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Harpers Ferry Rezoning In Doubt

Deborah Fitts

(August 2007) HARPERS FERRY, W. Va. - A proposal to rezone for commercial development most of a 411-acre tract adjacent to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park appeared headed for defeat at presstime in July.

The property, known as Old Standard after a former quarry on the site, fronts the Shenandoah River. It was the scene of a night march in September 1862 by Confederate Gen. A.P. Hill that resulted in the largest surrender of Union forces of the war.

Five developers, including Herb Jonkers, Gene Capriotti and Lee Snyder, have proposed a 2 million-square-foot commercial complex on the tract, which lies south of U.S. 340. To pursue their plans they needed approval to rezone 330 acres from rural/residential use to industrial/commercial use.

In mid-July the five members of the Jefferson County Commission appeared poised to vote narrowly against the rezoning. The Jefferson County Planning Commission voted unanimously in June advising against the measure.

The three developers laid water and sewer lines to the Old Standard tract last August, crossing through 1,900 feet of park property [October 2006 CWN]. Water and sewer service would allow for the kind of intensive development envisioned, which would include a hotel, marina, 25 commercial buildings and hundreds of homes.

Park officials attempted to halt the developers from digging across battlefield property, but to no avail. Nearly a year later the federal government has yet to respond.

Moving swiftly, the developers first sought to get the Charles Town City Council to annex the property, although Charles Town is five miles distant. The City Council rejected the proposal 4-3 in April. Two weeks later, the developers filed for the rezoning with Jefferson County.

The park was among those opposing the measure, saying the development would have a "devastating impact on the rural, historic landscape." The mayors of Harpers Ferry and Bolivar also opposed the rezoning, as did organizations including the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Civil War Preservation Trust.

The developers argued that the project would create 6,000 jobs and provide $4.4 million in tax revenues annually. According to the Martinsburg newspaper The Journal, Jonkers warned the commission that if they turned down the rezoning, current zoning would allow him to build 1,600 residential units on a portion of the tract, plus possible industrial uses.

"It's not a yes-or-no vote, it's a this-or-that vote," the paper quoted Jonkers as saying.

Nevertheless, three of the commissioners indicated concerns about the large scale of the project and its impact on traffic and on the historic and rural viewsheds along the river.

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