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Chat talk irks developers

November 05, 2002|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Two housing developers appeared before Charles Town City Council members Monday night to question council member Matt Ward about a statement he wrote in an Internet chat room in which he made references to builders who "threaten, cut corners, lie and behave uncivilly."

Ward is a member of the Charles Town Planning Commission, which recently tabled two requests to annex property into the city.

Developers Lou Athey and Herb Jonkers, who have made separate annexation requests, pressed Ward to disclose who he was talking about in the chat room message.

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Ward said he was not referring to Jonkers or Athey.

Ward would not say who he was writing about. He said after the meeting that he was not referring to any developers who have projects pending before the city.

"I don't want to air dirty laundry because it's not going to get us anywhere," Ward said.

"Well, you aired it on the Internet. That was pretty damaging," Athey said.

Ward's message appeared on Open Jefferson, an Internet chat room for people who like to discuss political issues in the county, namely growth issues.

In his chatroom message, Ward talked about his concerns that the growth debate has been polarized between activists who favor slow growth and the "vested developers." Ward said implying that the slow growth activists are the only ones who are concerned about sprawl-type growth ignores many people in the county who are genuinely concerned about the issue.

"Incidentally, I appreciate that the so-called 'stop-growthers' are stepping up into their completely thankless task of serving as watchdogs for bad growth decisions. I am offended that certain developers and their paid consultants and lawyers, who stand to make millions from growth, have been able to name-call, threaten, cut corners, lie and behave uncivilly, while volunteers who do all the hard work to try to keep the community nice get the bad rap," Ward wrote in his message.

Ward has expressed concerns about rapid growth in the county and has worried about the city council moving forward on annexation issues before an annexation policy is approved by the council.

Ward said after the meeting he has been the target of some rough comments as a result of his stance on some growth issues.

In a recent letter to the editor in a local newspaper, a writer implied that Ward might want to consider "drowning" some of his children if he is concerned about sprawl, Ward said.

"That's the type of behavior that some have shown" Ward said.

Athey is part of a group called County Green LLC, which wants to annex 16 acres near the Citizens Volunteer Fire Co. along the Charles Town Bypass. The 16 acres would be used for residential housing, Athey said.

Jonkers wants to annex 560 acres south of town.

Attorney Peter Chakmakian, who represents many developers in the county, told council members he believes the city's annexation process is chaotic. Chakmakian said many of his clients are asked an "endless barrage of irrelevant" questions when they want to annex property into the city.

Athey said Ward's statement on Open Jefferson "confuses the issue and stymies the process."

Mayor Randy Hilton said the city needs to have annexation standards to make sure everyone is treated fairly.

"I think this will help us avoid some of the problems we're having now," Hilton said.

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