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Housing development planned for site of Harpers Ferry flea market

July 15, 2009|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

More than 100 vendors at an historic Harpers Ferry (W.Va.) Flea Market -- an entrepreneurial icon that has been a way of life for the vendors and their customers for 27 years -- will soon have to find a new place to buy and sell their wares.

An unanimous vote Tuesday night by the Jefferson County Planning Commission gives permission to Dr. James Gibson, a Berkeley County dentist, to build a 55-unit multifamily subdivision. Gibson's family has owned the 12-acre tract where the flea market currently sits at the intersection of U.S. 340 and Millville Road since 1942.

The subdivision will be called Alstadts Corner after the Alstadt House, a circa- 1790 restored brick structure across U.S. 340 from the flea market.

Tuesday's planning commission vote was the last hurdle Gibson faced except for some formalities, planning officials said.

The project met all county subdivision rules and was recommended by the planning commission staff.

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The vote followed a public hearing at which nine of the 27 persons in attendance expressed opposition to the development.

"If this development proceeds, then the flea market, one of the top three attractions in Jefferson County, goes away," said David Minnis.

Building a subdivision in the middle of a developing national historical resource (Harpers Ferry National Historical Park) "does not look to the future," said Al Alsdorf, owner of a bed-and-breakfast inn in Harpers Ferry. "Encouraging development that is not contiguous to existing towns and villages only increases sprawl," he said.

Beth Haney of Harpers Ferry said Jefferson County is currently overstocked with available housing. "Adding more houses will only add to the problem," she said.

Rebecca L. Harriett, superintendent of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, in a letter to the commissioners, said the development "will dramatically alter the historic Alstadt property and the 1862 (Battle of Harpers Ferry) battlefield.

"The Alstadt property is forever linked to the John Brown Raid, as the Alstadts and their slaves were seized by Brown's men and held within the John Brown Fort during the climactic moments of Brown's capture," Harriett said in her letter.

Gibson said he didn't know when he would break ground for his project.

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