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Boundary plan stirs more debate in Jefferson County

County officials want Charles Town to delay action on plan

County officials want Charles Town to delay action on plan

April 28, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - County officials agreed Thursday to ask the City of Charles Town to delay any action on their proposal to nearly double the city's growth boundary after people continued to complain about the plan, describing it as "cooked up in the dark" and causing a crisis.

In addition to asking for the delay, Jefferson County Commission members also want their lawyers to examine what legal grounds a city has to set land-use policy in a county and to have a meeting to work on ways to change the state's annexation laws.

Charles Town officials have tried to calm the outcry over the proposed boundary expansion by saying that any property owners inside the boundary would have to request to be annexed into the city. County officials, meanwhile, say the state's annexation laws are too loose.

The city's growth boundary is an area designated around the city which city council members use to consider possible annexations.

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The city's growth boundary currently takes in 7,700 acres but under the Charles Town Planning Commission proposal, the boundary would be expanded by 7,200 acres.

The new area would extend to the west, east and south and set up several different types of land-use areas such as light industrial, business office and technology business space, and entertainment uses.

Mayor Peggy Smith said city officials are considering expanding the growth boundary so the city can get more commercial growth.

The proposal angered some county residents this week who object to the boundary being expanded into their communities. Those people are objecting to being annexed into Charles Town and say the proposed boundary expansion cuts into a historic farming area in the Earle Road area west of town, the site of several Washington family homes.

The Earle Road area is zoned agricultural under county laws, but the city's plan involves extending a residential growth zone into the area.

Randy Funkhouser, who owns a 200-acre horse and cattle farm along Earle Road, told the commission Thursday that tourists come to the Earle Road area to see attractions like the Washington properties.

"They don't come here to see houses and town houses," Funkhouser told commission members.

Each of the five commissioners expressed concern about Charles Town's intentions.

"I think we're approaching anarchy when these types of things happen," Commission member Rusty Morgan said.

Commission member Jane Tabb said she wants to have a serious discussion with Charles Town officials over the issue, and the commission agreed Thursday to send the City of Charles Town a letter asking that any action on the proposed new growth boundary be delayed for 30 days.

Regarding state annexation laws, the commission agreed that they should meet with their lawyers to determine what kind of changes in the law could be attempted in the state Legislature.

Commission members have complained about changes in state annexation laws and Tabb said Thursday that annexations have become too easy for cities to undertake since the changes were made.

The commissioners have complained about so-called "shoestring" or "pipestem" annexations that allow cities to annex slender sections of land to reach large sections of land.

Recent annexations by the City of Ranson have enlarged that city by 3,800 acres and commission members complained that such annexations make it difficult for the county to plan for growth.

Morgan said much of the county's growth already has been planned.

"We just really can't screw up what's left," Morgan said.

Commission member Jim Surkamp said if this type of land-use is allowed to continue, all the county's towns will have land-use plans which will be competing for land.

"It's like a Monopoly game board on steroids," Surkamp said.

About seven people spoke in opposition to Charles Town's plan Thursday. They spoke about Charles Town government being unresponsive to their requests for information and asked that the process be changed to allow for more public input and not just input from "developers and land speculators."

"This is a battle for the heart and soul of this county," Funkhouser said.

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