- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 5, 2006

Traveling the twisting roads through Pennsylvania’s South Mountains, oblivious to the contentious divide known as the Mason-Dixon line, more Washington-area commuters each year are going home to a Gettysburg address.

Their path to the small town with its legendary battlefield has been fashioned by a combination of lower prices, its link to a historic event and a highway infrastructure that accommodates the District’s expanding metropolitan area.

Its growing popularity makes sense on a number of levels.

Foremost is the historic attraction to Gettysburg itself. A two-square-mile hamlet of about 7,300 permanent residents, Gettysburg is the centerpiece and official seat of Adams County, Pa.

Many more people get a glimpse of the town through visits to Gettysburg College, Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg or on a visit to the battlefield, which represents the county’s 1863 participation in the most decisive battle of the Civil War.

Agriculture, especially fruit, is still the mainstay of the county, but tourism is coming in a close second place. In fact, groundbreaking recently took place for a new 139,000-square-foot, $68.3 million Museum and Visitor Center for Gettysburg National Military Park.

The museum, which is adjacent to the battlefield, will open in 2007.

The town has also begun a multimillion-dollar renovation of the historic Majestic Theater, which Walter L. Powell says is at the heart of a local “urban renaissance.”

“We’re looking to grow in our existing space,” says Mr. Powell, architectural liaison to Gettysburg’s Borough Council. “We’re trying to anticipate development trends that are taking place around us and attract those people to spend money in our downtown.”

In addition to in-town attractions, Mr. Powell attributes growth in the area surrounding Gettysburg in part to the moratorium put on builders in Virginia’s suburbs and on the relative bargain to be found in Adams County land.

Indeed, bargains still abound in the swath of land with Gettysburg’s 17325 ZIP code.

Laurie Weikert, an agent for RE/MAX of Gettysburg, says most of her buyers have been priced out of Northern Virginia and Maryland.

“My buyers come here saying they can’t believe how much house they can get,” says Ms. Weikert, who just sold a Gettysburg town house to a couple who had sold a similar one in Frederick for $100,000 more. “There’s a lot of interest in the higher-end homes because people can afford them.”

Still, Ms. Weikert says her inventory of existing high-end homes is low.

That won’t be the case for long, according to the county’s planning and development office, which is reviewing plans for dozens of projects, each proposing to build more than 25 units of housing.

“If all the proposed, large-scale projects that people are submitting actually go through, we’ll have 14,000 to 16,000 new units of housing in the Gettysburg area alone,” says Richard Schmoyer, director of the County of Adams Office of Planning and Development. “A few of them are far enough along because they’re in locations where the sewer and water issues can be resolved quickly. Others are proposed in locations where it’s not clear how they will get sewer and water hooked up.”

Complications arise in some of the county’s more rural municipalities, which still don’t have zoning codes, Mr. Schmoyer says.

Yet growth around Gettysburg proper is providing complications of its own.

Residents aren’t sure they want to accommodate the nearly 500 new homes one developer recently proposed. The Gettysburg Municipal Authority isn’t sure it will be able to support the water demands. And urban planners are skeptical about whether the roads — which now make Adams County so attractive to commuters — will be able to support an estimated six to 10 vehicle trips per unit of housing daily.

“This is a really rural road we’re talking about,” Mr. Schmoyer says. “With barns on this narrow, curvy street, it presents a lot of challenges — for builders and for residents.”

One of the developments that has successfully navigated construction is the Meadows, which is in the last phase of an 80-unit development that Gettysburg Construction Co. owner Wayne Hill started building 30 years ago.

Homes in the Meadows are 1,300 square feet on one level with a garage, two bedrooms, two bathrooms, living room, dining room and kitchen. Located just two miles from downtown Gettysburg, the homes begin at $179,000. The price and style are attractive to retirees, Mr. Hill says.

“So far, we don’t have children in here really, and no one is really young,” Mr. Hill says of the last 30 units being built. Although buyers own the land their homes are on, a homeowners association takes care of the grounds, winter and summer.

Just six miles from the battlefield is an upscale golf community called the Links at Gettysburg. The Links will have 500 new units ranging from $330,000 condominiums with underground parking and elevators to 15 $1.5 million estates.

“Things are selling very well,” says Rick Klein, president of the Links. “Our buyers are consistently telling us that we look like a steal to them.”

Quail Valley Estates, 15 minutes southeast of Gettysburg, is also situated on its own golf course. Every home is on 1 acre of land and has a unique layout, which includes fireplace, garage and large bathtub. Prices in the subdivision, which is being built by Artisans Design Build Inc., start around $450,000.

Still in the construction phase is Deatrick Village, two minutes outside of Gettysburg, in the Fairfield-Carroll Valley area near Ski Liberty. Named for the original homesteader who sold the property to developer David Sites, Deatrick will be a village of 100 detached condominiums with a community recreation center. Contemporary in style, they will have 1,500 to 2,100 square feet of living space with a first-floor master suite and garage. All have views overlooking protected land. Prices range from $259,000 to $350,000.

A lifelong resident and Gettysburg College alumnus, Mr. Sites, 50, lives on 8 acres of land right on the battlefield.

He says the rapid changes taking place all around his rural hometown reminds him of the changes he witnessed along Interstate 270 two decades ago.

“I remember golfing at the Washingtonian Golf Course, and there was nothing around there for miles,” he said. “That’s what we look like now. Anyone who wants to see what that looked like should look now because just in this tiny little area west of Gettysburg, there are more than 1,100 units of housing in the major pipeline. You can only guess what it’s going to look like in 20 years.”

This article was previously published Oct. 14, 2005.

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