By December 29, 2016 Read More →

Rebuilding concerns residents of Harpers Ferry

By JEFF McCOY

The Journal

HARPERS FERRY, W.Va.  — Issues between SWaN and Legend Venture Partners — a Leesburg, Virginia-based investment group that owns the Hilltop House and other historical buildings in town — and locals who oppose the changes being made in their community are continuing to develop.

The Hilltop House, pictured here, has been damaged from structural collapse and weather.
(Submitted photo)

According to documents and photos about the project and the evolution of changes proposed and considered for the property, it appears that a much larger hotel and parking deck could be built in the historical town. Some residents have voiced their concerns.

“What they want to do is from Columbia Street all the way down to Lancaster Street. They want to put in a parking garage here — four levels. One above grade, one at grade and then excavate and blast to put two levels below grade,” said Wayne Bishop, a local homeowner. “The hotel that this ordinance would allow could be as much as 180 rooms. In this plan, they will have restaurants, bars, spas, wedding facilities, retail and gift shops. This place with 60 rooms and surface parking was really, really crowded on Christmas and Thanksgiving.”

When SWaN was looking at the property for purchase all seemed well, Bishop said. The company intended to restore the hotel to its historic condition and make it a destination hotel, he added.

“You can imagine the community — that was very well received. ‘Hey great, that’s wonderful. We’ll have a great restaurant and a nice little hotel and it will be a place to have a meal and a glass of wine and this will all be great!’” Bishop said.

The historic hotel sits on a crest 200 feet overlooking the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers, along with the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

At the time the hotel was purchased, it was operational. Following the purchase, the hotel was closed in early 2008. The Armory Houses were also purchased and renters were evicted, Bishop said.

“They sold off everything in the place — online or by auction — and laid everybody off that worked there, then just left it open to the weather. So it would be my thought that they did it all by a well laid out plan,” Bishop said.

In 2008 a “subsurface exploration and geotechnical evaluation report” was commissioned by SWaN and produced by Specialized Engineering of Ijamsville, Maryland, according to the project documents.

The report confirms the possibility of blasting if SWaN was to change the building from what was originally proposed. The hotel could go from a 60 room hotel to a 180 room hotel. If that happened, the street would have to be removed temporarily and much of the ridge would be excavated.

“They have to remove the entire top of the mountain here in order to put this project in,” Bishop said.

Bishop said he — along with other locals — are upset with that potential component of the project

“They came in 2008, and they did test boring, they drilled to find out what they’ve got here and — in a lot of cases — they are into bedrock and that’s where this whole issue of blasting the top of a ridge off on both sides of the road (comes into play), and this is a town street that runs right through the middle of all this. It’s in the center of a historical district, and it’s a contributing structure,” Bishop said.

SWaN has stated in press releases that it wants to construct a world-class destination hotel, spa and meeting venue on the site. However, the group says everything is preliminary.

“There hasn’t been a proposal as of yet for the new hotel,” said Al Otto, project manager.

Bishop said since the hotel has been closed, the structure has fallen into disarray.

“I have this report that says this place is chock-full of asbestos and lead and everything else from 2008,” Bishop said.

Otto said plans will be submitted soon, however.

“The mayor has requested that we give him a response — I think it’s in mid-February — as to our intent,” Otto said.

Some concerned citizens have hired consultants with their own money to prepare an impact analysis of the plans for a larger hotel.

In 2014, 107 residents signed a petition and delivered it to the mayor and town council members. In it, they stated ‘These 107 petitions signify a strong community desire to effect certain revisions to the proposed East Ridge Street Promontory Overlay Ordinance.”

Some citizens went to town hall with research reports, and they also presented corrections, suggestions, changes and alternate plans to the planning commission and town council. Now, some decisions are expected to be made next week.

On Jan. 6 and 7, the town council will hold meetings starting at 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Friday, and beginning at 10 a.m. on Saturday at town hall.

Otto said the work and investment that SWaN has made will be best for the town.

“They’re being rebuilt exactly the way they are, except better,”Otto said.

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