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editorial - morning herald -12/29/00

December 27, 2000

No matter what county calls it, Berkeley needs land-use update



Incoming Berkeley County Commissioners Howard Strauss favors tough land-use controls for his West Virginia County, provided, of course, that nobody calls it zoning. Whatever you call Strauss' proposals, at least he realizes that the current system is inadequate and is a likely cause of the polluted well water found in a recent study.

Strauss defeated Butch Pennington for the commissioner's post by opposing zoning, which voters had previously opposed on a referendum held in 1996. Strauss called for a "go slow" approach, that would alter the subdivision ordinance instead of stirring up zoning opponents again.

Call it whatever you like, but Strauss's proposed changes make sense. As he notes, if the owner of a 100-acre parcel divides the ground into 100 lots, he or she must provide all the municipal services, like roads, water and sewer.

But if the lot size is increased to five acres, the agricultural exemption applies, as if there are many successful five-acre farms. But Strauss knows what a recent study on the county's groundwater confirmed: Even with larger lot sizes, the region's limestone base can carry septic tank waste miles from its original source.

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The argument we'll hear against such changes is that a person should be able to do what they want to do with their land. In the absence of zoning, it's hard to argue with that. But the right to develop shouldn't include the right to shift the cost of providing all municipal services onto the general taxpayer.

Zoning for Berkeley County is a little while away, and it will probably take some awful proposal - a rendering plant or a stone quarry in the middle of a residential neighborhood -to get people to see that land-use controls protect a landowner's investment by restricting uses that could reduce its value.

And so, until something truly unsuitable is proposed, and the public must spend lots of time and energy opposing it, Strauss's proposals will have to do.

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