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New comprehensive plan is proposed for Jefferson County

December 30, 2002|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - A new long-term growth plan for Jefferson County proposes to concentrate most development around the Charles Town and Ranson, W.Va., areas and suggests new zoning methods to preserve rural land in outlying areas.

One of the proposals in the county's new proposed comprehensive plan is establishment of a "townscape" area around Charles Town and Ranson that would allow a mixture of high-density residential uses, along with small-scale service businesses, home occupations and community facilities.

In the rural areas, the plan encourages county officials to abandon the existing Land Evaluation Site Assessment, a scoring test for proposed subdivisions that some people have said is too subjective.

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The LESA test is used to score subdivisions that are being proposed in the rural zone.

In place of LESA, the plan suggests the county adopt a more traditional form of zoning, including cluster subdivisions that would allow one house per five acres.

The plan is drawing both praise and criticism among county residents.

Matt Ward, a Charles Town City Council member who has been concerned about the rate of growth in the county and who supports smart growth patterns, said he is encouraged by the plan's intent.

Ward said he is glad to see the plan seeks to concentrate growth in the established Charles Town and Ranson areas, and its recommendation that the county and cities work together on growth patterns.

"I think it's a great start," Ward said.

While Lee Snyder agrees that growth should be concentrated around Charles Town and Ranson, he does not agree with the proposal of one house per five acres in the rural zone.

Snyder said the proposal does not preserve agriculture; it only consumes it faster with larger lots. Besides, most homeowners do not want a lot that large, said Snyder, owner of a water utility company and member of Jefferson County Citizens for Economic Preservation, an organization that represents the interests of builders, real estate brokers and others involved in the home business.

"It's just a nuisance. They buy them just because that's what's available," Snyder said of the larger building lots.

Not everyone who supports controlled growth likes the plan.

Paul Burke, a local activist who monitors land-use issues, said the plan would allow the number of housing units in the county to triple but it falls short of setting up transportation plans to serve the bigger population.

Burke is referring to a section in the proposed plan that discusses a traffic bottleneck that often occurs on U.S. 340 as the highway narrows from four lanes to two as it enters Jefferson County from Virginia and Marland.

The plan says that on Fridays, commuter traffic has been known to back up to Brunswick, Md., as commuters are trying to head back to their homes in Jefferson County.

The plan said about the only way to correct the problem is widening the road to four lanes, but that is unlikely given the impact on Harpers Ferry (W.Va.) National Historical Park and other factors.

The new comprehensive plan being proposed by the Jefferson County Planning Commission presents a broad view of how the county should grow. Specifics of the plan will be put into place through changes in the county's land-use laws, county officials said.

  • Other highlights of the plan include:

  • Soliciting help from the West Virginia Division of Highways to create a transportation management plan that includes mapped alignments of new roads and taking into consideration other forms of transportation. The plan also suggests development of a bypass around the western edge of Charles Town, a proposal that some residents say is needed to replace difficult-to-travel roads like W.Va. 51.

  • Encouraging extension of MARC commuter train service into the county, with stops in Ranson and the new 3,300 Huntfield development.

  • Creating incentives to encourage new businesses to redevelop abandoned or underused properties in municipalities before building on undeveloped land outside those areas.

  • Continuing to attract new industrial and commercial development to diversify the county's economy and avoid possible long-term problems that go with being a bedroom community.

  • Exploring all available avenues to acquire park land that is usable for recreational activities.
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