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Panel OKs new American Legion club

January 06, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- The Martinsburg Board of Zoning Appeals on Tuesday unanimously approved a request by American Legion Berkeley Post 14 to open a new private club in a residential area.

No one opposed to the veterans group's plans for property along the 500 block of Spring Street attended a public hearing held Tuesday by the zoning board, which granted a special exception to the city's rules for location of private social clubs.

City Planner Tracy Smith told board members that three residents either wrote a letter or called City Hall to voice concerns about safety, noise and adequate notice of the public hearing.

Post 14 Commander Paul Turner assured zoning board members that the club's bartenders closely monitor alcohol consumption by the Legion's 540 members and would not be open later than midnight on Friday and Saturday. The club is open until 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday and until 8 p.m. Sunday, he said.

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Turner said a recent report about an incident filed by the police department did not involve club members, but coincidentally happened near the organization's current facility.

The post in October purchased the 4.1-acre property south of East Stephen Street on which it is hoping to build from the Berkeley County Commission for $125,000.

Originally part of the county-owned P.O. Faulkner Park property, the land was purchased after the post agreed to sell its current property at 125 W. Race St. to the City of Martinsburg for $550,000.

Turner said Tuesday that the post hoped to have the new home in place by June 30, when a $500-per-month lease agreement to continue using the post's current building expires.

Plans include a fully handicapped accessible facility that measures about 6,000 square feet, a picnic pavilion and a meditation area, which Turner said would be available to neighbors, including older residents at Senior Towers Apartments.

District Commander Bonnie Barrett told the zoning board that the club's current building isn't handicapped- accessible for more than half of the membership, and many older members would love to come in for some of the meals served by the organization.

Turner said plans for the property include installation of a fence to improve safety along a railroad spur that services a nearby limestone quarry and he expected the barrier to also help with undesired foot traffic in the area.

After the hearing, Turner said the organization plans to have surveying done to determine if there are any sinkholes on the property and move forward with creating building plans.

"We hope to move in by the 30th of June," Turner said. "We hope."

In a presentation to the zoning board about the group's community involvement, Post 14 member David L. "Robbie" Robinson noted that the club in Martinsburg is one of the oldest in West Virginia and was chartered within a few months after the national organization was founded in 1919.

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