Leters to the Editor

Revealing results from compatibility meeting

Last Friday’s Compatibility Assessment Meeting conducted by the Jefferson County Planning Department on the Twin Oaks Subdivision request for a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) to develop their “Farmer’s Market” proved to be very revealing. The protracted session, which lasted nearly five hours, afforded concerned members of the community an opportunity to identify issues that need resolution during the County Board of Zoning Appeals hearing which is now set for April 19. Approximately 20 nearby property owners in addition to representatives of the Shepherdstown Community Club (SCC), owner of the adjacent Morgan’s Grove Park identified a total of 38 issues that they believed require resolution before any CUP could be granted. Interestingly, other than the developers, there were no proponents who spoke in favor of the proposal.

The issues identified focused on eight critical areas: water and sewer facilities, collateral damage from blasting and site preparation, surface water run-off management, perimeter buffers and setbacks, traffic control and safety, lighting and noise restrictions, the potential adverse impact on Town Run, and general incompatibility with the historic park and surrounding residential and recreational area.

The 40-page CUP petition and discussion shed little light on actual plans for business activities on the site other than indicating that 65,000 square feet of buildings would be constructed in three phases. The petition simply listed a number of commercial activities permitted under the “rural” zoning classification that applies to this property. It appears that the governing criteria is who is willing to sign a lease rather some business activity that is within the scope of the “farm-friendly” pitch that the developers have been using to soften the impact of their retail plans. It is very clear that we are faced with a comparatively large shopping mall with all of its attendant baggage that will irrevocably change the residential-agricultural environment on that side of town.

The first meeting of the “Friends of Morgan’s Grove” will discuss this among other issues upstairs at the War Memorial Building starting at 7 p.m. on March 15. Please join us and also, most importantly plan to attend the BZA meeting on April 19.

Mike Austin, SCC member

Shepherdstown

 

Don’t commercialize the rivers

Imagine buying property in a rural residential neighborhood, only to find out that now hundreds of tourists could be dumped off practically in your front yards and your roads – which were not designed for this type of traffic – could be clogged with vans and trailers hauling canoes and rafts. Imagine knowing that a campground or food truck could be set up in the neighborhood, with hundreds of strangers camping out. Imagine all the trash that would be generated, and the vermin it would attract – not to mention the vision of porta-potties as permanent fixtures in the neighborhood. Your privacy would be severely impacted, your quality of life would be ruined, crime would increase, your property values would decrease (as if the recession hasn’t hurt them enough) and the reasons you chose your communities would no longer exist.

It could happen, and it’s up to all of us to stop it. The Jefferson County Commissioners are getting pressure from the river outfitters to allow commercial recreational use in rural residential areas and have been holding public meetings to discuss this issue. It’s also possible that floating zoning could be implemented, which means you won’t know what could or couldn’t happen next door, and your protections under the Conditional Use Permit process would be reduced. Tourism dollars are important to the county and we want people to enjoy our beautiful natural resources – but not at the expense of our quality of life. Stand up for your neighborhoods so that these businesses operate in places that actually make sense.

This measure would go against the Jefferson County Comprehensive Plan, which clearly calls for a study of the Pack Horse Ford area – which has not been done. Also, there are already a large number of public put-ins available to the Potomac and if additional put-ins are developed, they should be in appropriate areas – which rural residential neighborhoods clearly are not.

We rely on our elected officials to represent the interests of the community as a whole and to keep Jefferson County a great place to live. Please contact our County Commissioners and voice your opinion, and attend the next Planning Commission meeting, to be held at 7 p.m. on March 13 in the Betty J. Roper Auditorium at Wright Denny Intermediate School located at 209 West Congress St., Charles Town. This is one of the main agenda items for the March 13 meeting.

 

Kathy Loftin

Harpers Ferry

 

Water park or local treasure?

Recently, the Planning Commission held a largely attended public meeting to get input for new commercial zoning categories. The most controversial being the “Rural Commercial” zone that is a floating zone proposed for the area between Harpers Ferry and Shepherdstown in response to river outfitters who have expressed a need for more access to the Potomac. The floating zone allows the planning staff to customize requirements for each site or request. The list of allowed uses in the Rural Commercial zone is long and includes heliports with proper permitting. So is the county determined to change the character and nature of the Pack Horse Ford area to a Disneyland water park complete with helicopter rides? It would seem so.

Interestingly, one outfitter was given a “grandfathered” campground use designation of the area near the railroad underpass on Bakerton Rd and then allowed an ancillary use of a zip line operation. The area was never a campground. The zip lines are not ancillary but the primary use of that land. The outfitters are now asking for food tricks, primitive campgrounds and the county planning staff is trying to create those uses along the Potomac, now zoned rural residential.

Residents of Bakerton Rd area feel like they are under siege. The Rt. 340 corridor plan shows the commercial corridor extending to the river on Bakerton Rd. The new zoning categories would change forever the natural rural and historic character of the Pack Horse Ford area.

With the overcrowded conditions on Rt. 340 one has to wonder why the county would be seeking to increase tourism, especially the river outfitter tourism which does little to help local merchants. In fact, the tourism created by the outfitters is not included in tourist dollar estimates because the river clients usually live within an hour or so drive, buy or rent their equipment and supplies from the outfitters and then go home after a day on the river. So we all give up the quality of our lives so that a few outfitters can make lots of money.

The Shenandoah River recreational area is served by two primary four-lane roads and has grandfathered commercial use. One outfitter stated that they put 80,000 people on our rivers last year. The county should look to that area for improvement and protect the serenity of the Potomac in the historic Pack Horse Ford area where hikers and bikers on the C & O Canal and local residents can enjoy watching eagles and listen to quiet.

