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Noise ordinance left idling in Berkeley Co.

January 13, 2006|by ROBERT SNYDER

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - They took it a few turns around the track, but in the end the Berkeley County Commission pulled a proposed noise ordinance they'd been mulling since last year in for a pit stop and left it there to sit and idle.

With moto-cross enthusiasts spinning their wheels in silence, commissioners elected following a full round of discussion during the group's evening session Thursday to table a proposed county noise ordinance until the commission adopts its comprehensive development plan, scheduled for later this year.

The commission took its cue from legal counsel Norwood Bentley, who cautioned it about enacting a noise ordinance without having a completed plan and without a zoning ordinance in place.

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Newly elected commission President Howard Strauss noted that by placing noise restrictions on different areas, the ordinance was essentially a zoning law in a county without a zoning law.

"When we start talking residential, commercial, industrial we're talking zoning, and it's going to be difficult to talk zoning concerns without zoning in Berkeley County," Strauss said.

Commissioner Ron Collins said before the board's 3-0 vote to table the effort that he feared enacting a noise ordinance Thursday before adopting a land-use plan would be asking for trouble.

The development of an update to the county's 1990 comprehensive plan began in 2004 with the hiring of Gannett Fleming Inc. by the county's Planning Commission.

The issue of a proposed noise ordinance found its poster child in a moto-cross racetrack in Tomahawk, which has brought a clutch of residents to the commission chambers in recent months protesting that the track is a nuisance that keeps them out of their pools, off their porches and drives them indoors.

The decision not to approve a noise ordinance was a relief, but not much of one, to a crowd that had gathered and were prepared to speak on behalf of Tomahawk MX, which sits on about 100 acres about two miles from W.Va. 9 and has been operating since 2002.

"I hear all the noise in that area and all I hear is a buzz like a bunch of bees going to a hive," said Linda Shirley, who described herself after the meeting as a 30-year-resident of the area.

That was a sentiment echoed by a number of neighbors, including Gary Baugher, who feared a noise ordinance would force the closure of a racetrack that children enjoy using.

"They put them off the street and put them on the dirt," Baugher said about a all-terrain vehicle ordinance adopted in 2004. "Now what do you want to do, take them off dirt?"

Track owner Chad Gochenour said he still feared, despite the reprieve, that the adoption of the county's comprehensive plan could force the racetrack out of business.

Strauss, who confessed he was not in favor of allowing more raceways in residential areas in Berkeley County, proposed passing a new draft ordinance, introduced last week that would have been enforceable from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. and would grant some protection to residents.

"That would allow that officer to say turn it down, here's a copy of the zoning ordinance and if you don't I'm going to go ahead and cite you," Strauss said.

That draft, which was less-restrictive than an earlier one the commission was weighing, drew an angry response last week from detractors of the raceway, who said they preferred requiring noise reductions throughout the day.

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