Perhaps a bit of history regarding the Hilltop Hotel project can inform the current hysteria of some about pending State legislation to “take away the Town’s regulatory authority” under certain circumstances.
When SWaN purchased the dilapidated and failing hotel in 2008 or so along with a number of dilapidated armory houses while announcing plans to build a signature hotel and save the historic houses, it was clear to many of us that the town had no means in existing ordinances to control our destiny. We knew little about the new hotel owners and were fearful of being run over in court, particularly if certain town officials persisted in arbitrary and capricious acts toward property owners that had just caused us to lose three court cases in a row. In the third failed case, the court pointed out that we did not even follow our ordinances which, in fact, were also not compliant with West Virginia law. Therefore, the judge directed the town to issue a permit and pay the plaintiff’s court costs - very punitive. He took away the town’s regulatory authority for good reasons. We did not want to face that judge again without legal ordinances to stand on, whether it was a suit by the hotel owner or by some of the town’s own residents or both. To be absolutely clear, the Town had no enforceable regulatory authority in that timeframe and many residents seemed happy with that. Volunteers spent the next six to seven years building an ordinance framework with expert attorneys while a segment of Town residents yelled and cursed at us in public meetings (or even while walking the dog), slandered us in private, spread disinformation about draft proposals, and invented issues that did not exist. Nonetheless, defensible ordinances were enacted in 2017 that addressed ALL the real issues raised by residents including everything in the infamous 2015 petition that said - if those concerns were met - the 107 signators would accept the resulting hotel project. During this time the hotel owners were extremely patient and engaged very little. All this is a matter of public record - even the abusive behavior - and you might be surprised by several signatures on that petition.
With new ordinances in place, many elected and appointed officials stepped down. Residents who had been in opposition stepped up and have been moving the goalposts and delaying ever since. The hotel owners, Fred and Karen Schaulfeld, engaged more in public while their hotel concept evolved further to address other concerns of residents. Absent real progress by town officials over the next two years and growing intransigence by some key officials, many residents felt betrayed and started the “Make It Happen” campaign to inform and maybe influence the 2019 election. It worked, however, no one anticipated the lengths certain incumbents would go to suppress vote to stay in power. Let’s be absolutely clear, the cadre of residents who authored the town’s old ordinances that lost three cases in a row, the residents who mistreated neighbors throughout the development of functional ordinances that met all of their concerns, the residents who have been moving the goalposts for almost three years, the residents who rigged the election and are appealing a court order to “unrig it”, and now are the ones yelling loudest against the new legislation are, in fact, basically led by the same few people. In my mind, this cadre has zero credibility on any issue related to the hotel project. If we are to believe Mr. Bishop’s testimony under oath that “everyone in Town supports this project” and only “one challenge remains” you might ask yourself why aren’t he and the illegitimate members of Town Council scrambling to “Make It Happen” which would remove the obvious motive for such legislation. Nope, they much prefer to drag the project out by appealing court decisions and opposing legislation that would remove their prime tactic of obstruction.
Ramberg is a former resident of Harpers Ferry and served as a Planning Commissioner