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Ready for Charles Pointe

by Nora Edinger

REGIONAL EDITOR

With the official announcement of a $750 million planned community only five days old, local and state officials are already gearing up for a bigger, bolder Bridgeport.

"The current (sewage treatment) system was constructed with plenty of growth in mind," said Bridgeport City Manager Kim Haws of one of Charles Pointe's more practical impacts.

Haws said the city's five-year-old plant runs at about 45 percent capacity on a normal day and should not have to be enlarged to handle sewage from not only Charles Pointe but the proposed Meadland Industrial Park and planned community, which may locate just over the Taylor County line.

The city's water comes from Clarksburg and several smaller suppliers.

Haws is convinced some of the large commercial customers Charles Pointe developers are hoping to attract may actually stabilize Bridgeport water and sewer rates for some time to come.

"We may have a large customer on the 279 bypass before we have any residential needs," Haws said of possibly getting the most expensive part of the sewer and water extension out of the way early.

"Any time that you can spread the customer base out over a larger population, there's an economy of scale."

Engineering studies on how to extend the lines in the most cost-effective way are being done before a single bulldozer is on site, he added.

Walter Barth, a city council member, said the council has been discussing such issues in closed sessions for about a year.

He believes business and occupation taxes from commercial and light industrial sites will also take care of a large portion of increased infrastructure costs, insulating property taxes from increases, as well.

"A project of this magnitude does not just appear overnight," Barth said. "We have the time to get the infrastructure."

Haws sees the key to keeping property taxes steady as diversity of development.

"Residential: It never pays for itself," he said of uniform developments that generally cause an increase in property taxes. "You just get a large amount up front in the form of construction."

The Charles Pointe plan calls for 250 homes, with other facets including a city-owned conference center, hotels, a golf course, shopping villages and high-tech businesses/industry.

Another benefit of the way Charles Pointe is being planned is its pre-development annexation, Haws said. In addition to annexing the entire bypass, the various community areas will be taken into the city as they are developed.

When the city has annexed post-development, it has often incurred unexpected costs, such as having to remove and reinstall road beds in the Ridgeway Drive community, he said.

"There's no county zoning, and that's a problem," Haws said, adding Charles Pointe will actually give the city a smoother zoning connection to land it controls near Meadowbrook Mall. "This really fills in a large gap."

One definite cost increase will come in the form of added police and fire services, however.

"The council has known for some time that it would need to build a fire substation to be able to adequately cover other areas of the city," he said. "There would also need to be an addition of police officers."

Haws believes that, once again, the property and business taxes coming in from the development would cover these costs.

"We think this is just a great addition to the city," Barth added.

Views from outside

Harrison County schools would welcome Charles Pointe's children, according to Assistant Superintendent William Ashcraft.

"We are in a decline county wide," he said of enrollment. The county has lost more than 400 students in the last two years. It now has 11,496 students for each of which it receives a set amount of per-capita state funding.

Ashcraft said Bridgeport's two elementaries, one middle school and one high school are poised to handle the students Charles Pointe could bring.

If more growth spins off the project and additions are needed, Ashcraft said school officials would not object.

"We would love to deal with that kind of problem," he said.

State Division of Highways officials say the traffic situation is similarly under control, especially in terms of access to the developing state Route 279, also known as the Northern Bridgeport Bypass.

"We have worked with the developers on the design and the construction plan and added intersections at the requested locations," said John Morrison, who is handling the design of the northern portion of the bypass.

"We're putting in turning lanes and crossovers," Morrison said of designing the bypass to include the three Charles Pointe-related intersections that are known to be needed.

Not everyone is pleased with the development, however.

Gus Douglass, state agriculture commissioner, is concerned Charles Pointe is just the beginning of major farmland loss throughout the North Central region.

The 2,000-acre community will replace a rolling farm that is presently home to only the Compton family and a roaming herd of buffalo.

"Look at the Eastern Panhandle and the Huntington/Charleston Corridor and you'll see rapid growth," Douglass said. "I believe the area between Morgantown and Clarksburg will see similar growth."

In the Eastern Panhandle's Jefferson County, one developer is already pursuing a 3,300-home subdivision. Jan Dickinson, a spokesperson for the state Development Office, said Charles Pointe is the largest planned community actually in the works in the state to date.

"You have lots of facets to consider with development, such as how much of the earth can we put under a roof or concrete," said Douglass, who recently developed a farmland trust that swaps land owners' development rights in return for property tax benefits.

All for one?

Haws is looking forward to the greater role a growing Bridgeport will have on the county. With Charles Pointe at its north west and Benedum Airport at its south east, he believes the city will be a focal point of future development.

With city management experience in Arizona and Ohio in his past, he hopes Charles Pointe will ultimately bring a more cohesive Harrison County. He noted Bridgeport and Clarksburg are already forming some ties, such as when Bridgeport officials recently lobbied state legislators on behalf of Clarksburg's bid for a Veterans Administration nursing home.

"As we go into this project, the region is going to have to work together," Haws said. "If we're not working together, not everyone's going to win."

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

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