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Jefferson School Board endorses growth moratorium

February 15, 2000|By DAVE McMILLION, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - The Jefferson County Board of Education endorsed a temporary moratorium on new home construction in the county Tuesday night after one board member said the school system could be in "big trouble" if it doesn't find a way to pay for new schools needed to offset development.

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The concern is primarily over the proposed Hunt Field development, which calls for the construction of 3,300 homes, apartments and townhouses in southern Jefferson County off U.S. 340.

Board members say another high school and elementary school would have to be built if the subdivision is approved.

"It's a big gulp to swallow. I don't see where the mechanism is to pay for these schools," said member Peter Morgens, who asked the board to endorse a 60-day moratorium on new subdivisions in the county. During the 60 days, county leaders would develop tighter regulations on development.

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Morgens and board members Doris Cline, Paul Manzuk and Pete Dougherty voted to endorse the moratorium, and Board President Larry Togans voted against it.

The idea of a building moratorium was initially suggested to the Jefferson County Commissioners last Thursday by Shepherdstown, W.Va, resident Paul Burke.

Burke and a number of supporters say they are worried about farmland being lost to development, and a moratorium is needed to protect the county from sprawl.

The commissioners decided to delay any action on the request for a week until Jefferson County Assistant Prosecutor Michael Cassell has had an opportunity to research the issue. Cassell said last week that Burke's wording of the moratorium has "wide-ranging ramifications."

While Morgens said he realizes it is up to the commission to decide whether to place a moratorium on home construction, he believes the issue is important enough for the School Board to give its input.

Morgens said Jefferson County Schools would feel the greatest impact from a planned community like Hunt Field.

"This is a large number of school children," Morgens said.

Officials with Greenvest L.C., the Tysons Corner, Va., firm proposing to build Hunt Field, estimates the community will add about 1,650 students to local schools.

Morgens said he would like to see government officials use the 60 days to talk about funding mechanisms for new schools. He has said he would like to consider implementing impact fees as a way to raise money for schools.

Dougherty said he has been expressing concerns for years about how the school system is going to handle expected population growth in the county. Besides Hunt Field, the board of education needs to be concerned about building lots that have already been approved in the county but have not been built on, Dougherty said.

"It's the thousands of little knives that are killing us," he said.

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