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 Eastern Panhandle WV Real Estate Blog 
Thursday, 15 November 2007

Below is a manuscript from the Community Impact that broadcasts every Friday afternoon...


Good afternoon and welcome to Community Impact with Peter Corum discussing important issues affecting West Virginians in the Eastern Panhandle and around the mountain state. Peter is a mortgage consultant with Wells Fargo, 237 West Washington Street in Charles Town and a concerned citizen of West Virginia. And now live from the studios of talk radio WRNR Martinsburg here's Peter (with Fred Blackmer):


Corum: Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for joining us on Community Impact. Today Fred and I decided that we weren't going to have a guest today because the headlines in today's newspapers are mind-blowing at this point. What do you think Fred?

Blackmer: There's plenty going on.

Corum: (Laughing) I understand Jefferson County's discovered a new revenue stream - that ABC has contacted them to replace Days of Our Lives with Days of the County Commission.


Blackmer: Well the show, I'm telling you the show's running every week, they just haven't found a sponsor yet.


Corum: And Matt with the timely background music... Well, let's jump right into it. Give us a little background on first the subject of Jim Surkamp's removal. Give us, what's happening there?

Blackmer: Well, nothing, There was never really a motion to remove or it was never Commissioner Corliss's intent to start the removal process. It was just a highlight of some of the activities and statements and actions of Jim Surkamp. The issue came up yesterday. Frances Morgan made a motion to have it removed from the agenda right after The Pledge of Allegiance. It was discussed; all of the commissioners made their statements and the issue was over.

Corum: And some of these, what were some of the actions or inappropriate actions that Commissioner Surkamp, who I must say is my commissioner from the Shepherdstown district, doing to upset everybody?

Blackmer: I don't think, I don't think this is the place to discuss...

Corum: Sure it is. Nobody's listening Fred.

Blackmer: Okay, well as long as it's just the two of us - you know his interaction with employees and in some people's opinions misrepresentation of facts when he's dealing with public issues out in public. There's, there are a lot of issues.

Corum: Jumping over to the Spirit of Jefferson's Farmers' Advocate which is of course Jefferson County's weekly newspaper. One of the headlines again is, "Commissioner Approves Resolution Clearing of P.A. of Wrong-Doing."

Blackmer: That was, that's what brought Commissioner Surkamp's activities to a head this time were some statements he made about the Prosecuting Attorney's Office and one prosecuting attorney, assistant prosecuting attorney in particular. That's what brought it to a head this time and it really isn't, it would be better if the whole thing went away. It's just bad for all the employees and morale of the entire county for this kind of nonsense to be going on all the time.

Corum: Well, just a little more detail about that. Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Brandy Simms actually demanded a resolution be passed clearing her name of any wrong-doing. Apparently, there was some statements made that she didn't agree with and they actually passed that resolution, correct?

Blackmer: Certainly, because the only person in the room at the time that thought any of it was true was Commissioner Surkamp, so...

Corum: And I think it's important to note Ms. Simms has been, has requested and been granted a change of working -  I guess situation.

Blackmer: Right. It's my understanding she went from the civil division to the criminal division just so there wouldn't be this constant, constant animosity between the two parties.

Corum: And I just want to end with a quote and this is just a statement of affairs and this is from the Journal in the Panhandle, front page of the Panhandle Section. It says, board rejects Surkamp's removal, but Commissioner Rusty Morgan said he hopes Surkamp will change his behavior and refrain form verbally attacking anyone in the future. Now quote, unquote - "I think he's been a complete jerk at times" Morgan said.

Blackmer: That's the end of the story.


Blackmer: What else do we got going on?

Corum: That's right. Moving on while staying on the theme of Jefferson County, let's jump over to the quarry property because, for those of you who aren't aware of the Old Standard property, it's a large track of land that's basically engulfed by the park, National Historic Park of Harpers Ferry and different contracts, but that was the piece of land that was requested to be annexed into Charles Town, basically 8 miles away...

Blackmer: Yeah, annexed into Charles Town and re-zoned...

Corum: And then re-zoned...

Blackmer: By the county

Corum: By the county; so, fill everybody in there.

