Harpers Ferry still waiting on Hilltop

HARPERS FERRY – As the town council of Harpers Ferry moves closer to adopting a new zoning ordinance — one that could include an overlay district to help accommodate redevelopment of the historic Hilltop House Hotel — the investment group that owns the hotel property has yet to make contact with the town.

[cleeng_content id=”851251373″ description=”Read it now!” price=”0.49″ t=”article”]The SWaN and Legend investment group currently owns the hotel property, which has lain vacant since redevelopment plans stalled in 2010.

“The last contact that I am aware of is when SWaN came here to the Planning Commission back in late November,” Mayor Greg Vaughn said. “I sent a message to Mike Miller about a week and a half ago suggesting that he and I get together for lunch. I told him that I have nothing specific to discuss, but I also told him that I believe it is very important for us to keep communication lines open. To date, I have not received any response.”

Council member Betsy Bainbridge said SWaN does not currently have an application submitted to the town.

“There is no application,” she said. “We are just trying to set up a framework so we can deal with an application. And there will be a public hearing any time a project proposal comes from the hotel.”

SWaN did not return repeated phone calls requesting an interview.

Meanwhile, the council agreed to schedule a meeting to consider amendments to all portions of the zoning ordinance other than the overlay district on Jan. 28. The overlay district will be addressed at a later meeting.

Council member Dan Riss said public comment submitted regarding the zoning amendment overwhelmingly supported building a new hotel, though most comments did not address the ordinance specifically enough to be incorporated into amendments.

“The public comments that we have been receiving are 99 percent, ‘Yay, Hilltop!’ and only three or four citations of specific areas and particular language to change,” he said.

Five members of the public spoke at Monday’ meeting, expressing various concerns with the possibility of including an overlay district in the new zoning ordinance.

Wayne Bishop, who owns a home near the Hilltop, said he was concerned about new maps presented by SWaN to the Planning Commission when they attended the November meeting. He said the maps indicated that SWaN was requesting a larger overlay district than that the Commission had approved.

Barbara Humes, who also lives near the hotel and serves on the water commission, said she did not think the town had the ordinances in place necessary to have the hotel pay for the $6 million in water system improvements the town requires.

“All the hotel developer has to do is dig a trench and lay an 8- or 10-inch service line to connect with the main line,” she said, explaining that the water system currently has enough capacity to support the hotel.

She said residents should get more time to comment on the specifics of the zoning ordinance, adding that she had been unable to attend many of the planning commission meetings that dealt with the proposed framework.

“It wasn’t until a product was ready that it made any sense to respond to it,” she said.


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One Response to Harpers Ferry still waiting on Hilltop

  1. The statements about the water system are incorrect. Why should the developer be forced to pay the entire $6 million for upgrades that are unrelated to the hotel? There is nothing in the HF ordinance that would or could require such since it is not allowed under West Virginia code which requires any infrastructure contribution be both directly related to and in proportion to any impact. The hotel did not create the antiquated water system and even if somehow it contributed at most it could be only its fair share, not everbody’s share. The reason West Virginia state code requires this is because the US Supreme Court has said many times that requiring contribution not directly related to and in proportion would be unconstitutional and violate the Just Compensation Clause in the Fifth Amendment. Actually, the US Supreme Court has stated it even stronger. In a nearly similar case in Florida decided just 6 months ago, also involving a Water District, the Supremes called the attempts by the Water District to exact payments as “extortionate demands.” In several earlier cases the Supremes called such efforts an “out-and-out plan of extortion.”

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