Snyder defends land-use law in W.Va.

April 12, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - A new land-planning bill that has received heavy criticism from Jefferson County officials has been signed into law.

When Gov. Bob Wise signed Senate Bill 454 last week, he gave a list of reasons for doing so.

Before the bill was passed, lawmakers passed resolutions suggesting that the state's land-planning laws be strengthened, Wise said in an April 7 letter.

The state's land-planning laws are "difficult and unclear," which is illustrated by the number of court cases that have been filed over land-use issues, Wise said in the letter.


At a recent Jefferson County Commission meeting, one commission member said he was "shocked" over the contents of the law.

It eliminates public hearings when county planners are considering minor subdivisions for approval, and depending on how it is read, officials said it suggests that public hearings can be eliminated when major subdivisions are being considered.

Commission President Al Hooper and Commissioner Jane Tabb pointed out a section of the bill they interpreted as saying counties can adopt proffers as a way to pay for public services instead of using impact fees. Proffers are fees that towns can collect to pay for public services, like schools.

Tabb wanted to know how the bill affects the county's new impact fee system.

Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson, a primary sponsor of the legislation, told the commissioners at a March 25 meeting that he was not aware of some of the details of the law and said he was not aware of any provision that eliminates the need for public hearings on subdivisions.

Although he was a sponsor of the law, Snyder said there were many versions of the proposal and the issue was hard to follow.

On Sunday, Snyder defended parts of the new law. He said after reviewing it, he did not see where the new law allows for the elimination of public hearings for major subdivisions. Snyder said he believes Jefferson County officials were misinterpreting it.

The law does eliminate public hearings for minor subdivisions, Snyder said. County officials expressed concern about that provision, saying they are sure some people would want to have input on minor subdivisions near their homes.

Regarding the proffer fee issue, Snyder said there should not be a problem for the county. The new law uses the exact language that was adopted earlier by the state, which allows counties to have impact fees, he said.

Last week, Snyder issued a press release saying he agrees with Wise's explanation of the bill.

Despite the commissioners' concern about the law, Paul Raco, head of the county's department of planning, zoning and engineering, said, "there are so many loopholes" in the law that the county may be able to steer around the requirements of the bill and continue with its own system.

At last Thursday's commission meeting, Commissioner Greg Corliss said he talked with Wise about the law at a funeral for a Vietnam veteran in Shepherdstown, W.Va., on Wednesday.

Corliss said Wise told him of his decision to sign the bill.

Corliss said Del. John Doyle, D-Jefferson, has offered to meet with the commissioners to discuss their concerns about the law.

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