Bath opposes bill to push developments in small towns

by Trish Rudder

The Town of Bath Council held an emergency meeting on Monday, February 24 to discuss what the town could do to thwart the impact of /West Virginia Senate Bill 657 that authorizes the Department of Commerce to assist tourism development in the 12 Class 4 municipalities in West Virginia that has a population of 2000 or less.

The Town of Bath has a population of 624, according to the 2010 Census.

Both the Senate and the House passed the bill on Monday. The bill is still being discussed and has not been sent to Gov. Justice for his signature, but there are only two weeks left in the legislative session.

The bill was introduced because the redevelopment project of the Hilltop House Hotel in Harpers Ferry has stalled between the developers, SWaN & Legend Venture Partners, and the town.

Mayor Scott Merki said he spoke with Sen. Charles Trump about the bill. Merki said Trump indicated the West Virginia Senate could not segregate Harpers Ferry from the other Class 4 municipalities.

Merki said Trump told him “it was a done deal.”

According to the bill, only tourism development or tourism expansion projects of $25 million or more would be considered. According to Merki, Trump said the bill would not affect the Town of Bath and would probably only affect Harpers Ferry.

“You can’t assure me of that,” Merki said he told Trump.

According to the bill, it would allow up to five tourism development districts in municipalities of 2000 people or less.

Merki said this bill would allow any developer to build something that would go against the town’s historic preservation.

Council members agreed that a letter will be sent to Gov. Justice objecting to the legislation “and what it could do this community,” Merki said, and to veto SB 657 as it is written as of February 24, Councilwoman Rose Jackson said.

All the council members will sign the letter with copies to the other 11 Class 4 municipalities, and to the West Virginia Municipal League.