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Developers band together to fight growth moratorium

February 16, 2000|By DAVE McMILLION, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Claiming the debate over a proposed building moratorium for the county has been "permeated with a lot of half-truths and outright misrepresentations," some developers plan to show up at today's County Commissioners meeting to oppose any effort to impede new home construction.

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If the Jefferson County Board of Education is not receiving enough money to build schools to serve the county's growing student population, then the "collective citizenry of the county" should come together to solve the problem, said Lee Snyder, member of Jefferson County Citizens for Economic Preservation.

"But to shut down the economy of the county is not a reasonable solution," Snyder said Wednesday.

A group of people led by Shepherdstown resident Paul Burke want the commissioners to pass a 60-day moratorium on new home construction in the county until the commissioners approve tighter subdivision regulations.

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

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The Board of Education has joined in the request for a moratorium. If the proposed 3,300-home Hunt Field development is approved, two more schools would have to be built to serve the students from the development, and board member Peter Morgens said he does not know how the district would pay for the schools.

Terry Marcus, co-owner of the Turf Motel and member of Jefferson County Citizens for Economic Preservation, said funding for schools revolves around state laws, not local ones.

With tighter regulations, the county has the ability to implement impact fees to raise money for schools. Marcus said he is not opposed to impact fees being charged to developers.

Snyder said supporters of a moratorium have made misrepresentations about growth in the county, including their argument that there are 11,000 building lots already available in the county, not counting Hunt Field.

The fear is that the county could be facing many growth-related problems if all the lots are built on.

Snyder said there are many lots that cannot be built on because they are too small, do not meet requirements for septic tank systems or other reasons.

Snyder put the number of building lots in the county closer to 1,000.

"There is no crisis," he said.

Regarding farmland protection, the Jefferson County Planning Commission is already protecting agricultural land through zoning regulations that put about 80 percent of the county's land in a rural agriculture zone, Snyder said.

Snyder said the county has a history of overreacting to possible booms in housing development. There was concern about how the Breckenridge development would affect the county after more than 3,000 homes were planned for the subdivision off Flowing Springs Road in 1988, Snyder said.

But there was an economic downturn after plans for the development were announced, and only about 64 homes are in the development today, Snyder said.

Jefferson County Citizens for Economic Preservation existed before the debate over the moratorium arose, and the group has suggested changes in the county's zoning laws in past years to spur economic development.

The commissioners last week decided to delay any decision on a moratorium until this week to allow the Jefferson County Prosecutor's Office to research the issue and determine the county's authority to implement such a ban.

Commissioner James K. Ruland said it is unfortunate how the debate over the moratorium has developed because it has "polarized" the county over an issue that everyone should be working on together.

Last week, Ruland spoke favorably of the idea of a moratorium, but Wednesday he said he would be surprised if the commissioners have the legal right to pass one.

He called a moratorium the "most draconian thing we can do."

"I think it's crazy," said Commission Dean Hockensmith. Hockensmith said the request for the moratorium should have been "killed right then and there" when it was proposed last week.

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