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Planners ponder possibilities in West Fairview

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The Grotto Pub Sports & Raw Bar sits on the northwest corner of the square in the unincorporated village of West Fairview, a riverfront community along the Susquehanna River in Cumberland County.
The Grotto Pub Sports & Raw Bar sits on the northwest corner of the square in the unincorporated village of West Fairview, a riverfront community along the Susquehanna River in Cumberland County. - (Photo / )

Perched at the intersection of the Conodoguinet Creek and the Susquehanna River, West Fairview is among the smallest municipalities in Cumberland County.

Over the years, little attention has been paid to the area as bigger, “better” projects always seemed to loom on the horizon. This year, however, the tide is beginning to turn. West Fairview may finally enjoy its day in the sun.

The unincorporated village in East Pennsboro Township is being evaluated for its redevelopment potential.

“West Fairview is a rather old, distressed area, which is why we began examining the possibilities,” said John Owen, municipal planner and assistant township manager for East Pennsboro.

One of the first steps was to assemble a committee of experts. Owen said Jonathan Bowser, CEO of Cumberland Area Economic Development Corp., or CAEDC, put him in touch with Valerie Copenhaver, CAEDC’s director of marketing and tourism. Both Owen and Copenhaver then reached out for feedback and recommendations from property owners, Realtors, economic development experts, developers and local business owners.

The next step in the process was to apply for funding for a study. The township, with CAEDC’s help, applied to the Urban Land Institute to conduct what is known as a technical assistance panel, or TAP, which brought together volunteer experts in a range of fields, including architecture, engineering and waterfront development.

The panel was funded through a joint partnership of CAEDC and the township. With $2,500 from the township and $10,000 from CAEDC, the Philadelphia-based Urban Land Institute was brought aboard. By early summer, the institute plans on filing recommendations for West Fairview’s revitalization.

West Fairview, home to about 1,300 people, is situated on a hilly peninsula on the West Shore facing Harrisburg.

Despite its small size, opportunities for socialization abound, whether it be chatting with the regulars at a corner pub, enjoying a slice of pizza at a local pizzeria, or attending municipal meetings.

Bird watchers, fishermen and photographers alike find charm at the confluence of the scenic Susquehanna and Conodoguinet.

Planners hope more people will discover the village’s charms.

“One of our goals in the revitalization process is to redevelop existing housing stock to allow for commercial use, with a mind towards tourism development,” said Owen, adding that a mixed-use, walkable community would be attractive to both residents and visitors.

Another goal, according to Owen, is to ensure the sustainability of structures located in a flood-prone area.

“Prior to being incorporated into East Pennsboro, West Fairview had no building codes, no zoning, no land-use requirements,” Owen said.

Copenhaver said that CAEDC, as the economic development and tourism arm for the county, is prepared to play a part in helping interested businesses invest.

“We can help them find financing to help bridge gaps while providing advocacy and being the connector between the municipal, state and federal government,” Copenhaver said.

Both Owen and Copenhaver agree that West Fairview’s main draw is its riverside location, an asset that has yet to be capitalized on.

“The waterfront sets West Fairview apart from most other downtowns in Cumberland Valley,” said Copenhaver, explaining that any number of businesses could be situated along the river.

Owen also mentions the importance of preserving the town’s historic architecture. “A lot of properties need a little TLC. There are good examples of Victorian structures there, along with a few churches that date back to the 1800s,” he said.

The ultimate goal, said Copenhaver, is to make the community a better place to visit.

“There is a perception out there that West Fairview is already a gem, but there are things that can be done to improve on what’s already there,” she said. “Right now, it’s not on the map anywhere and it certainly should be.”

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