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Zoning vote put on hold

Berkeley County (W.Va.) Commissioners took a planner's advice to take more time fashioning the ordinance and to delay a vote on

Berkeley County (W.Va.) Commissioners took a planner's advice to take more time fashioning the ordinance and to delay a vote on

April 07, 2006|by ROBERT SNYDER

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - Berkeley County voters will not be asked whether to approve a zoning ordinance during the general election in November, following a vote Thursday by the county commission to put the question on hold until next year.

The commissioners voted 3-0 behind a recommendation from planner Matt Mullenax to give a seven-member Zoning Advisory Committee more time to craft a countywide zoning ordinance and delay a vote on the question until a special election which would be held in 2007.

Reading from prepared comments, Mullenax said the consultant hired to draft the ordinance would need as much as nine to 12 months to develop it, too little time to submit the proposed ordinance to the county's voters office and hold all the required public hearings before voters go to the polls Nov. 7.

The proposed zoning ordinance would have to be finalized before Sept. 5 to meet the voters office's deadline for inclusion on the general election ballot, giving county officials and committee members just five months in which to develop the new law, educate and receive suggestions from the public, and have it recommended and approved by the county commission and planning commission.

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"I believe that too much is at stake to draft a zoning ordinance that is considered a 'rush job' both for the Planning and County Commission's investment to date and for our county's future," said Mullenax.

He said foregoing a special election next year would mean waiting until 2008 to bring the issue to referendum.

The commission approved an offer in February by Harrisburg, Pa., consultant Gannett-Fleming Inc. to develop an ordinance at a cost of $91,161. The agreement also included a proposal to revise the planning commission's subdivision regulations.

The county last held a special election in June 2005, when voters statewide rejected a pension bond amendment proposed by Gov. Joe Manchin. That election, which the county was reimbursed for, cost about $57,000, according to information provided by the Secretary of State's office.

Special election costs this time around, which will include paying for printing the ballots, pollworkers' wages, leasing polling places and renting equipment, would be on the county's tab, said county Finance Director Marsha Kelley.

The commissioners agreed it was not in the county's best interest to expedite the effort.

"I don't like to rush into anything because anytime we do it looks like we get a little mud on our face," commissioner Steve Teufel said.

Teufel said he believed the ordinance could be crafted in such a way as to benefit all the county's residents if it's given time to do so.

Berkeley County voters rejected the adoption of zoning when it appeared on the ballot 12 years ago.

Mullenax said the planning commission also is awaiting the results of a study by the U.S. Geological Survey that could tie density allowances in residential subdivisions to groundwater availability. The study's results could help make determinations about future land development as apolitical as possible, Mullenax said.

"Hopefully, using this groundwater study, we'll be able to determine what densities can be that will not be serviced by public water in the next 15 years," Mullenax said.

A similar proposal that was introduced as a text amendment in the county's subdivision regulations awaits approval by the county commission. Authored by commission President Howard Strauss, the change would disallow community well and sewage systems in subdivisions with lots as small as 7,500 square feet.

With three members of the zoning committee in attendance at Thursday's commission meeting, Gannett-Fleming Vice-President Richard Koch said a revised schedule would mean the document could be presented for public review by the end of the year.

The committee held its first meeting earlier this month, Mullenax said.

Koch said the special election could be held by this time next year.

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