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Jefferson commission refuses impact fee waiver for Huntfield

December 23, 2005|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Saying they could not see how children could be prohibited from living in the development and that the situation "smacks of a boondoggle," the Jefferson County Commission on Thursday denied a request to waive about $6 million in school impact fees for a senior living community south of Charles Town.

Developers of the Four Seasons at Huntfield said they did not believe they should be required to pay the county's school impact fee because people living in the 821-home community will have to be at least 55 years old and no children will be allowed to live in the homes.

Although some county officials believed that covenants for Four Seasons at Huntfield could be written in a way to prohibit children from living there, commission members Thursday questioned how the covenants would be enforced and worried the covenants could be changed over time.

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"It's ridiculous to think the homeowners association would enforce that covenant," said Commissioner Dale Manuel, who voted with Commission President Rusty Morgan and Commissioners Jane Tabb and Jim Surkamp to deny the waiver request.

Commissioner Greg Corliss voted against denying the waiver and reiterated Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Michael D. Thompson's stance on the issue.

Thompson, who represents the commission, said previously that it would be illegal to not give the exemption and vowed he would not represent the commission if the commission did not give the waiver and later was sued in court.

Jefferson County and City of Charles Town officials have been wrestling with the waiver request for months, and Morgan previously said that many taxpayers have voiced strong concerns about the idea.

Before Thursday's vote, Morgan said he thought about having a judge rule on the legality of the impact fee waiver, but was told that the commission would have to make a decision on the matter first before such a ruling could be made.

Morgan feared there could be a "really terrible round of legal action" following the commission's vote on the issue.

"I hope after a decision is made, we all keep cool heads," Morgan said. "I know this is a difficult decision for the community."

Jim Duszynski, chief executive officer of Greenvest L.C., the Vienna, Va., firm which is developing the 3,200-home Huntfield development, could not be reached for comment after the meeting.

Georgiana Pardo, an attorney who has been representing Huntfield developers at commission meetings, said Thursday afternoon she was not sure whether Greenvest would be making a statement.

Corliss first made a motion to grant the waiver, but it died for lack of a second.

Manuel then made a motion to deny the waiver.

Huntfield was annexed into the City of Charles Town, and Manuel said an annexation agreement called for Huntfield to pay a school impact fee for every unit constructed at the development.

Morgan and Surkamp complained about not having a copy of the covenants for Four Seasons at Huntfield, and Morgan said he has seen covenants that prohibit various things in a subdivision.

"But children? Give me a break," Morgan said. "It smacks of a boondoggle for me."

Lori Stilley, president of the Jefferson County Board of Education, and Superintendent of Schools R. Steven Nichols have been attending commission meetings to voice objections to the waiver request and they attended Thursday's meeting.

Stilley said Thompson based his assessment on the waiver issue on a Florida court decision that was flawed.

"This is not Florida," Stilley said. "We have no reason to rely simply on a Florida case."

School impact fees are charged to developers to help pay for school facilities needed because of student population growth.

The school impact fee for every single-family home is $8,562. The fee for town houses and duplexes is $6,686, and the fee for each multifamily unit is $4,858.

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