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Halt on Jefferson County growth proposed

February 10, 2000|By DAVE McMILLION, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Two days after the Planning Commission was presented a proposal for a 3,300-home subdivision that would be larger than any town in the county, the Jefferson County Commissioners were asked Thursday to halt all new subdivisions until tighter restrictions on development can be put in place.

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The proposed moratorium was suggested by Shepherdstown, W.Va., resident Paul Burke, an advocate for slow growth.

Burke and other supporters of a housing moratorium said they are worried about the amount of farmland being lost to development, and a moratorium is needed to protect the county against "the cancer of sprawl."

"You are our leaders. We ask you to help us and guide the process. Close the barn door while we still have horses and farms to save," Burke said.

The commissioners decided to delay discussion on the issue for a week. After Burke proposed the moratorium, the commissioners asked Jefferson County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Michael Cassell to advise them on what kind of authority they have to implement a moratorium.

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Burke gave the commissioners a proposed written moratorium, which says "no application for a subdivision, except minor subdivisions creating three or fewer lots, shall be accepted by the Planning Commission office for review."

Burke's wording presents "wide ranging ramifications" for the county, Cassell said.

Jane Peters, executive director of the Jefferson County Development Authority, said she is concerned how a moratorium would affect economic development. The Development Authority is about to subdivide more land in its Burr Industrial Park west of Charles Town, W.Va., and Peters is worried how a moratorium would affect the effort.

"This isn't a simple proposal you have asked me to look at," said Cassell.

County Planning Director Paul Raco said moratoriums are usually reserved for situations in which governments do not have standards or ordinances.

If regulations are in place, the county must show there is a "health or public safety issue" at stake, Raco said.

The push for the moratorium comes after Tysons Corner, Va.-based developer Greenvest L.C. announced this week it plans to build a massive housing development near Charles Town.

The Hunt Field community would contain a shopping center, office complex and a community center with an Olympic size pool, according to Jim Duszynski, vice-president of Greenvest. The company offered to donate 75 acres to the Jefferson County Board of Education for the construction of up to two schools in the development, Duszynski said.

If there is anything that would cause the county to stop and rethink about how it wants to grow, Hunt Field is it, said Commissioner James K. Ruland. He likened the announcement by Greenvest to a "ton of bricks." "The sands are moving underneath our feet. It does make sense to me to take a breath here," Ruland said.

Burke said the Jefferson County Planning Commission mocks the county's subdivision ordinance. He cited Tuesday's Planning Commission meeting in which the commission "ignored" current ordinances by allowing Greenvest to submit a less detailed set of drawings for its development. Because of the size and complexity of Hunt Field, it would be tedious and meaningless to draw a detailed sketch plat that is normally required of proposed subdivisions, said R. Michael Shepp, a local surveyor who is working on the Hunt Field project.

Planning Commission member Pete Smith said he rarely agrees with Burke on issues, but he sees the validity in Burke's argument for a subdivision moratorium.

At Tuesday's Planning Commission meeting, Smith expressed concern about having less information about a subdivision that is at least 10 times the size of most developments in the county.

Several people opposed the idea of a moratorium, including local real estate agent Carol Kable. The county's current zoning regulations are not always easy for developers to get through, and they are sufficient for the county's needs, according to Kable.

A local farmer who did not give his name agreed. "It's a fact of life we are a part of the growth corridor. It's just really extreme to stop growth."

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