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Planners --Schools left out of the loop in growth decisions

February 22, 2000|By DAVE McMILLION, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Even if a proposed subdivision threatens to overcrowd schools, Jefferson County land planners say they can't legally turn it down on that basis.

The issue arose two weeks ago after a Tysons Corner, Va., developer announced plans for a 3,300-home subdivision south of Charles Town that would bring in an estimated 8,800 people and require the construction of two new county schools for the 1,650 additional students.

Last week the county Board of Education endorsed a building moratorium, stating it didn't know how it could afford the new schools. The moratorium was then rejected by the County Commission.

Jefferson County Planning Director Paul Raco said developers are required to submit information about how their proposed subdivisions would affect schools, including an estimate of the number of added children.

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Builders are also required to identify which schools would be affected and how many more students each school would receive, Raco said.

But Jefferson County Planning Commission member Lyle "Cam" Tabb said it is his understanding that state law prohibits counties from considering school capacities in determining whether a subdivision should be allowed in an area.

Tab said he did not know how that could be changed.

"That's going to have to come out in some of the discussions," Tabb said.

It is not just the capacity of schools that the county should be concerned about, said Jefferson County Board of Education member Pete Dougherty. Even though a school may have room for more students, there may be grades within that school that are overcrowded, Dougherty said.

School board members say another high school and elementary school would be needed to serve children from the Hunt Field development being proposed by Greenvest LC.

Berkeley County Schools officials are also feeling the pressure of keeping up with growing student populations.

Berkeley County Board of Education member Bill Sonnik said school officials do not get much information about proposed subdivisions. The board usually learns about them through the newspapers like everyone else, he said.

"Schools are the last to get considered," Sonnik said.

Sonnik said he would like the Board of Education to have more input on the planning process in Berkeley County.

"Obviously we would never get veto power, nor would we ever want that," Sonnik said.

Berkeley County School officials recently announced plans to purchase 16 portable classrooms this year to create more space.

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