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Planning Commission Told Not to Endanger Harpers Ferry


    The proverbial clock is ticking on a proposal to rezone more than 400 acres that sidle up to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park in West Virginia. At issue is whether a developer should be allowed to turn that acreage into a massive commercial development covering more than 2 million square feet.
    What's so historically significant about the property in question? In September 1862 it was the southern part of the Union Army's line of defense for the siege of Harper's Ferry. On September 15th of that year Confederate General A.P. Hill flanked the Union troops at night and ended the siege in what's said to have represented the largest surrender of American forces on U.S. soil up until that point.
    Not only would the so-called "Old Standard" development obscure the park's viewshed, but it would diminish the setting of this landscape that played a key role during the Civil War, according to those who offered comments to the Jefferson County Planning Commission last night.
    "With its current topography and forest cover, Old Standard helps convey the authentic setting of the Civil War battlefield for visitors to the park," Nell Ziehl, a representative for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, told the planning commission.

    The land in question is not virgin. There have been past industrial operations located on it, operations whose impacts still need to be remediated. But Dennis Frye, the park's chief historian, said the overall landscape would be recognizable to soldiers who fought there.
    Beyond the aesthetic reasons for protecting the land, Scot Faulkner, president of the Friends of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, told the planning commission the development proposal runs counter to county planning policy and actually is the fifth version the developers have come up with in a bid to gain approval.
    "The current version directly contradicts four years of their sworn testimony and certified applications before state regulatory agencies," said Mr. Faulkner. "They have been venue shopping and vision shopping for four years in order to gain the most profit for the least amount of effort. This is not development. This is land speculation."
    During last night's meeting more than 30 people urged the planning commission not to rezone the site for development. A final decision from the commission is expected June 12th.

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