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Harpers Ferry official welcome questions and comments on Hilltop project

By Staff | Mar 15, 2019

It was a packed house at the recent Hilltop House update meeting hosted at the Mather Training Center, by the town's mayor and council. Toni Milbourne

HARPERS FERRY — Harpers Ferry’s mayor and town council members hosted a gathering on Saturday, March 9 to give an

update on the status of the Hilltop Hotel project and to take comments and questions from town

residents and others.

For more than two hours, information was shared amid comments, questions and many derogatory

comments from those in the audience about the lack of progress on the approval of the hotel process.

At Saturday’s gathering, Mayor Wayne Bishop gave a brief listing of other challenges the council and

SWaN need to continue to refine include infrastructure topics such as water and sewer, easements,

potential land swaps versus ownership or leases of what is now town property, voluntary proffers and

fire and police services.

“You can’t put a five-start hotel in a half-star infrastructure,” Bishop said.

The town faced a request from SWaN Investors at their January council meeting requesting that the

town deed over ownership of some “paper” streets and one paved street to the developer. Through the

nearly ten years of back and forth between the town and the developer, through the writing of

ordinances and other topics of discussion, Councilwoman Midge Flinn Yost said that never before this

request was there talk of SWaN taking ownership of town streets.

The town’s planning consultant, Steven Ball, presented a possible timeline showing that the town

council will address the street issue at the April council meeting.

If all plans work without disruption, Ball said, the hotel could work through all of the plan submittals and

begin construction in early 2020 with plans for completion by 2022.

Ball explained there are four components to the project that include a conformity review that has

already been completed; street negotiations which will occur at the April council meeting; a conditional

use permit and site plan application which has not yet been submitted; and construction as the final


Following the initial comments by Bishop and Ball, citizens stood to give their opinions and to ask

questions of the council members.

Christy Huddle, who shared that she is a former city planner, said that Ball oversimplified information he

presented to the group and even provided information that was false regarding a matrix Ball gave with

options of possible actions the town could take on the selling or leasing of the streets.

Steve Ramburg concurred saying “it’s difficult to put all of this in one chart.”

“Oversimplifying is a danger,” Ramburg said.

Ramburg went so far to allege that the mayor and council are purposefully delaying the hotel project.

“In the past, paper streets have been given without this type of scrutiny,” Ramburg said. “This is just an

attempt to subvert the BZA [Board of Zoning Appeals],” he went on. “The mayor and council have no

role other than transfer of streets.”

Betsy Bainbridge, who formerly held a seat on the town council, voiced some concerns she had and

asked several questions of the council members.

“I’m concerned that no application has come yet,” Bainbridge said meaning that no building application

has been submitted at any point by SWaN. Bainbridge questioned the council on whether they were

concerned that SWaN may pull out of the project. She also asked if the council if they had concerns over

town spending because a lot of money has been spent on experts with no guarantee SWaN will

reimburse such costs.

Councilwoman Charlotte Thompson responded saying that she does worry sometimes.

“But I can’t go for fear mongering because they might leave,” Thompson said.

Hardy Johnson, also on council, explained that he believed the town was making good progress.

“We are closer than the previous two or three councils have been,” Johnson said. “I am surprised,” he

added, “that not one shovel of dirt has been moved.”

With that, Johnson went on to say, “It’s very hard work and a lot of red tape and we are trying to do

what’s best for this town. Remember,” he cautioned, “this is not the Hilltop as you knew it. This is a

giant thing building out over the existing streets.”

Councilman Ed Wheeless voiced that he was not happy with the way things are going.

“I’m not happy. I’m concerned this council is not motivated and I am concerned that SWaN will walk.

Who would follow after them?” Wheeless posed. “We need to work now to make sure this hotel is in

within the next three to four years.”

Town Recorder Kevin Carden spoke next saying, “I am concerned SWaN may leave. Everybody has a

breaking point and SWaN may reach theirs,” Carden said. “Who would come in if they let with this 10 to

11-year history?” he echoed.

Attempting to calm a room that was often filled with insults and outbreaks, town resident Shawn Amos

called for town residents to come together.

“It doesn’t have to get ugly and personal,” he implored. “The council members are your neighbors. Their

job is to protect the town, not ‘make it happen’ at any cost,” Amos added.

Bolivar resident Sandy Marra, who was very outspoken throughout the meeting, came to podium telling

council members that their constituency goes beyond who elected them.

“Bolivar provides more customers to the water system,” Marra said, intimating that the decisions made

on the hilltop should be reflective of the desire of that town’s residents as well as those within the

corporate limits of Harpers Ferry where the hotel lies.

“And people want to see THIS hotel built, not just A hotel,” Marra admonished.

Thomspon said that she definitely wants to serve the majority those affected; however, she said that the

majority needs to be educated about the entire project before they go out and share information that is

not accurate.

Barbara Humes, a member of the council, concluded saying “We don’t have all the answers, but we are

working through it.”