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Taylor mulls major development

by Nora Edinger

REGIONAL EDITOR

Taylor County officials are hoping about 300 acres near Harrison County's border will be a ticket to renewed economic vitality.

This week, county commissioners announced they have a six-month option to buy on a 30-40-acre portion of the property, which is owned by the Richard Knotts family. A proposal is in the works that would turn that land into an industrial park, with the remainder eventually becoming a residential development and a village-style shopping district.

"One of the first phases of developing this parcel would be the industrial park," said Patrick Ford, a municipal planner who directs the Bridgeport office of Whitney Bailey Cox Magnani, LLP. "Industrial partners could develop sites within two years."

That firm is serving as a development consultant to Taylor County in a similar relationship to one it has in Monongalia County.

"What's driving this is the availability of state and federal money that can be used to develop this site," Ford added.

The county is working to access federal Economic Development Authority funds, specifically. That would necessitate pursuing income-producing tenants such as industry from the start. The land purchase is contingent upon such funding, Ford said, although no information about a cost was available.

Also, Ford said the county wants to get into the national development boom before it peaks.

"They're looking for sites that have water, sewer, grading and shell buildings up," Ford said of national clients seeking new locations. "If we don't have any one of those things, we're already behind the game. What Taylor County is trying to do is level the playing field."

Taylor County may even wind up with a whopper of an advantage, he added.

The proposed widening of U.S. Rt. 50 to four lanes through Taylor, the construction of a bypass that will connect U.S. Rt. 50 to I-79 near the Taylor County line, the eastward growth trend of Bridgeport and the business boom at Benedum Industrial Park make the Knotts property a headturner.

"Everything's just coming together right now," Ford said.

Extending sewer lines to the property -- located on Meadland Road/county Rt. 3 about 12 mile north of U.S. Rt. 50 and three miles east of the county line -- would be a big part of the industrial park development cost, which is estimated at about $1.3 million.

"We would collect the sewage on site at a pump station," said Chad Riley, a project engineer with Thrasher Engineering, Inc., of Clarksburg, which is handling initial engineering plans. "Most likely, we would be pumping that back to Bridgeport's system."

A proposal by Mountain View Water Association, which supplies portions of Taylor, has water coming within 400 feet of the site in the near future.

"We would put a road in divide it into six lots of five to six acres each," Riley added of the plan.

There is about one acre of low-lying area Thrasher is checking into with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It may be a wetland.

Overall, however, Riley said the land is a developer's dream.

"It's beautiful, rolling, pretty flat property," he said.

Ford said the remainder of the site could be developed over five to 10 years. Initial plans call for a mixed residential development that would include both single- and multi-family homes and a village-style shopping center to serve those residents.

"The property's within 20 minutes of two Super Wal-Mart's," Ford said. "It can't compete with a strip-mall style of development ... I would envision a village-oriented center, with maybe a small drugstore, a dry cleaner, a convenience store."

County commissioners Bob Weaver, Tony Veltri and James Kinsey were not available for comment.

Regional editor Nora Edinger can be reached at 626-1403 or by e-mail at nedinger@exponent-telegram.com.

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