Blackmer: Well, the original proposal that went in front of Charles Town and Jefferson County Commission for re-zoning was to use the property in an arguably sensitive way based on its location - to put in a hotel, to take advantage of the scenic vistas of the lake, to put in some high quality business office space, that sort of thing, some public parks, all of the things for you know, an upscale business park and that was soundly rejected by the county commission, So fast forward, what 4 weeks, 6 weeks, whatever and now there's a proposal to build a hotel, put in you know, high quality commercial activities, remove the top of the ridge, put an underground museum, put the mountain back together and run it through the park.

Corum: Now that's the interesting piece about this whole thing is they're actually talking about protecting view sheds. Everything's coming under view shed protection and you know, not changing it and then we have an intriguing concept of basically putting a museum underground, but in order to achieve that you are in essence talking about mountain top removal for the first time in the Eastern Panhandle.

Blackmer: Well, if you don't count the Millville Quarry.


Blackmer: It's very, I don't mean to make light of it, it's probably you know, an interesting vision or proposal for their property, but it isn't all that different from the one that was rejected a few months ago.

Corum: It's all about presentation and who's making it but Fred, what about the argument that this is hallowed ground. Can you dig on hallowed ground?

Blackmer: Well they did when they built the new 340. It's my understanding that most of the hallowed ground from the battlefield's site is holding up the center line of 340. But you know, there is a case, it's all how you view the world I guess.

Corum: Well, I recommend everybody to go online and actually go to the county sites and take a look at some of the concepts and I understand that the new developers had actually given a presentation yesterday?

Blackmer: Yeah, it was an excellent presentation yesterday, but it's really I believe by their own statement, it's in the preliminary stages. It's almost a concept and it's going to take an awful lot of government support, all types of public funding support, community support. It's going to take it all to make this thing happen. It seems to be well though out, but very preliminary.

Corum: And this company, Stonewall Heights, LLC, actually that's what they do I guess.

Blackmer: In the presentation yesterday they have been a huge presence in the United States and I believe they said it's actually an Australian company with current offices I believe in Washington D.C. and the D.C. area, and it's a big, it's a big company that does these sorts of things...

Corum: Of co-oping really or collaborative development with government.

Blackmer: It would seem that the way they talked about museums, public buildings, all that sort of thing that they, this particular group has specialized in.

Corum: The one piece in there that intrigued me a lot was the Local Arts and Heritage Park, you know to shamelessly plug the Arts and Humanities Alliance of Jefferson County, you start to hear those things and look at that, that's another opportunity as an outlet for our creative class communities.

Blackmer: Well, the focus on this thing they did say that the museum itself isn't going to be a local museum, but the interesting part is they're talking about making the museum for the National Park Service for all their artifacts and about the Park, The National Park Service, not any one individual area or park. It was interesting.

Corum: Fascinating. Well, staying on the theme of Jefferson County, I understand Jefferson County and the city of Charles Town met in the Supreme Court last week?

Blackmer: They were both in the same room...

Corum: (Laughing) And not on the same side.

Blackmer: I think meeting might be a stretch but in any event, the Supreme Court read the law to all the parties again and explained to them what it meant and...

Corum: They were discussing what though?

Blackmer: They were discussing annexation, There's 2 or 3 ways, 3 ways at least for municipalities to annex and for county involvement and to be kind the municipalities and the county had a slight disagreement over annexation interpretation and...

Courm: Now for the general public who doesn't deal with zoning everyday, how does, let's say I'm a property owner in the county adjacent or just say even a property or two away from Ranson or Charles Town; How do I get in?

Blackmer: You contact the city. You do a petition of the landowners requesting, you know the stakeholder, you know landowners requesting to be annexed into the city. You meet with the city, the planning commission, their finance and all of that, and various proffers and agreements and all of that sort of thing are signed and if the planning commission of the town and the town council believe it's in the best interest or would enhance the city, they approve the annexation with whatever conditions were laid out.

Corum: And then you then go to the county commission to ask for acceptance?

Blackmer: That's why we were in the Supreme Court. The county commission's position was you had to ask them or they had to give permission and the annexation...

Corum: Versus giving notice?

Blackmer: The city once they approve the annexation they pass an ordinance and the process is simply to notify the county and have the thing recorded at the county clerk's office.

Corum: Now from a county standpoint this is obviously becoming a huge issue of quote, unquote they're arguing on broader growth and inability of the county commission to plan and really you know, the hot topic of pipe-stemming. Share with everybody; what is pipe-stemming?

