Proposed referendum is defeated as Tourism Development Districts move toward passage

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A delegate who represents an area where a “Tourism Development District” could be established proposed a local referendum for such decisions.

But the amendment proposed by Delegate John Doyle, D-Jefferson, was defeated 12-80.

John Doyle

“If we are going to usurp the authority of the town government, better we give it to the citizens of the town than to the governor of the state,” Doyle said.

The Tourism Development Districts bill is likely to affect Hill Top House, a long-discussed hotel renovation project in Harpers Ferry.

The act would enable the state Development Office to spearhead a project under certain conditions. The Department of Transportation is required to provide support, including acquiring and developing streets and roads.

The bill would apply to Class IV municipalities of fewer than 2,000 residents. And it would apply to projects with investments of more than $25 million, in historic districts and qualifying for state tourism tax credits, which have their own requirements.

“I personally think this is an awful bill,” Doyle said. “It takes a complicated situation and comes up with a situation that is both heavy-handed and simplistic.”

Separately, in Harpers Ferry on Thursday night, town council voted to pursue both binding arbitration with the Hill Top House developer and legal action concerning the legality and constitutionality of the bill flowing through the Legislature.

The bill is lined up for passage in the House of Delegates on Monday, and it has passed the state Senate already.

The project most immediately affected would be Hill Top House, a historic property that was purchased by developers including Karen and Fred Schaufeld in 2007

The hangups on the project have been over how Hill Top House would interweave with the town’s zoning and the residential neighborhood where it is situated. For example, Hill Top House developers have wanted to buy and alter some public streets running through the hotel property.

Delegate Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, on Friday said there are some instances where the economic effects extend well beyond the municipal borders.

House Finance Chairman Eric Householder, R-Berkeley, made reference to how long the hotel renovation has been debated.

“I’m going to oppose the gentleman’s amendment,” he said. “Harpers Ferry — they’ve been having a referendum for the past 13 years.”

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