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Way paved for subdivision

September 30, 1999|By DAVE McMILLION, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - A judge on Wednesday cleared the way for the controversial Murphy's Landing subdivision in Harpers Ferry, rejecting an appeal of the Jefferson County Planning Commission's decision to approve the development.

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Circuit Judge Thomas W. Steptoe Jr. said the appeal by the Harpers Ferry Conservancy "failed to establish error" in the Planning Commission's approval of a community impact statement.

The conservancy filed the petition in May in Jefferson County Circuit Court, claiming the community impact statement for Murphy's Landing may have contained "misrepresentations" about the subdivision.

Although plans call for the subdivision to have 203 homes, the developers have requested a sewage "wasteload allocation" that could serve up to 760 homes, the petition said.

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In his ruling, Steptoe said the developers "offered to stipulate on the record" that the subdivision would contain no more than 203 homes. Their offer "demonstrates good faith on the part of the developers," Steptoe wrote.

Wilbur Smith, an engineer who proposed the wasteload allocation for the development, testified that he often designs sewage wasteload requests based on the number of living units a subdivision could hold, and that the requests are not necessarily in line with the number of units the developer proposes.

The conservancy also said in its petition that a community impact statement must address 21 items regarding proposed subdivisions, but four areas were not discussed for the development, the petition said.

Steptoe said it appears the conservancy was able to bring all issues it was concerned about to the attention of the Planning Commission.

The conservancy also claimed the community impact statement process for the subdivision was "fundamentally unfair to the public."

On the night of April 27, when the Planning Commission approved the community impact statement, people had numerous questions about the development, the petition said. But county Planning Director Paul Raco said questions from the public should have been asked at a subdivision review meeting on April 16.

No public notice of the April 16 meeting was published, and only a "preselected" list of agencies were notified by Raco, the petition said.

Steptoe said the law regarding public involvement in the process "is silent on these questions, and the court has not been able to find any case law or statute from this jurisdiction which specifically addresses these issues."

Murphy's Landing is to be built in the School House Ridge area, where Confederate General Stonewall Jackson oversaw the capture of 12,500 Union troops in 1862. The conservancy claims some of the homes will be built on the site of the conflict's main area of maneuvers.

The executive director of the conservancy said that although he was discouraged by the ruling, he felt the court examined the issue thoroughly. "We felt we got a fair hearing on the facts," said Paul Rosa.

Bob Trumble, the attorney who is representing developers Josephine Murphy Curtis and Karen Fuller, said the builders are "pleased with the decision."

"They will proceed," he said.

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