Blackmer: Pipe-stemming is using road right-of-ways or narrow stripping land to connect from the city to a property in the vicinity arguably of a town so that you don't necessarily have property, property, property, property annexing - you annex as the need arises and then you fill in back to the city. It's a process that has worked well in Jefferson actually what people talk about, there's a difference between perception and reality here. The county commission takes the position that this type of annexation is absolutely destroying their zoning, but if you look at the 1996 Jefferson County zoning map, virtually all of the annexations have been in areas that were assigned for growth on that map.

Corum: By the municipalities?

Blackmer: No, by the county.

Corum: Oh, by the county.

Blackmer: So the city annexations have really followed the development design of the county and it's...

Corum: An interesting argument and this is touching base, I always like to plug this book, Russell Sobel Unleashing Capitalism - Why Economic Development Stops at West Virginia's Border. I think it's Chapter 7 as I was discussing this with a friend over property rights. There also becomes an issue when a property owner wants to go into a municipality and then prevented or a county is trying to prevent that, that's an infringement upon property rights at that point I would think.

Blackmer: That's why this is always going to be the biggest debate in Jefferson County. The county feels that by restricting any development they're protecting the property owners and other property owners feel that they are you know the value of their land and their rights are being taken away. It's when you have land use regulation; the day you pass it you're going to have this issue.

Corum: And actually diverge a little bit and go to Berkeley County on that exact issue; Give us a Cliff's Note version of Berkeley County's attempt on zoning and sub-division ordinances.

Blackmer: Well, Berkeley County and Jefferson County too actually are both writing new sub-division and zoning ordinances. Now, Jefferson already has zoning ordinances and they're re-writing a revision, a complete revision of that ordinance. Berkeley is doing their first or their most recent attempt at a zoning ordinance and both of them are scheduled for public, both of them are imminently available. Berkeley County's zone ordinance is available online and probably in all their libraries. Jefferson County's draft zoning ordinance, new draft zoning ordinance will be available by close of business Monday on the county's website.

Corum: Now is this the consultant who's providing this or is this our new superstar planner...

Blackmer: (Laughing) The person who I refer to as the Wizard?

Corum: That'd be Tony "the Wizard" Redman?

Blackmer: Yeah, he's really working at this thing and it'd be hard for us to find somebody who has an interest in land use in Jefferson County that hasn't had a private audience with the Wizard.


Blackmer: And I like him, I really think he's trying to do whatever it is that he perceives the public wants, but we've been here before. It'll be interesting to see what happens when the document comes out. I'm not sure at this point what participation the $175,000 consultant has.

Corum: Interesting use of the spending of my tax dollars and yours I guess...

Blackmer: It's just starting Peter (Laughing). Did we talk about the swimming pool and buying historic parks and raises for employees and HR Directors and all that sort of thing?

Corum: That's right. I have to make a plug on the HR Director issue, is literally we're running a $22 million business per year and we don't have a CFO arguably and we don't have a Director of Human Resources. How do you figure that?

Blackmer: Well, here's the thing; I mean, it isn't like people don't think this is a good idea. The county commission hired a consultant almost 2 years ago to do a management study for the county. The number one recommendation was to hire an H.R. Director to deal with personnel issues, and we spent the first 10 minutes of this show talking about personnel issues and arguably financial issues. The county's all wrapped around the axle with trying to figure out how to do a wage study, what comparative wages would be for the employees and at the same time they got grants for this, grants for that going on, and saying well, we can't hire an H.R. Director because we don't have the money. It's...

Corum: After looking at the budget, I would maybe give up a dog-catcher and maybe invest in a H.R. Director.

Blackmer: Well not to put too fine a point on it, but they're talking about giving or earmarking a $100,000 for the Shepherdstown Battlefield even though it's a multi-million dollar you know, out in the future vision and saying they don't have $50,000 to hire an H.R. Director. You know, there's life choices...

Corum: I think it's coming back down to priorities and vision.

Blackmer: It is.

Corum: It's interesting watching this current board that the county commissioners, correct me if I'm wrong in the past this has always been a part-time job, and I think it's looking like all of a sudden people are thinking this is a full-time job where they're not delegating and they are starting to try to micro-manage situations like this, look if you're a CEO or Board of Director this is what we want to accomplish and delegate it to your staff. It doesn't seem to be happening for whatever reason.

Blackmer: I've been accused of being a little edgy on occasion, but sometimes you know I mean this, but I mean it lightly but seriously. I think this is the first time in Jefferson County's history where the 5 commissioners really view their positions as full-time jobs. None of them actually have jobs you know, so they've, they work on this full-time and it's conceivable they're making it way more difficult than it needs to be.

