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Berkeley commissioner's subdivision request rejected

March 02, 2006|by ROBERT SNYDER

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Berkeley County Commissioner Steve Teufel drew a crowd Wednesday, but it wasn't there to rally around him.

Every seat was filled and people, all Teufel's neighbors, lined both walls clear out the doorway of council chambers at Martinsburg's City Hall during this month's city Planning Commission meeting. They were opposed to the county commissioner's request to split his 38,459-square-foot property in the Briarwood residential subdivision in half and build a house on the newly created lot.

The commission voted unanimously to turn down the request, following comments by Teufel's neighbor, Dr. William Queen, who called the commissioner's proposal "senseless" and "unconscionable."

Queen, who brought the roomful of people to their feet to illustrate opposition to the request, said approving carving up lots in an existing subdivision would hurt the character of their community and set a bad precedent.

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"It's very clear that the people in Briarwood want to maintain the neighborhood that we have," Queen said. "I would hope this commission will not start breaking up a subdivision that has been in place for many, many years."

Teufel, who resides there, said he had hoped to move into the new house in the future.

"I'm looking down the road for my retirement when I can build a smaller, more efficient home and sell the larger home," Teufel told planning commissioners in support of his project.

At issue for planning commissioners was their role in voting on the request that opponents called a violation of their homeowners' association's restrictive covenants.

Commissioner Jim Gassler said he wondered if a vote by the commission might be premature, without the neighborhood's deed restrictions being challenged.

"... I have problems with this subdivision as long as there's this legal cloud hanging over us," Gassler said.

The commission does not have the authority to enforce a community's restrictive covenant, its legal counsel Andy Blake said during Wednesday's meeting.

Queen said a property owner was forbidden from subdividing property without the permission of the homeowners' association.

"It says very specifically in the covenants ... that no lot shall be subdivided except as approved by the homeowners' association," Queen said.

In a Jan. 12 letter to the planning department's legal counsel, Teufel wrote that the community had no active homeowners' group.

"There are no dues collect (sic) or any meeting notices or a board of directors on file," Teufel wrote.

In an interview after the meeting, Queen said a new homeowners' association has been organized, and will be on file today with the county clerk, but the neighborhood's covenant remains in effect.

"The deed says he has to abide by the covenant," Queen said.

Teufel said he plans to get a legal opinion on the issue.

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