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mh 16jan01 - WVA growth

January 16, 2001

Growth-control backers need to educate citizens



Following a Virginia development company's proposal to put a 3,300-home development in southern Jefferson County, some residents began to seriously consider how to slow growth, or at least provide ways to make it more orderly. Based on our experience, however, citizens will have to be convinced of the negative effects of rapid development before they back growth controls.

The latest proposal comes from Vicki Faulkner and Paul Burke, a Shepherdstown, W.Va. resident whose February 2000 proposal for a 60-day building moratorium was rejected the same month, following an outpouring of opposition from builders and associated tradespeople.

Later that month the Jefferson County Commissioners began gearing up to get in compliance with the state's Local Powers Act, which would give them the right to institute impact fees. Such fees are charged to developers to pay for fire and police protection and school expansions.

To comply, counties must have zoning, a building code and a capital improvements plan. The county has zoning, but a building code developed six years ago was never implemented and must be updated, and a CIP plan is reportedly in the works.

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Faulkner and Burke say that under state law, the county's subdivision ordinance can be amended to require developers to pay "provisions" for each lot they subdivide. Unlike the law governing impact fees, this would be fairly simple to implement, they said.

Developers objected, however, saying that forcing them to pay the fee before the lot was sold would be like collecting income tax before any money was actually earned, and the commissioners took no action.

The public could push the commissioners to move the process along, but haven't done so at this point and probably won't until too-rapid growth begins to affect the county's quality of life. What proponents of growth controls need to do is concentrate less on legislation and more on public education.

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