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Museum planned for W.Va. quarry redevelopment

October 25, 2007|By DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA. ? A new plan for redeveloping the former Old Standard Quarry was unveiled Thursday when local officials and developers said the site is being considered for a "significant" museum for the National Park Service that would house artifacts from across the country.

There has been concern about how any development at the site could be seen from nearby Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, and the museum would be built underground and would be "virtually invisible," a spokesman for the project said.

The Old Standard Quarry had been the site for a planned $250 million office and hotel project, but the Jefferson County Commission rejected a request to change the land-use designation for the property to allow that proposal.

The office space project was controversial and the commission rejected a zoning change request for the land based on concerns that the project had divided the community and threatened the county's heritage tourism.

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A group of developers known as Stonewall Heights LLC is now working to purchase the quarry from local developers Herb Jonkers, Gene Capriotti, Lee Snyder and others who had been involved in the first proposal, said Bradley Gray, a member of the Stonewall Heights group. The project also includes two other properties with the total site spreading over approximately 500 acres, officials said.

Stonewall Heights LLC is proposing to build the museum at the top of a mountain with an observation deck outside, Gray said.

The observation deck would allow park rangers to explain to visitors in detail the Civil War history of the area and the facility will overlook the Shenandoah River, Gray said.

"The views are absolutely spectacular from this thing," Gray said.

The area around the site was where Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson orchestrated the capture of 12,500 troops during the Civil War. Jackson's capture of 12,500 troops in 1862 was the largest during the Civil War and it remained the largest military capture until World War II, Civil War experts say.

The project was discussed during Thursday's regular Jefferson County Commission meeting when Tony Redman, director of the county's planning and zoning departments, briefed officials on it.

"The first day I knew about it was yesterday," Redman said.

On Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., was briefed on the project in a meeting in his office, Gray and other officials said. County Commission President Frances Morgan, Commissioner Rusty Morgan and Commissioner Dale Manuel also attended that meeting, Commissioner Greg Corliss said.

Gray said his group wants to get endorsements of the idea from officials like Byrd and Gov. Joe Manchin as they proceed with it.

Gray declined to divulge other details of the deal, including how much the land is being sold for.

The size of facilities like a hotel and conference center planned for the site would be up to county planning officials as developers go forward with the project, Gray said.

"It will be significant. It will be big," Gray said.

Gray said Donald Campbell, superintendent of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, has been consulted on the plan.

Campbell could not be reached for comment Thursday.

The National Park Service has a large number of artifacts related to personalities and places like Ford's Theatre, President Lincoln and Robert E. Lee and their quality "rivals the Smithsonian," Gray said in a telephone interview Thursday afternoon.

The museum would be used to house such artifacts that will come from around the country and "possibly all around the world," Gray said.

Redman said the museum property will have access to a railroad line, meaning visitors from Washington, D.C., could ride a train to Harpers Ferry to visit the museum "without ever getting out of the car."

Gray said another benefit of the museum is that the property will remain on the county's tax rolls, which would not be the case if it was being built by the federal government.

Stonewall Heights LLC proposes to build the museum and lease it to the park service, Gray said.

Commission President Frances Morgan called the proposal a "bold idea."

Corliss said he was concerned that county government staff members have known about the project before it was formally presented to the commissioners.

"It's a bit awkward," Commissioner Rusty Morgan said.

But Rusty Morgan said he was told that the buyers and sellers wanted it kept secret at this stage in the process and that it was "very complex."

Several commissioners said they thought a rezoning request might have to be considered to allow the project.

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