Freeman Companies outline latest plans for 1200-home village at former Coolfont
About 100 people, including a number of local officials, turned out on Monday evening, October 22, for a town meeting hosted by Carl M. Freeman Companies, Inc.
The meeting at Cacapon State Park was billed as a Coolfont project update.
"Keeping people informed and exchanging ideas, that's what tonight is all about," said Bob Marggraf, the company's vice president and general manager for West Virginia.
"We are not here to destroy anything," said Tom Halverstadt, senior vice president and general manager for community development and home building.
Halverstadt said Freeman has a reputation for being environmentally sensitive and strives to produce the best product through smart growth.
He said less than 25% of trees on the former Coolfont property will be removed during the project.
Marggraf said the tree canopy will be preserved 150 ft. back on both sides of Cold Run Valley Road. He said only 40% of the property will be developed. The project is expected to take 10 to 12 years to complete.
The community will have a resort component and a residential component. Some 1,200 homes are now planned, with many to be built near two lakes on the property.
The first homes are projected to be available in late 2009 or early 2010.
"Judge us on the facts, not on rumor or innuendo," Halverstadt asked the audience.
Halverstadt said Freeman is not building a town to compete with businesses in Berkeley Springs.
"Your town is the centerpiece of our community," he said.
Freeman's present plans show a spa, restaurant and possibly a convenience store. Other retail offerings may be connected with facilities such as the spa.
No golf course is planned. The land would only be suitable for a golf course if that was all that was being built, Halverstadt said.
The community will not be gated and the public will have open access, he said.
Halverstadt said a rumor that Freeman is seeking favor with the Morgan County Planning Commission and local government to get what they need to see the project through is "hogwash."
Color relief drawings of the planned community, titled "The Villages at Coolfont," were displayed on easels placed around the room. Using one of the drawings, Marggraf gave an overview of the project.
Cluster housing or "hamlets' containing single family homes, duplexes and triplexes will be built. Home prices will range from $250,000 to $800,000.
The existing Lake Siri at Coolfont will be expanded and run under Cold Run Valley Road, creating a second, 50-acre lake.
This will be accomplished by building two dams. One dam will replace the existing dam and be built across the road. A second dam will be built on Sir Johns Run at the Benedict Farm property recently acquired by Freeman.
The new lake, called Lake Prospect, will be 36 ft. deep at its deepest point.
The south end of the property will include condominiums and townhouses built around a town center. Plans include an amphitheater, a community center and a mail delivery area containing boxes for each residence.
A conference center, spa, recreation facility and open field are also in the current plans.
The spa will be open to the public, but it has not yet been decided whether other community amenities will be, Marggraf said.
Other recreational activities will include indoor/outdoor swimming pools, tennis courts, hiking and biking trails, and canoe and kayak rentals. No power boats will be allowed on the lakes.
Test wells have been drilled. Three wells tested successfully on the south end, where the water plant will be placed, Marggraf said.
A sewer plant will be built on the north end of the property.
The company intends to turn the water and sewer plants over to the county's Warm Springs Public Service District after they are completed.
Houses on the north end will also include condominiums near the lake as well as single family homes, duplexes and triplexes in clusters. The homes will be built around the new lake and up the ridge on Cacapon Mountain.
A loop road with several entrances is planned to run around the community, minimizing traffic on Cold Run Valley Road.
During the question and answer period, citizens voiced concerns about water, traffic and the economic impact of the community.
Barbara Tudor gave Marggraf a list of 25 questions to be answered later. She was worried about the social impact of the project and how such things as landfills, additional fire trucks, police and expanded public services would be funded.
"Our intention is not to create a burden on the community," Halverstadt said. He said they were trying to achieve a balance between resort and residential housing.
Halvestadt expected most homes would be secondary residences with few used as primary residences. He said other communities where Freeman has built have "flourished."
Since the project will be built over 10 to 12 years, the impact should be minimized, he felt.
As the community grows, tax revenue will increase and should offset costs of services, he said.
Jim Mahan noted that weekend traffic conditions were "horrendous" in Berkeley Springs and asked what would be done to help relieve traffic problems.
Marggraf said a traffic study has just been completed and would later be made available to the public in layman's terms.
Freeman and their consultant are working with the West Virginia Division of Highways. Marggraf said it is too soon to tell what might be done. He anticipated there might be additional turn lanes into the community on Cold Run Valley Road.
Martha Ashelman asked if the water and sewer plants would be up and running before Phase 1 construction started. Marggraf said yes.
Colin Williams asked if local contractors would be hired to build the project.
Halverstadt said that in the Bear Trap Dunes community built by Freeman in Delaware, 58 sub-contractors were hired, 55 of them from the local area.
"Our greatest fear is the threat to the springs," Barbara Tudor said.
"If the springs go dry, Berkeley Springs as a tourist attraction will dry up," Charles Biggs said. He asked if Freeman's internal company water studies would be made public.
Halverstadt said they would take that under advisement. He pointed out that reports by the county's Rural Water Committee, West Virginia University and geologist Joe Donovan are available.
Marggraf and Halverstadt said that though these reports are inconclusive, only about 1/6 of water to the springs is estimated to be provided by the aquifer that runs under Cold Run Valley.
Marggraf said that with the addition of the new lake and dams, an estimated one million gallons of water a day will be absorbed back into the ground. Most of that water now runs to the Potomac. Other technology for capturing and returning ground water is being incorporated into the plans, he said.
Cindy Born asked how water flow in Sir Johns Run will be affected by the new dams.
Chris Grose, an engineer with Potesta Engineering (consultant for Freeman), said the flow would be at least equal to the flow now.
Marggraf said he already works with the State Division of Natural Resources and U.S. Fish & Wildlife to maintain the correct flow in Sir Johns Run.
Several people asked if the addition of an amphitheater would create competition between the Coolfont community and the Morgan County Arts Council.
"We want to complement, not compete," said Patti Grimes, vice president for sales and marketing.
Others asked if a fire plan for the community has been developed.
"Fire hydrants are being placed throughout the community and we will work with local fire departments," Marggraf said.
Delegate Daryl Cowles wanted to know if a new lodge would be built. Marggraf said this was still being discussed.
"Look at it as a subdivision in your community, rather than a separate community," Halverstadt said. "We build houses, and houses go in our community, and our community goes into your community."
"Most folks are excited and wonder how they fit into your plans," Cowles said.
Speaking after the meeting, Morgan County Commissioner Thomas Swaim said, "One theme seemed to run through the discussion. No matter whether you are for or against the project, everyone is glad a company like Freeman is building it."