Corum: Don't you love that pregnant pause? (Laughing) We'll let that one sink in for everybody. Now let's jump over a little bit to sports and being a Cougar and watching the Martinsburg Bulldogs win games, then lose, and then win and then lose again - it's heartbreaking for the kids.

Blackmer: Well, evidently playing the game isn't enough you know, because they won and lost the same games at least 2 or 3 times now without taking the football field, so...

Corum: Well, give everybody some background on it. Their first 2 games of the season they played...

Blackmer: Right. They had you know, they had a person transfer in it's my understanding and under the representation that they were eligible and somehow they became ineligible or were never eligible to start with and that by state rules if you have an ineligible player play you forfeit, so...

Corum: So that goes to which court then?

Blackmer: Well...

Corum: So it's appealed at the athletic level I'm assuming?

Blackmer: I would guess and they said well you know, it's pretty simple; it says here if you got an ineligible player you forfeit. It doesn't say knowing the person played...

Corum: Are we talking about annexation again? It says this here and then...


Corum: Let's go fight it...

Blackmer: That's how I can keep up with some of these because some of them, it might be a different subject line...

Corum: They parallel

Blackmer: The process repeats (Laughing). So you can have a local person make a decision you know based on the black letter law and you know half the people involved don't like that decision so they go to the circuit court and the circuit court person actually lives around here and you know...

Corum: Come on now, I'm sure they're professionals and don't let their biases come into effect.

Blackmer: They do, but they may have an interpretation of the law that would allow for a reversal of the first position.

Corum: Which happened.

Blackmer: Yeah, which happened. And then of course the half of the people who were happy with the first decision weren't too thrilled with the second decision and off we go down to Charleston where you know where the Supremes hang out.

Corum: So the Supreme Court actually heard this?

Blackmer: That's it, Supreme Court of Appeals. They heard an appeal of the circuit court hearing.

Miller: They didn't actually hear it - they read it and then offered an order based on it, so rather than calling attorneys in to hear the case the WVSSAC sent paperwork down I believe on Friday of last week. It was at the office of the State Supreme Court on Monday. They then called Martinsburg and said you guys need to send everything down from your side and then they read all that material, but never actually heard any arguments.

Blackmer: Okay, so it was actually written arguments with a decision made by the Supremes?

Miller: Yes.

Blackmer: Okay, so...

Corum: But I love the expeditious manner in which this was dealt with.

Blackmer: Well it amazes me how, what amazes me is when you have a legal issue that involves land use or criminal case sometimes it can take a year, year and a half to get a decision from the Supreme Court or a circuit court, but if it involves a local high school football team, I'm telling you we get answers.


Corum: Just remember we could be in Texas where they're now looking at drug testing their students which is unbelievable. So more into and this is a great segway into the race results could change or not change, so fill us in on that headline.

Blackmer: Oh man it isn't just people anymore. (Laughing) We've got a horse that was in, wasn't going to run because of an ineligible horse in a previous race issue; Now this horse runs, comes in second after it was allowed to run and now they're saying that the horse that beat it was somehow ineligible or failed to meet all the bells and whistles.

Corum: I heard the horse was chewing on too many candy bars and eating too much chocolate beforehand.

Blackmer: So now I'm getting to the point where I'm going to start watching the late show of movie re-runs more often because I want to make sure there isn't a change in the outcome of WWII or we're going to be in real trouble here.


Blackmer: But evidently, on further review of this re-play a different horse might win.

Corum: That's, and we're obviously talking about the Breeder's Classic. I mean we're talking about a half million dollars on the line for the winner and...

Blackmer: It's really, you know, it's serious to the parties involved - all issues are serious to the parties involved no matter what the issue- but sometimes it just seems to me that it gets to the point with courts and to win at all costs and you know reason, logic, common sense, all that sort of thing - it's really a struggle to find that lately.

Corum: Well Fred, I'm going to jump into some shameless self-promotion...

Blackmer: This wouldn't have anything to do with The Corum Team at Wells Fargo Home Mortgage  operating in Charles Town, WV would it?

