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Developer Steve Bassett watches initial site preparation for his second condominium in Colonial Beach. The property includes his former home. View Photo

A 28-unit, five-story condominium a block from the Potomac River is under construction in Colonial Beach. The ground level will house various shops, with residential units above. Site preparation is already under way for a similar but slightly smaller building to the rear. View Photo

Builder and businessman Kevin Phillips is renovating this house at 25 Irving Ave., which was an eyesore among the town's beachfront houses. View Photo

Colonial Beach

Colonial Beach's growth spurt
April 7, 2006 12:50 am


AS HE WALKS along Irving Avenue in Colonial Beach from the new coffee shop to his condominium construction project, Steve Bassett watches as the operator of a front-end loader drops its large shovel through the porch roof of an older, yellow house nearby.

"That was my house," said Bassett. "Yeah, that one."

The situation instantly crystallizes what is happening in Colonial Beach: out with the old; in with the new. These days, the once-sleepy Potomac River town is seeing a surge in new development as never before.

To Bassett, the growth results from a confluence of circumstances. After Hurricane Isabel damaged the town in 2003, people saw an opportunity to give Colonial Beach a fresh start. At the same time, baby boomers are reaching their financial peaks and and contemplating retirement opportunities. And with Colonial Beach offering waterfront property within easy reach of the Washington-Richmond corridor, it answers the post-Sept. 11 desire for second homes not so far away.

To Chuck Bird, the town's director of building and zoning, the growth, for whatever reason, is explosive by Colonial Beach standards.

"Five years ago we might have had five new homes. Last year we approved 141 new homes," he said--almost all of them infill, and almost all of them allowed by right under existing zoning. That includes Bassett's condos.

"That sort of development is going to have an impact on what the character of this town has always been. We used to be one of Virginia's best-kept secrets. Not anymore."

Few would disagree. From the center of town to its outer edges and beyond into Westmoreland County, the growth is unprecedented.

Bird predicts that this year he'll see the first 60 to 100 building permit requests for Potomac Crossing. Approved two years ago by the Town Council, the 512-acre project by national builder Ryan Homes will include 913 housing units surrounding a golf course.

The town will also feel the effects of development just outside its borders. Bird said developer Richard Ward has proposed a 600-home development nearby in Westmoreland County.

"There has been lots of speculation about the town's future," Bird said, which is reflected in the calls he's been receiving from entrepreneurs looking at Colonial Beach for relocation or expansion.

Bird said the growth is prompting the town to review its zoning ordinance and its comprehensive plan to put them in sync with one another and to make sure the town's best interests are addressed. He also noted that an environmental downside of the new development is the increased stormwater runoff that's created. Under the Chesapeake Bay Act, that's something the town must also deal with to avoid further polluting the Potomac.
Real-estate values rising

Given the increasing business and development activity around town, Bassett was confident that there would be a demand for his condominium project, which he calls Potomac Renaissance.

"We are seeing new businesses come in here. We're seeing more affluent people, second-homers, and young couples just trying to get in the game," said Bassett.

Multifamily housing on the scale of Bassett's project is something new in Colonial Beach. The initial five-story building will have 28 units plus nine or 10 retail spaces on the ground level. There are two- and three-bedroom units with either 1,000 or 1,450 square feet, ranging in price from $329,000 to $450,000. He has sold 25 of the 28 residential units, and anticipates occupancy by the end of May or early June.

Just behind that building, where Bassett's former home is being razed, a second, slightly smaller condominium with 24 units will be built. Nine of the units have already been sold, he said.
Existing housing renewed

Even the old is becoming new again in Colonial Beach, as a quick tour of the town reveals many older houses being revitalized.

Kevin Phillips, who has rehabilitated homes in Fredericksburg, has ventured into Colonial Beach. The house at 25 Irving Ave. was a blight on the riverfront neighborhood when it was brought to his attention.

"It wasn't long from being condemned," he said. What was a 1,600-square-foot, two-story eyesore will be completely redone from the framework out. An addition will double the square footage.

Phillips is banking on finding a buyer who would enjoy life in Colonial Beach the way it used to be--in a 70-year-old house that's been thoroughly modernized--and be willing to pay well into the $400,000 range to own it.

"There's a market for work like this because building lots are getting harder to find here," he said.
More ideas than land

How will Colonial Beach blend its past and its future? Building director Bird views growth as a train that'll run you down if you don't get on board.

Leaders are are trying to anticipate the challenges they'll face in an era of growth. Joining the conversation in Bird's office is Mayor G.W. "Pete" Bone Jr., who says he knows the need to expand services will come before the town realizes the tax revenues generated by the new development.

Those growing pains will also manifest themselves in how the town's finite amount of land will be used.

Kevin McKinney, owner of Value Craft Homes, has been building in Colonial Beach for the past six years and is Bassett's general contractor for the condominiums.

He thinks the town needs to make itself attractive to both residents and tourists, and hopes to organize a local committee to help the town down its future path. "We need an overall picture of what the town could look like," he said, "with everyone having a say."

He also wants the town to be ready--with quality lodging, for example--if Maryland reintroduces slot machines and Colonial Beach's pier casinos of the 1950s return to the Potomac. The river belongs to Maryland.

The new condominium, facing Taylor Street just a block back from the waterfront, overlooks a largely vacant town-owned plot. It is bordered at one end by the new High Tides Restaurant. What should happen to the three other parcels depends on your point of view, and there are opposing ones in Colonial Beach.

McKinney says he and others would be willing to turn that land into a park as a gift to the town. He says that would be a much more attractive view for condo owners than the backsides of restaurants. But Mayor Bone, noting that those parcels are valued at $1 million each, says a town-owned park there would be an awfully expensive sacrifice of revenues.

Stay tuned for future developments, in more ways than one.

To reach RICHARD AMRHINE: 540/374-5406
Email: ramrhine@freelancestar.com

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