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Jefferson County has no say in quarry project

Owners of brownfield can apply directly to state for right to the tract into an official brownfield economic development distric

July 15, 2010|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. -- The Jefferson County Commission learned Thursday that neither they nor local land-use regulations will have any control over a vast commercial development project proposed for the 411-acre former Old Standard Quarry off Millville Road near Harpers Ferry, W.Va.

A bill passed during a special legislative session in 2009 allows owners of a brownfield created by the extraction of coal, limestone or other minerals to apply directly to the West Virginia Development Office, a division of the state Department of Commerce, for the right to turn the tract into an official brownfield economic development district.

According to the bill, the designation bypasses the usual permit process normally required by local subdivision and zoning regulations.

"Any community with a brownfield better be aware that the state can override local regulations," Commission President Lyn Widmyer said. "It's a done deal, a contract between the developer and the state. The county has been taken out of the equation by the state of West Virginia. That's not right."

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Commissioner Frances Morgan said the county needs to mount a court challenge against the legislation. "We have to put the kibosh on this," she said.

John Maxey, president of the Jefferson County Planning Commission, told the county commissioners Thursday that he doesn't believe the investors, whom he called "speculators," are serious about the project. "It will probably never be completed. They have no intention of following through on this project," he said.

Jennifer Brockman, the county's planning director, said the plat was filed in the county assessor's office Monday by Old Standard, LLC, a local investment group. It was recorded June 18 as an approved subdivision by the state development office.

Local developer Herb Jonkers, whose name was on the documents filed by Old Standard LLC, did not return a message left on his cell phone Thursday.

Del. John Overington, R-Berkeley, was one of six House members to sign off on the bill, which was filed Feb. 25, 2009. Overington was in a special session in Charleston, W.Va., and could not be reached Thursday.

According to a brief description of the project supplied by state development officials, it calls for a 60,000-square-foot building housing office and multiple research and development functions, a data center, 2.3 million square feet of underground buildings housing Internet operations known as "server farms," a 250-room resort hotel/convention center and a 200-room hotel dedicated as a federal training facility.

The cleanup of the site is nearly complete, all contaminants have been removed and the quarry lake contains about 1.5 billion gallons of water that can be used for cooling data centers and buildings, the development office announcement said.

This week's announcement isn't the first go-around for the quarry land. In 2007, the county commissioners, on a 3-2 vote, denied a request for a zoning change to build a $250 million office and hotel project.

In 2008, a proposal by Stonewall Heights LLC to build a museum and office space on the site was shelved.

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