Corum: Yeah, keep me close to home, county roads...Actually, we're quite proud and this is a subject that I guess really is getting national press so I'm very much I guess, following the trend at this point, but after our debates on global warming, we had Elizabeth Crisfield in. She is trained by now Nobel Prize winning Al Gore, former vice-president of the United States of America and so for those of you who didn't know or were unable to listen, that show we had Elizabeth in talking about the climate, the climate crisis, in particular carbon dioxide emissions and Fred was at his best behavior and not completely trying to dispel every positive and heartwarming comment she made.

Blackmer: I barely mentioned the 43,000 year old cycle that the earth goes through with or without Al Gore.


Corum: Well, after creating the internet Mr. Gore did do some positive things in creating awareness and I think that's more the point today, but I'm a big believer that global warming's happening, a few arctic shelves melting has convinced me of that and obviously I would make the point that there are lots of contributors including an interesting statistic about the fires out in the west coast, how much effect those are going to have. And I think I saw in the paper they were calculating it was about, I don't know, two weeks worth of the world's you know, emissions for cars or something. Interesting statistics.

Blackmer: Natural events are a huge contributor, absolutely.

Corum: It's an interesting point. I think in some of the presidential debates what people are saying we're focusing on terrorism and some of these items, but the real crisis is going to be an environmental crisis that wasn't man-made and Elizabeth has a fascinating slide-show presentation that she's putting on Saturday, November 3, 2007 from 10:00 am to noon at World Memorial Building in Shepherdstown and that's located at 102 E German Street. So, the title of the presentation is The Climate Crisis: Reality and Resolution and she really does tackle some tough comments you know, points and just very energetic in terms of sparring with people.

Blackmer: It was fun having her in here and in fairness before everybody says I'm in favor of bulldozing the whole area...

Corum: You're a growther Fred, come on...

Blackmer: Well I am, but you know if the outcome of this is a little cleaner air because they clean up the car emissions or something I'm fine with that. But you know it's hard for me to believe that you know, GM is changing the earth's climate.

Corum: Well you know interesting, and I think Al Gore and former president Clinton were talking in you know, in terms of you know the green movement if you will, and you know really it could be an economic boom.

Blackmer: That's why it's starting to take hold. Business people found out it's an excellent marketing tool. They aren't passing judgment; it's an excellent marketing tool. If you're green, you're selling stuff.

Corum: I'll tell you what Fred, you would think we practice this show a lot and speaking of green and niching and green housing...

Blackmer: Yeah, what do you got going on here?

Corum: The Corum Team is actually again hosting another event. It's a one day super sale where you can save thousands on foreclosures, homes, townhomes, and land and it's an absolute lowest price, no haggling event and that's Sunday, November 18th, 7 to 3pm in 2 different locations - The Clarion Hotel in Shepherdstown and The Holiday Inn in Martinsburg. You can find additional information on the website saleinwv.com.

Blackmer: And seriously Peter before you get, the question I had - I know you're a money guy, a mortgage guy; Are you going to have listings of property there or do you just have people come in with their, with what they found and try to help them?

Corum: Well actually, we're actually going to have listings there. We're going to have 30 builders and realtors in both locations with their flyers and those, what's happening with the market is a lot of people are sitting on the fence saying where's the bottom? Well ladies and gentlemen, this is the bottom. What we've done is ask the realtors and builders to say literally come with your absolute lowest prices - no haggling, no questions, here's the price and literally some of the properties...I'll give you some fun examples - they're going to be 15 to 20% below appraised value and a lot of these situations are heartbreaking in a sense that people are about to get foreclosed on or already in the process of, they have to move because they're being relocated; There's lots of different reasons. We also have developers. There's one in Martinsburg who has an equestrian subdivision and he's literally giving a horse away with the lot along with it being steeply discounted. So, if you're an investor, first time home buyer, looking for a new home, this is an opportunity just to see in one location a lot of opportunity for a good deal.

Blackmer: This is another one of the shows where we could have used an hour.


Corum: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for joining us on Community Impact. We've had our co-host Fred Blackmer and myself, Peter Corum, enjoying the banter back and forth. Take care.


Community Impact with Peter Corum is aired every Friday afternoon from 12:30 to 1:00 exclusively on talk radio WRNR 740am. You can reach Peter in Charles Town at 724-4950 or stop by Wells Fargo Home Mortgage 237 West Washington Street. Ask Peter for your copy of the Automatic Millionaire Homeowner, it's absolutely free. And tune at 12:30 every Friday afternoon for Community Impact with your host Peter Corum on talk radio WRNR in Martinsburg, WV.

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