 

Cathy Vance

Shepherdstown

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3 Responses to Leters to the Editor

  1. In response to Ms. Vance:

    I am an employee of one of the local outfitters. I would like to specifically address the accusation of hoarding tourism dollars. We have a number of local business partners whom we regularly refer guests to, including hotels, the KOA campground, restaurants, and craft vendors. Even if there is not a formal agreement between our businesses, we refer guests to local businesses because we love this county, we love Harpers Ferry, and we want to see it thrive.

    The traffic problems are not a result of local outfitters, not is it an issue that is directly related to the planning commission. Issues regarding the flow of traffic and poor infrastructure would best be reserved for the Department of Highways. And the increase of traffic may also be directly related to the recent changes at the Race Track, allowing for table games and new chain restaurants.

    The local outfitters work together to build our community through positive activities that encourage healthy and positive lifestyles. We also work diligently to keep our rive clean through multiple river cleanups.

    If the community has questions or concerns regarding the outfitters and their activities, it would be greatly appreciated if members would speak directly to management of said facilities. It is really unfortunate that people have been creating public forums and spreading ridiculous rumors about planned developments of local outfitters. If there are serious concerns, please call us or email us and get the facts. Every member of our management team lives within Jefferson County. Some live on the river, some live on the mountain, and some live in town. We all value this county and want to see it’s historic and natural aspects preserved. We all want to see our community grow together and flourish.

    Thank you,
    Alex

  2. I would like to respond to Cathy Vance.

    I find it interesting that someone who has lived in Jefferson County for less than two years would take it upon themselves to attack outfitters who have been here for decades. It appears that Ms. Vance is actually a D.C. resident and it might seem to some that she is, in fact, one of the individuals who lives within an hour or so of this area and does little to help local merchants. The outfitters of the tristate area employ hundreds of West Virginia residents which allows these residents to patronize and support local businesses. How often does Ms. Vance claim to support Jefferson County businesses? On an occasional weekend? Those of us who live here every day know how much the outfitters mean to other small companies, especially in the summer time. Don’t be so quick to point fingers if your accusations are based on hearsay, rumors, and assumptions.

    Sincerely,

    Liz

  3. In response to Ms. Loftin and Ms. Vance

    The Shore Keeper group has been attacking our local outfitter by spreading fear and misinformation about operations they have not taken the time to fully investigate. Neither Loftin nor Vance have attempted to contact the outfitter management or owner to get the story straight or to attempt to communicate their concerns in a civil, adult manner. In my opinion they are distracting the community from the actual issues that need to be addressed by the county.

    When the Bakerton property in question was purchased by the outfitter, there were several old RV hook ups still in the ground and sites that were a bit overgrown, but clearly delineated for years of usage. That FACT would indicate that it indeed was formerly an active campground before the time of purchase. Before the campground was purchased by said local outfitter it was ridden with trash and criminal activity. It was a known local dumping ground for hunters and those looking for a free solution to rid themselves of their bulky refuse. The new campground that was rightfully grandfathered has been in operation for the past 2 summer seasons, this summer being the third. Since its re-induction as a campground, there has not been any crime taking place on the grounds and it has been maintained as a clean, attractive place for locals and tourists to enjoy with their families for a small, reasonable fee. Not once has any neighboring property owner voiced a complaint or concern regarding increased noise or criminal actitiy. The surrounding properties cannot see or hear the campground from their homes. Any noise they may experience is probably from vehicles honking as they pass through the Bakerton Rd tunnel. Those who are raising concerns about increased crime or noise due to the campground should take the time to research their claim before attempting to slander a reputable, local operation.

    As far as Pack Horse Ford is concerned, it is completely untrue that 80,000 people have used that section of river commercially. That section of water is beautiful yes, but it is very flat and slow moving. It’s totally unsuitable for popular tube or rafting trips due to its distance from Harpers Ferry and lack of flow. Canoes and kayaks are the only crafts that an outfitter would provide someone looking to paddle that section, and I can confidently say that all local outfitters would agree that a minimal amount of tourists are actually interested in that section due to its lack of excitement and challenge. No one is looking to turn your neighborhood into a recreational center.

    Here’s something Interesting; according to public tax records, Ms. Vance does not even reside in Jefferson County! Although she owns a home in Shepherdstown, her primary residence is in Washington DC. She herself is a non-local, driving an hour to enjoy our areas beauty and recreational activities. She has no concern for the important jobs that the local outfitters provide to residences, the tax dollars it provides to the state, or the additional feed off business to brings to other business in the area. And yes, the outfitters do provide additional business to the area through partnerships and referrals. Is she merely concerned with her own property value? Does she have children living and going to school in our county? Is she looking for employment in our county? Does she drive our roads regularly?

    What I have gathered from attending the zoning meetings and the 340 corridor study, our county is in need of major infrastructure improvements. This is the true issue at hand. The outfitters have been tubing and rafting for many many years. Many years before our county was over developed by major builders of residential homes and communities. They are the ones who were looking to profit hand over fist from our county. I’m sure they made much more of a profit from out of towners than all the outfitters combined. The increased traffic specifically along Bakerton Rd, I’m certain, is partly due to those who have moved here from the city. Tourism has increased, but the National Park is also a part of that draw, not just the outfitters. Simply put, lets focus on improving the roads, and not on the business that work to improve the community by providing jobs and honest services. The outfitters are just as concerned with preserving the natural beauty of Jefferson County as that is the key ingredient to outdoor recreation.

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