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Commission receives land-use plan

April 21, 2006|by ROBERT SNYDER

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - If there is a theme that runs like a stream through the proposed revision of Berkeley County's comprehensive development plan, it's water.

The plan, which was submitted to the county commission Thursday following a vote to approve it by the planning commission earlier this week, offers water availability as the criteria on which future land development activity is determined, county planner Matt Mullenax said.

The plan calls the availability of public water the "driving force" for future high-density development in the county, with low-density and rural development being directed toward areas that sit outside the county's water service region.

Those areas, which would rely on private or community wells, depend on the recharge rate of nearby aquifers.

"The amount of water available depends on the amount of recharge available," said Bill Stubblefield, who chaired the new plan's advisory committee. "If you draw down more than you're putting in, you will eventually run out of water."

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The standard is an objective one that can be used as the basis for the development of a zoning ordinance, Mullenax said.

Mullenax said the idea to use water availability as the gauge for assessing an area's ability to handle intense development grew from a proposed amendment to the county's subdivision regulations that seek to limit high-density growth to areas that are serviced by public water.

That proposal, which is opposed by developers, includes among its provisions a restriction on community well and sewage systems in subdivisions with lots as small as 7,500 square feet.

County Planning Director Stefanie Allemong said the proposal would give the county's ordinance teeth by creating a measurable standard by which to determine allowable density levels in residential developments.

As part of the 2005-06 budget, the Berkeley County Commission allocated $46,000 to fund a study to be conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey that would use stream gauges to measure the recharge rate of area aquifers, county Administrator Deborah Hammond said.

Other features included in the proposed comprehensive plan include a provision for the transfer of development rights. That provision would allow a developer to obtain density concessions in a high-growth area in exchange for the purchase of a property owner's development rights in a district zoned for lower density, Stubblefield said. The provision would ensure that land is preserved for agriculture, he said.

The county commission will hear a formal presentation on the plan by Mullenax at its April 27 meeting. A public hearing in the commission chambers has been scheduled for May 11 at 2 p.m.

The hearing is one of the last steps officials will take before voting whether or not to formally adopt the new plan, which began in 2005 with the hiring by the planning commission of consultant Gannett-Fleming Inc. and the appointment of a 30-member advisory committee that held a number of community sessions and workshops to gather data and receive public comment.

The comprehensive plan, which last was updated 16 years ago, is one of three documents the consulting company had been asked to develop. Earlier this year, the county commission hired Gannett-Fleming to revise the county's subdivision regulations, and to help draft a zoning ordinance.

The county commission voted earlier this month to delay a planned zoning referendum until next year, in order to give the seven-member advisory committee time to develop a draft of the ordinance.

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

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