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County takes step toward zoning vote

February 17, 2006|by ROBERT SNYDER

MARTINSBURG, W.VA.

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

Berkeley County officials moved ahead Thursday with plans to present voters with a referendum on zoning, approving the drafting of a countywide land-use ordinance.

The Berkeley County Commission voted unanimously during its morning session Thursday to hire Harrisburg, Pa.-based Gannett Fleming Inc. to develop the ordinance at a cost of $91,161.

As part of the agreement, the company - which was hired by the planning commission last year to update the 1990 comprehensive development plan - agreed to draft a revision of the county's much-maligned subdivision regulations.

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The zoning ordinance will be ready for a referendum in November's general election, commissioners said.

Planning commissioners voted early in 2005 to pass on a previous offer by Gannett Fleming to write its subdivision rules, deciding instead to revise the rules themselves. The county commission elected not to adopt the fruits of the planning group's work earlier this month after hearing complaints from both growth control advocates and development representatives who questioned the legality of the regulations absent an updated master plan, as well as several issues- what one critic said were "errors and omissions" - that remained unresolved.

Commissioner Ron Collins said hiring Gannett Fleming should silence the naysayers.

"My feeling is that if these subdivision regulations are done professionally, then I don't see anybody sitting out there who is qualified to say anything about them," Collins said.

Among the changes Commission President Howard Strauss insisted be included in the subdivision regulations is a requirement that would disallow community well and sewage systems in residential developments with lot sizes as small as 7,500 square feet. In the past, Strauss has said these systems - called package plants - should be disallowed in subdivisions where as many as five lots are planned for development on an acre.

Currently a text amendment awaiting inclusion, Strauss said it is important to move ahead to adopt the restriction to reduce density levels in some proposed subdivisions.

The measure is opposed by developers, who have called it an effort to apply a zoning restriction to the county's subdivision rules, and by private utility companies, who say it impedes private enterprise.

Gannett Fleming Vice President Richard Koch, appearing before the commission Thursday, seemed to side with Strauss on the matter, indicating it is not uncommon to attempt to regulate housing densities outside the context of zoning.

"In areas where you don't have a zoning ordinance, you try to tackle density in the subdivision regulations," Koch said.

A first draft of the zoning ordinance should be completed in time for public comment by mid-summer, said Koch, who presented the proposal to the commissioners.

Koch said it is important that the public be educated about the proposed ordinance.

"I think an important part of a zoning ordinance being placed on the ballot in November is putting together an education program about what the zoning ordinance will do and what it will not do," Koch said.

Berkeley County voters soundly rejected implementing zoning when it last appeared on the ballot 12 years ago.

In related matters, the commission approved a list of county residents presented by Planner Matt Mullenax who had been selected to serve on an advisory committee to draft the zoning law.

Those chosen for inclusion on the committee are:

  • Todd Butler, a Gerrardstown farmer

  • Tina Combs, Executive Director of the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Chamber of Commerce

  • Jeff Feldman of Whiting's Neck, a member of the county's comprehensive plan advisory committee

  • Allen Henry, a developer

  • John Swift, an attorney

  • Carolyn Thomas, a Shepherd University professor

  • Hunter Wilson, a developer and comprehensive advisory committee member.


Gannett Fleming will present members of the 30-member comprehensive plan committee with a draft of the plan to date, Mullenax said this week.

The plan, which is intended as a guide for growth patterns throughout the county examines issues of land use, housing, transportation, economic development and preservation, and protection of agricultural, natural and cultural resources.

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