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Developer reveals plans for Coolfont

August 23, 2008|By TRISH RUDDER

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. - The Villages at Coolfont, the planned community by the Carl M. Freeman Companies, and its economic and environmental impact on Morgan County, was discussed Wednesday night.

About 130 people attended the presentation at Cacapon State Park.

Freeman purchased Coolfont Resort in November 2005, said Robert Marggraf, vice president and general manager for the West Virginia project. The plan is for 1,200 homes to be constructed at the 1,000-acre resort community over 14 years.

The homes will be surrounded by two lakes, hiking trails, fitness centers, pools, a spa and other upscale amenities.

Marggraf said the plan is for the first phase of construction to begin in 2010, but if the market does not recover by then, construction could be pushed back by up to 18 months.

Federal and state approvals still are needed, he said.

The Morgan County Commission is expected to rule on the application to form a Community Enhancement District (CED) on Sept. 5 after a public hearing.

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John Stump, an attorney with Steptoe & Johnson's Charleston, W.Va., office, said a CED would allow the company to issue bonds to help finance the construction of infrastructure, such as water and sewer plants for Coolfont.

"The Coolfont homeowners will pay an additional share to pay for the CED, and they will know the property comes with an extra assessment," Stump said. "No taxes come from the county."

The economic advantages to the county could include an increase in property tax revenue of about $1.4 million, said Amy Higginbotham, an economist with West Virginia University's Bureau of Business & Economic Research, who provided an impact study and was hired by Freeman.

The overall economic impact could be as much as $552.4 million over the 14-year building period, she said.

During the first five years, about 150 construction jobs could be available, and over the full building period, about 500 construction jobs are projected, said Carrie Jenkins, Freeman's project coordinator.

An estimated $18.2 million is projected in economic growth from Coolfont residents and their visitors. It is projected that more than 300 jobs will be created to sustain the Coolfont residents and visitors, Jenkins said.

Mark Kaiser of Potesta & Associates, a Charleston engineering and environmental firm, said the 100-year flood plain will not be affected. He said the project calls for collecting and releasing rainwater slowly, thus lessening the severity downstream.

Lake Siri is to be expanded by 4.5 acres and a new 48-acre Lake Prospect is planned, Kaiser said. The dams must be safely regulated and will have ongoing inspections, he said.

Kaiser said about seven acres of the wetlands and habitat areas will be mitigated. The project's restoration will exceed the required 17 acres, he said.

Kaiser said the full building project would use only 2.3 percent of the estimated Cacapon Mountain aquifer recharge potential.

Halverstadt said the economy is struggling, but Freeman anticipated the downturn in 2005 and cut costs.

"We are financially stronger and have money in the bank," Halverstadt said. "We are in a position to move forward, and that is our intention."

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