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Jefferson Co. comprehensive plan would make a lousy jigsaw puzzle

August 01, 2004|By Lyn Widmyer

Anyone who has worked on a jigsaw puzzle knows the importance of the picture on the box. Connecting 1,000 or 1,500 differently shaped cardboard pieces is a lot easier knowing whether the finished image will be an English garden scene or two kittens ensnared in yarn. The picture provides overall guidance for the placement of individual pieces.

The Jefferson County 2004 comprehensive plan would make a lousy jigsaw puzzle.

The comprehensive plan, adopted in March, fails to provide a picture of what the county should look like in 20 years. There is no land-use map showing where residential and employment uses should be located or where retail space should be directed. There is no park and open space map identifying areas that should remain green. There is no public services map to help direct the orderly extension of public sewer and water to future growth areas.

Without a proposed land-use plan map, the Jefferson County comprehensive plan is like a jigsaw puzzle without a picture on the cover.

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This is a big problem when it comes to reviewing development proposals, the planning equivalent of puzzle pieces. In Jefferson County, the puzzle pieces come in all sizes and shapes, from proposals for three houses on 15 acres to requests for mixed-use developments involving hundreds of acres and thousands of homes.

Twice a month, the Jefferson County Planning Commission spends endless hours sorting through these puzzle pieces. Its job is to make sure new development is consistent with the overall vision for Jefferson County. How they can make that determination when the comprehensive plan has no proposed land-use map, no defined growth areas and no open space proposals is beyond me.

I did have hopes this version of the comprehensive plan would include a proposed land-use plan map. The consultant hired by the planning commission at the beginning of the comprehensive plan process recommended a concept plan for the county. After interviewing local officials and residents and reviewing testimony from past planning forums, Richard Tustian submitted a comprehensive plan report in February 2002. Tustian suggested a concept map based on what he considered the most important planning issue facing Jefferson County: the need to coordinate the planning of future growth with the planning of water and sewer service. Only in this way, he concluded, could the groundwater be protected and only in this way could needed sewer and water service be provided at a reasonable cost.

Tustian's recommendation is not part of the recently adopted comprehensive plan. The concept plan has been diluted into a study area map. The issue of how to assure growth is coordinated with the orderly provision of public sewer service is not addressed. The hot planning topic in Jefferson County right now is the lack of sewage treatment capacity for approved development. The comprehensive plan fails to provide guidance to help solve this problem.

Jefferson County's future land-use pattern is now being decided one subdivision at a time. The review process sometimes stretches planning commission meetings past midnight. Planning commissioners deserve credit for the time they spend on subdivision applications, but will the sum of their approvals be orderly growth or costly sprawl?

Without a proposed land-use plan to guide the process, your guess is as good as mine.




Lyn Widmyer is a Charles Town, W.Va., resident who writes for The Herald-Mail. Her e-mail address is rwidmyer@msn.com

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