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Jamestown development at crossroads

Kenny Kemp
No sign of activity can be seen at Phase IV of the Jamestown Subdivision, where developer George Neilan has two months to finish infrastructure work and get city approval of his sewer system.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It's almost noon on Thursday, a picture perfect day with temperatures in the mid-70s. A city trash truck making its weekly rounds is the only thing disrupting the tranquility amidst the upscale homes of the Jamestown Subdivision off Connell Road.

That, however, is also the problem. In the hollow below, along the dirt roads where developer George Neilan has been building the Phase IV infrastructure of Jamestown since 2005, there's no apparent sign of activity.

Neilan has just two months left to finish installing utilities and building roads -- and getting city approval -- under the fifth extension of his original permit, or preliminary plat plan.

"It's amazing. I never see anyone working," said Charleston City Councilwoman Mary Jean Davis, a neighbor who serves on the Municipal Planning Commission and chairs council's planning committee. She visits the site several times a week to check on progress, as does the city engineer's office.

"It's a beautiful day, not a cloud in the sky," Davis said. "If you're under a deadline, you'd think you'd have people working."

Planning commission members first approved Neilan's preliminary plat in August 2005, but revoked it two months later after questions rose about slippage problems at earlier phases of the subdivision. They reinstated the permit in February 2006.

Since then, commission members gave him an unprecedented five extensions: September 2007, December 2009, December 2010, June 2011 and March 2012. But they did so with increasing reluctance. Their patience may be running out.

"I come out here Monday, Wednesday and Friday," Davis said. "I've been coming out since we extended [the deadline] the last time. The reason I do that is the commission does that in good faith. You can come out on other projects and there will be people working. Why wouldn't there be?"

In August, after planning commission members grilled Neilan about the apparent lack of progress at Jamestown, Chairman Gerry Workman asked him to return in October for a progress report.

Dan Vriendt, the city planning director, said he called Neilan to see if he was planning to attend the October meeting, which was held last Wednesday.

"Mr. Neilan didn't want to show up again today," Vriendt told the commissioners. "He said he didn't want to go through that again. I got a report from his attorney at about 4 o'clock [Tuesday]."

In his email report, lawyer J.B. Akers said a gas line had been repaired and hinted at work on landscaping, final plat drawings and paving. He attached an earlier letter with questions about the sanitary sewers.

Those sewers are a sore point for the Charleston Sanitary Board, which must sign off on the system. If the project is ever finished, the sewers and other infrastructure would become city property. General Manager Larry Roller and Operations Manager Tim Haapala criticized the installation Wednesday, as they did in August.

"The sanitary board approved an initial [sewer] plan," Haapala said. "Then we found the lines were not installed as planned."In particular, one line that runs under a road was designed to be buried 5- to 6-feet deep. It's now between 15 and 17 feet underground, he said.

"What seems to be happening is [they say], 'We'll do it the way we want' and try to foist it off on us. He simply isn't following the agreement. The lines are not acceptable," Haapala said.

Aric Margolis, the assistant planning commission chairman who led the meeting Wednesday, said it appeared the sanitary board was not going to approve Neilan's sewer system.

"I'm going to go out on a limb and say [the developer is] not going to make the changes within the given extension. I'm going to guess the commission will ask: 'What then?'"

Without another extension, Neilan would have to start over and submit a new preliminary plat, Vriendt said. "The sanitary board's going to have to approve it."

Davis said Neilan hasn't been following the rules. "I don't know why we feel we need to keep giving him extensions. I'm for taking [the Phase IV area] back to green space.

"I'm not going to hold his hand. He knows what he has to do. It's not fair to the sanitary board. It's not fair to the people who've invested money out there."

Commissioner J.D. Stricklen said there are two options. "The property will have to be reclaimed, or a new preliminary plat plan submitted. Will that be Mr. Neilan? I don't think so. It will be reclaimed or another developer takes over."

Reach Jim Balow at balow@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.


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