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Berkeley Co. gets OK to work on subdivision rules

March 09, 2006|by ROBERT SNYDER

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Despite being more than 10 years old, Berkeley County's present comprehensive land plan remains in effect, and county officials are free to move forward with adopting their new subdivision rules, the county commission's attorney said.

Norwood Bentley told county commissioners last week the 15-year-old master plan for land development in Berkeley County remains valid until the commission votes to adopt an update of the plan, which it is expected to do by June.

"You have all the authority you need to have to take any step you need to take," Bentley said.

The opinion allows commissioners to vote for final adoption of the county's embattled subdivision regulations, a revision of which remains incomplete since the planning commission took up rewriting the rules more than a year ago.

The county's subdivision regulations remain controversial with both growth control advocates and developers unhappy about a number of changes in the plans, including a batch of text amendments. One of those would disallow community well and sewage systems in residential developments with lot sizes as small as 7,500 square feet.

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The subdivision rules hit their most recent snag last month after the county commission voted to delay adopting them following comments by land-use attorney Peter Chakmakian, who accused commissioners of rushing to adopt an ordinance that relied on an outdated master plan.

Chakmakian, who said he represented Building A Better Eastern Panhandle, a development interest group, said basing new regulations on an old plan would make the new rules "unenforceable."

Not so, said Bentley, who told commissioners the adoption by the state Legislature in 2004 of State Code Chapter 8A assured an outdated comprehensive plan will remain in effect until an update is adopted.

West Virginia University School of Law professor Joyce McConnell agreed.

"Is the current plan valid? Yes, it's clearly valid," said McConnell, adding the commission also is free to change the existing comprehensive plan to fit the county's subdivision ordinance.

"The question that the county commission needs to ask is, 'Are the subdivision regulations they're adopting consistent with the comprehensive plan?' If they're not consistent, then they need to amend the comprehensive plan and then adopt the subdivision regulations," McConnell said.

Comprehensive plans are to be updated at least once every 10 years, according to state code.

Commission President Howard Strauss said he was in support of moving quickly to approve the subdivision rules.

"I'm of the belief that we should not be held hostage until the comprehensive plan comes out this summer," Strauss said.

Commissioner Ron Collins indicated the matter was mostly academic.

The update of the comprehensive plan should be ready for adoption before the subdivision regulations are approved following a vote by the county commission last month to ask consultant Gannett Fleming Inc. to review the planning commission's revision of the subdivision regulations, Collins said Tuesday.

Gannett Fleming was hired by the planning commission in 2005 to update the comprehensive plan. That work will cost about $139,000.

The county commission hired the company at a cost of $91,161 to draft a countywide zoning ordinance, which will be presented at referendum in November. County voters overwhelmingly voted against a zoning proposal in 1994.




Public meeting



March 11

Comprehensive Development Plan public meeting

Musselman High School, Inwood, W.Va.

9 a.m. to noon

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