Ranson spreads out

March 14, 2005|by DAVE McMILLION

Editor's note: This is the first story in a three-part series on growth in the Jefferson County, W.Va., community of Ranson.

RANSON, W.VA. - Ranson used to be a town with boundaries confined to a roughly 600-acre area.

The boundaries wrapped around a tight grid of streets in a design that had not changed since 1892.

That was then.

Now look at Ranson.

In a string of land annexations that started in 2002, Ranson now extends to the east, west and north of its former configuration.

To the west, the Ranson City Council has approved annexations that reach around the Cranes Lane area and up to Old Leetown Pike.


To the east, the town reaches behind Charles Town Plaza along U.S. 340.

From that point north, Ranson takes in land on both sides of the Charles Town Bypass.

One chunk of property that was annexed into the city reaches to the southern edge of the Bardane Industrial Park, which is about 5 miles from Ranson's downtown area.

There's more to the north.

Using W.Va. 9 as a conduit, the city annexed the two-lane highway so it could reach about 700 acres that stretch across the highway just north of the intersection with Wiltshire Road.

Annexing slender sections of property like a highway is sometimes referred to as pipestem, or ribbon, annexations.

Because the state did not take a position on the annexation of the state highway, the section of the highway was included in Ranson's boundary, said Ranson Mayor David Hamill.

At the 700-acre site, a mix of development is planned for the area, including the construction of about 1,370 homes on the south side of W.Va. 9, and commercial and retail development on the north side of the highway.

With the new annexations, Ranson now stretches over about 4,400 acres, said City Manager David Mills.

The string of annexations is drawing criticism from county officials, who say it creates confusing boundaries in the county and interferes with their land planning.

Jefferson County Commission President Rusty Morgan said the Ranson annexations have resulted in a "completely crazy" patchwork of city lines.

No 'pipestems'

County Commissioner Greg Corliss said it is OK for cities to grow, but their annexations should extend from their current boundaries, not from pipestems that extend out in the county.

Corliss said the county cannot do effective land planning because it is unclear what areas cities might annex next.

The annexations also hurt economic development because companies sometimes are reluctant to move into an area where they might suddenly be under a different tax structure as a result of an annexation, Corliss said.

"Where does it stop? It could go all the way into Berkeley County," said Corliss, adding that there is nothing stopping a city from limiting its boundaries to one county.

The city of Charles Town has annexed large areas, too, but the concern appears to be chiefly over what Ranson has annexed.

"Ranson has become the poster child of why we need to change this law," said Del. Bob Tabb, D-Jefferson, referring to the state laws that allow such annexations.

Ranson city leaders, including Mills and Hamill, strongly defend the annexations, saying they are key to creating a strong economy.

Mills said the areas the city has annexed likely will be high-growth areas in coming years and the city saw the annexations as a chance to take in areas that will generate strong revenues.

The city was concerned about possibly being surrounded by growth in coming years and being forced to spend money on more city services to handle growing numbers of people passing through town, Mills said.

Mills said it makes sense to have high-growth areas in cities because the municipalities are poised to offer the services needed as a result of commercial and residential growth.

With the combination of brisk growth and good city services to support it, the result is a healthy economy for the city and the county, Mills said.

And that's important in West Virginia, where politicians repeatedly emphasize the need to jump-start the state's economy, Mills said.

"I think a state is only as strong as its cities," Mills said in a recent interview.

"I think it fits for what needs to be done for the county," Ranson City Council member Duke Pierson said of the annexations.

A local issue

Hamill said Ranson has tried to work with county officials on annexation and other issues.

Hamill said one of the attempts was about a month ago, when he emphasized his desire to work out local issues before trying to resolve them at the state level.

Members of the Jefferson County Commission hope lawmakers can address their concerns in the current session of the Legislature in Charleston, W.Va.

Ranson annexed its new land under a new state law that was passed about three years, ago, Hamill said.

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