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Jefferson County rejects moratorium

February 17, 2000|By DAVE McMILLION, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - After hearing nearly two hours of public comments Thursday on whether new home construction should be halted in Jefferson County, the County Commissioners voted unanimously to reject a building moratorium, saying the county does not need "such a dire" action.

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The proposal for a 60-day moratorium, during which the county would tighten rules on development, was prompted by a Tysons Corner, Va., firm's plans to build a 3,300-home subdivision south of Charles Town.

Dozens of developers turned out for the meeting to express their opposition to a moratorium.

More than 100 people packed the commission meeting room, and contractors stood on the sidewalk outside.

Many builders wore red and white buttons that proclaimed "No Moratorium," and a sign bearing the same message was draped over the grill of a white truck parked outside the building.

"I hope the commissioners are listening to us today," Terri Capriotti said, drawing a round of applause from other builders.

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Capriotti said many in the county - from electricians, plumbers, framers, roofers and heating contractors to attorneys and television cable companies - depend on new home construction.

If the Jefferson County Commissioners were to put a moratorium on new home construction, they would be "handing these people pink slips," Capriotti said.

"Surely the County Commission doesn't want to strangle the local economy," said Lee Snyder, whose company does utility line contracting and other work for new developments in the county.

Supporters of a moratorium said the county has failed to plan for growth and questioned how the county would pay for new schools needed to offset new developments.

The debate over a moratorium was sparked by a proposed Hunt Field development along U.S. 34O. Plans called for the development to include a shopping center and business offices at the center of 3,300 homes.

Shepherdstown resident Dorothy McGhee said she represents the taxpayers who would have to pay higher taxes to build new schools required by "mega-growth."

Jack Snyder said he supports a temporary moratorium on development and wants the county to consider impact fees as a way to offset the cost of growth in the county.

Snyder said he thinks the county is about to face "dozens and dozens" of big developments, and if the county tries to stop them, the builders will "club you over the head" in the courts.

Anti-growth activist Paul Burke of Shepherdstown, W.Va., has led a group of people supporting a moratorium. He said this week the group is worried about urban sprawl and about farmland being lost to development.

The Jefferson County Board of Education endorsed the moratorium at its Tuesday meeting, saying two more schools would have to be built to accommodate the more than 1,600 students Hunt Field is expected to bring to the county. Board of Education member Peter Morgens said he does not know how the board would pay for the schools.

Commissioner James K. Ruland said the controversy over the moratorium sends a clear message that the county needs to review its comprehensive plan, a broad blueprint for growth.

Ruland said he was troubled about how the debate over a building moratorium got started.

When Burke asked to be put on the commission's agenda last week, Burke said he wanted to talk about zoning, Ruland said. The commissioners had no idea Burke wanted to talk about a moratorium, said Ruland, who added he felt like he had been "blind-sided."

"I find myself in almost complete agreement with what you have said," said Commissioners President James G. Knode.

Burke did not speak during the meeting. He declined to comment about the vote after the meeting.

"Readers will make their own reactions," he said.

The commissioners opened the meeting by hearing a presentation from Jefferson County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Michael Cassell about the commission's ability to implement a building moratorium.

If a commission has a law or an ordinance governing some activity but wants to suspend that activity, it must draft "an ordinance of equal dignity," Cassell said. That would require drafting a new ordinance and sending it to the Jefferson County Planning Commission for review.

Cassell said he believes it would be difficult for the commissioners to pass a moratorium when the county has subdivision regulations in place.

Morgens said he wanted the commission to realize the School Board's endorsement of the moratorium was not an anti-growth statement. The board is simply concerned about how it will pay for two new schools if Hunt Field is approved, Morgens said.

"And of course that's still not resolved," he said. "That's a frightening aspect to us."

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