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Residents sue Berkeley Co. planners over development

July 06, 2005|by CANDICE BOSLEY

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A lawsuit filed Tuesday by Concerned Citizens of Whiting's Neck alleges the Berkeley County Planning Commission never should have given a developer permission to build 44 homes on 105.2 acres in Scrabble, a small community near the Potomac River in northern Berkeley County.

The lawsuit alleges the Planning Commission failed to properly advertise its hearing that dealt with Greensburg Estates, that the developer never obtained the necessary permits to install multiple houses on a single septic system, and that the developer's plan to cap a sinkhole could negatively affect a neighboring farmer's water supply.

Attorney Garry Geffert, who filed the suit, said the group's intent is not to stop the development, but to ensure the Planning Commission follows its own regulations.


More than 50 people attended the Planning Commission's meeting Tuesday night, and several discussed the development. All were greeted with loud applause by members of the audience.

Planning Commission President Ray Brosius prefaced the speakers' remarks by saying Planning Commission members could not and would not reply. After the meeting the commissioners went into a closed-door executive session, and Brosius did not return a message left at his home.

Lawsuit allegations

"This is an extremely preventable suit taken as a last resort," said David Klinger, a member of Concerned Citizens of Whiting's Neck and one of the five people who filed the lawsuit. "We will seek the court's concurrence that the Berkeley County Planning Commission has failed not only to live by the spirit of their regulations and rules, but also by the very fact of those rules."

The suit alleges the Planning Commission violated its rules by approving both a preliminary plat and a final plat at its June 6 meeting, and that proper notice of the meeting was not provided.

A sign advertising such hearings must be 22 inches by 28 inches, and be "conspicuously posted," according to Planning Commission rules.

The sign for the Greensburg Estates hearing was 18 inches by 22 inches, and was nailed to a tree 56 feet off the road, the suit states.

When that issue was raised at the June meeting, Planning Commissioners responded that the notice was printed in a local newspaper, according to the suit.

The second main issue addressed in the lawsuit concerns a sinkhole that the developer, Maryland-based PVW Enterprises, proposes to cap. Because of the area's karst topography, the amount and quality of water found in one area can vary greatly from the amount in an area a few hundred feet away, according to the suit.

"(Bill Stubblefield, a local water expert) testified that water levels in karst are particularly susceptible to variation in wet and dry periods, because they are recharged primarily and relatively immediately by rainfall, largely through sinkholes. He testified that seemingly large underground reservoirs of water in karst can disappear quickly due to overuse or lack of recharge," the suit states.

Lastly, the lawsuit alleges the developer did not obtain the permits needed to cluster several homes on one sewer system, and that no process was created to establish a homeowners' association to take care of the sewer systems.

The suit asks that the Planning Commission's approval of the development be reversed, and that the Commission begin abiding by its regulations.

'Our grandchildren will curse us'

Sections of the 105 acres to be the site of the subdivision, at the intersection of Scrabble and Greensburg roads, have been cleared, and piles of uprooted trees are visible.

A large, green sign at the intersection indicates "luxury" single-family homes will be built on lots larger than one acre. Signs staked along the road mark the home sites.

The development is near a nature preserve and is in the midst of farms, with corn being the most popular crop.

Construction on houses has not started.

Concerned Citizens of Whiting's Neck has been looking at the development for months and paid $12,000 to conduct a water study. Paying for that study, and for the fees of the attorney who filed the suit, is being done in a "pass-the-hat" manner, Klinger said.

A favorable ruling from a judge should mean better planning throughout the county in the future, with room for farmers and with developments that respect the land, he said.

"I think our grandchildren will curse us for the poor land-use decisions we're making," Klinger said.

A strict adherence to rules and procedures, along with more involvement from citizens, are important for the Planning Commission, given that the county is one of the fastest-growing in the nation, he said.

If the Planning Commission truly wants to serve the public's interests, an acknowledgment should be made that it is not a body that simply rubber-stamps developments.

"If you get a better process, you're going to get better outcomes," Klinger said.

He said he is not against all growth.

"I happen to believe West Virginia needs more people. But we need smarter growth, better growth, more enlightened growth," he said.

Examples of poor land use exist throughout the county, and around 1,500 homes are planned within a five-mile radius of Whiting's Neck, he said.

"We're drawing a line in the sand with this one," he said of Greensburg Estates.

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