Boundary plan scrapped at heated Charles Town meeting

May 16, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Charles Town City Council members unanimously voted Monday night to abandon their proposed urban growth boundary - as well as their existing one - during a meeting where the city's growth plan was equated with the "council driving the bus off the cliff."

Emotions ran high again on the issue as tensions developed between council members, citizens yelled at council members and Mayor Peggy Smith sought to regain order in the meeting by banging her gavel.

Roughly 90 people showed up at the meeting, which was moved to the parish hall at Zion Episcopal Church on Washington Street to accommodate the crowd.

The growth boundary was scrapped, but concerns remained that pressure to annex land into the city remains.

Now that the city has no growth boundary, council member Matt Ward said he is concerned that the city is "taking all the valves off" and that the city could annex property west of Earle Road.


"I think the issues are still there. The doors are open," Ward said.

The council voted to abandon increasing its growth boundary by 6,382 acres after the city's attorney, Linda Gutsell, recommended against pursuing the plan.

Although Gutsell advised the council to abandon the new growth boundary, she said she thinks the city still has the ability to control developments near its borders and that when a development is proposed next to a city, final plans for the subdivision cannot go forward without city approval, Gutsell said.

Tensions arose over a citizens advisory committee appointed by Smith to give input on the growth issues.

Ward complained that the committee is made up of people with developer-related interests and that the committee was formed with little input from council members.

Ward made a motion to reject the committee, but the motion failed when only Ward and council member Bill Jordan voted for the motion.

That part of the meeting touched off a heated exchange between citizens and council members.

"You should be ashamed of yourself," one citizen said.

"This is your citizens talking to you," said another audience member.

"I have selected the committee and the committee will stay," said Smith, banging her gavel to get control.

Monday night's meeting was the third city government meeting during which at least 75 people have appeared. Speakers stated overwhelming objection to the city's growth plan.

The growth boundary was a line around the city which the council used to consider possible annexations.

Much of the initial criticism of the expanded growth boundary centered around the proposal to extend a residential growth area to Earle Road, where there are farms and Washington family homes.

The Charles Town Planning Commission later proposed removing the residential growth area from around the Earle Road area as well as a proposal to construct a western highway bypass in the Earle Road area.

Speakers Monday night continued to make impassioned pleas to city officials to not allow county land to be overrun by residential development.

One speaker said the council was "driving the bus off the cliff" without realizing what it was doing.

"I plead with you to remember we live in a democracy," speaker Pat Rissler said.

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