Zoning is a hot issue

Land-use plan hasnâEUR(TM)t changed since 1990

Land-use plan hasnâEUR(TM)t changed since 1990

September 05, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - Two years ago, as a candidate for a seat on the Berkeley County Commission, Steve Teufel ran on an anti-zoning platform.

Four years ago, also as a commission candidate, Howard Strauss said he ran on a take-it-slow approach, although newspaper stories written at that time identified him as an opponent of zoning.

Both men, who were elected, now are saying that voters should decide whether to implement zoning - a move precipitated by an adult-oriented retail store, Slightly Sinful, opening next to Bunker Hill Elementary School.


Because the county has not updated its comprehensive land-use plan since 1990 and reviewing it will be a lengthy process, the earliest the question could appear on the ballot is probably in November 2006, Strauss said.

Between now and then, any number of businesses that could be considered undesirable might open just about anywhere.

Just ask Butch Pennington.

Zoning advocate

Pennington, who ran for county commissioner seats and lost to Teufel in 2002 and to Strauss in 2000, always ran his campaigns as an advocate of zoning.

"It's kind of ironic isn't it, that (after a) while, (the) circle comes back around?" he said.

Gracious given the circumstances, Pennington said he's glad the commissioners are talking about implementing a zoning ordinance because he feels it's desperately needed.

"To try to (manage growth) without zoning is suicide," Pennington said. "We need to implement zoning now. This land won't always be what it is today."

Pennington had to go to court after county officials tried to stop him from opening a business. They argued that - of all things, zoning - prevented him from moving forward. A judge recently ruled otherwise, Pennington said.

County voters last were asked to approve or reject a zoning ordinance in 1996. Pennington remembers that it was handily defeated.

Now, though, minds might have changed, especially given the recent controversy surrounding Slightly Sinful. With zoning in place, such a store likely would not have been allowed to open beside a school.

"I think they had their taste of what zoning can do for them and that taste is like a piece of candy. It's very appeasing to the palate," Pennington said.

Stricter subdivision laws

Strauss, meanwhile, maintained that he has not waffled on the issue of zoning. He said that he opposed the zoning ordinance previously pitched to voters and that in 2000, he favored having voters decide the matter.

Stories published in The Herald-Mail during the 2000 election, however, identify Strauss as being against zoning, but in favor of stricter subdivision laws.

The county's subdivision regulations were overhauled and adopted in January. A storm-water management plan followed in April, Strauss said.

Last month, the commissioners voted to spend $100,000 in leftover funds from last year's budget to update the county's comprehensive plan, which last was modified in May 1990, Strauss said.

Updating the plan could take 18 months. First, the county's Planning Commission will review it and vote on it before forwarding it to the County Commission for final approval. Public hearings will be interspersed along the way, Strauss said.

Strauss said it's unfair to ask him whether he personally is for or against zoning.

"I think the question should be, are you in favor of this specific zoning ordinance," he said.

'A two-way sword'

Teufel also was a vocal opponent of zoning when he ran for office, saying, "It takes away the rights of landowners."

Now Teufel, who did not return a phone call Friday, also wants to place the question on the ballot.

The county's third commissioner, John Wright, has only attended two of the commissioners' weekly meetings this year. His apparent replacement, Ron Collins, is running unopposed in November's general election.

Collins steadfastly campaigned on the idea that zoning should be decided by voters once the Planning Commission finishes updating the comprehensive plan.

Collins, Strauss, Teufel and Wright all are Republicans.

Although Strauss said he is concerned about undesirable businesses opening, rushing forward with a zoning ordinance could also hurt the county, he said.

"It's a two-way sword," he said.

Pennington agreed.

"If you rush it, it's going to be just that, rushed," he said.

Pennington, who volunteered to assist the commissioners with forming the ordinance if asked, said the zoning ordinance should be one that allows for room to grow. Changing the ordinance also should be easily permitted, he said.

"It may not benefit you and me, but our kids will benefit from it," Pennington said.

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