclusion in the national park.

But Morgan also said she wouldn't rule out looking at redevelopment ideas, at least for the quarry site, which Campbell said was in operation since the 1880s.

"I'm open to proposals," Morgan said.

Know 30 seconds

The issue: A developer is asking to have a proposed site for a 638-acre commercial-residential development project envisioned next to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park to be annexed into the City of Charles Town

What's new: Charles Town Mayor Peggy Smith said she can't support the annexation and noted council members are not in favor of the request either.

What's next: The annexation proposal will be reviewed by the Charles Town Planning Commission March 21 at 7 p.m. at the fire hall and if OK'd, could go before the city council for approval in April.

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