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Groups oppose visitors center proposal

March 28, 2009|By RICHARD F. BELISLE, Special to The Herald-Mail

BOLIVAR, W.Va. -- Saying he wants it to "blend in," a Charles Town, W.Va., developer's proposal to build a $3 million combination visitors center/gas station/convenience store/retail and office conglomerate already has opponents saying "it won't fit in."

Charles Town developer Christopher "Cricky" Shultz wants to build the complex on a spit of land near the intersection of U.S. 340 and Washington Street in Bolivar. He said he would donate space in his building for the Jefferson County Convention and Visitors Bureau's welcome center. The center now is housed in a small gray trailer at 27 Washington Court near the intersection.

Shultz, owner of Commercial Associates, a local company developing the Windmill Crossing residential and commercial project on U.S. 340 north of Charles Town and 175-acre Wild Goose Farm on Shepherd Grade Road north of Shepherdstown, W.Va., said his visitors center will replace that "despicable" trailer.

Paulette Sprinkle, executive director of the convention and visitors bureau, agrees with Shultz's impression of the trailer, which has served as the bureau's welcome center since 2002. 

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"We need to get out of this trailer," Sprinkle said. "It is a terrible, terrible image for West Virginia."

Sprinkle said the bureau's board of directors has no position on who builds the building.

"We just want a decent building," she said.

Shultz has an option on the land, which is owned by the Bank of Charles Town.

The bank bought the property with plans to build a branch to replace an older one in downtown Bolivar, bank President Robert F. Baronner Jr. said. The Bolivar Town Council denied the bank's application to annex the property, saying it wanted to keep the old branch in town for the convenience of residents, Baronner said.

Shultz's proposed two-story building was designed by late Harpers Ferry architect Walton D. "Kip" Stowell.

In addition to the welcome center up front, Shultz's plan calls for retail space above the center to display and sell works of area crafters. A gas station/convenience store would occupy a separate facility behind the main building.

Shultz said he expects the Bolivar Town Council to embrace his plan.

Bolivar Mayor Tim Collins said the town council has no position on the proposal.

Shultz has yet to apply for annexation, but said he plans to submit his application within a month

Shultz held an unofficial public meeting Feb. 17 at the Quality Inn and Conference Center. About 40 people attended, most of whom favored the project in a straw poll, he said.

Friends of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, an advocacy group, is opposed to Shultz's plan.

"It would be a monstrosity on that corner," said Bolivar resident Scott Faulkner, a member of the friends group who is leading an effort to block Shultz's proposal.

"It's OK to build an expanded visitors center, but we don't want anything at the four corners to block the viewshed of Harpers Ferry, the park and the scenic view," Faulkner said.

Faulkner said the friends group, a Civil War re-enactors group and the National Park Service offered to buy the property in 2006, but couldn't agree on a price with the bank.

Rebecca Harriett, superintendent of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, has seen drawings of Shultz's proposal. She said she would be concerned about the presence of such a large development near the park.

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