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Commission candidates speak out at forum

April 27, 2006|by ROBERT SNYDER

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - It's the growth, stupid.

Paraphrasing the line that propelled Arkansas governor and 1992 Democratic candidate Bill Clinton into the White House seems the most apt analogy to describe the significance of this issue among the five candidates vying for the Republican nomination in the race for Berkeley County Commissioner this year.

Berkeley County is growing and at a rate more than three times the national average, according to recent Census Bureau estimates, which placed it 56th on the list of the fastest growing localities in the United States.

Housing construction continues apace with more than 5,750 lots approved on almost 2,300 acres throughout the county last year, student enrollment in the county's schools continues to increase at a rate of about 5 percent annually, and the county's law enforcement and emergency service responders are overtaxed.

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At a candidate forum Wednesday at Martinsburg High School, all five candidates acknowledged the county's rapid rate of development is a problem, but it's how they said they will address the growth that defines their positions, and their vision for Berkeley County's future.

Candidate Bob Grove said residents need look no further than the Baltimore/Washington and Northern Virginia metropolitan areas to get a taste of Berkeley County's ultimate destiny.

"For 40 years, (the growth) has been coming out of the Baltimore/Washington area, and I don't see it stopping," Grove said in an interview after the forum.

Grove, a former chairman of the county's sewer district, said the way to manage traffic flow brought by growth is by developing a network of roadways that stem from east and west of Interstate 81 and another that crosses through Back Creek Valley.

"If Berkeley County is first in growth, then we should be first in planning," said Grove, who would accommodate development by expanding the county's water district and constructing a pipeline up the length of North Mountain to pump effluent and allow it to percolate back down to recharge aquifers for parts of the county that would not be served by public water.

Expensive and impractical, said candidate Bill Stubblefield, who said growth should be targeted where infrastructure already is in place or can be brought affordably. Stubblefield said a faultline at the base of North Mountain would make the percolation scheme touted by Grove unworkable, and little federal or state funds are available for the types of infrastructure projects he envisions.

"History says we've gotten very, very little (in state and federal money)," said Stubblefield, who supports adopting a land-use ordinance that would target high-density development to select areas. "Until we get assurance from the state that they're going to fund all of our (infrastructure) needs, it's prudent to manage our growth in such a way so that we're masters of our own destinies."

Stubblefield, who said he supports renewable transferable development rights, said running waterlines could cost more than $1 million per mile, a figure that Grove contests, saying the cost would be about half that amount.

Renewable transferable development rights would allow the farmer to sell the development rights more than once over time once the value of the land increases.

Candidate Ted Morgan said he also supports a zoning ordinance, not to stop development, but to help pay for it. Zoning, which Morgan acknowledges is some residents' equivalent of a four-letter word, would help development projects fund infrastructure improvements.

"We've been waiting for 10 years to see what's going to happen, and it's already happened," said Morgan, adding the county has had to rely on an outdated subdivision regulation ordinance to control development.

"If we don't have a zoning ordinance, we can't put impact fees in effect, so it falls on the back of people that are here now," he said.

While he said he supports the work of the county's voluntary farmland protection program as a way to preserve farmland, Larry Faircloth called zoning a taking of private property rights, and said transferable rights wouldn't be available to everybody. He said market forces will help dictate which parts of the county remain rural and which parts continue to grow.

"I don't think you need zoning," said Faircloth, adding he already sees evidence that suggests growth in the county has peaked. "Where water and sewer will be is where medium and high growth will occur."

Faircloth said zoning will result in higher prices for housing and higher taxes for services.

"It's not consistent to think you can have more government and cheaper products," Faircloth said after the forum.

Stubblefield said Berkeley County's home prices are not markedly different from Washington County, and said zoning doesn't automatically mean higher prices.

Candidate Marty Kilmer also said he did not support a zoning ordinance, which he has likened to eminent domain. He called deed restrictions an alternative to zoning to prevent undesirable property uses.

Kilmer said growth is bringing higher taxes, which he said he would rein in by increasing the state's homestead exemption and capping and freezing property assessments.

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