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Morgan Co. residents using outhouses to protest subdivision

June 01, 2006|by TRISH RUDDER

UNGER, W.Va. - Painted outhouses are popping up all around Morgan County.

More and more outhouses emblazoned with "Keep Morgan County Rural" are going up along Winchester Grade Road (W.Va. 13) toward Unger and on other roads in Morgan County to protest a subdivision that has been approved by county officials.

At noon Saturday, a press conference and public rally dubbed, "David vs. Goliath Fight Turns into Clash of the Titians," will be held by a group of local residents called Outhouses of Unger at the home of George and Pam Farnham, which is across from the subdivision site.

The rally stage will sit in front of the Farnham's quirky giant fiberglass statute collection they gathered from all over the country - a 26-foot Brian Wilson Beach Boy; a 23-foot Midas Muffler Man; a 23-foot grocery bag boy called Big John; a 20-foot Santa Claus and an eagle with a 12-foot wingspan, George Farnham said.

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"I don't know why anyone would want a subdivision across from Unger's Amusement Park," he said. "There is no cable, poor cell phone service and hard water, and we're a half an hour away from emergency services."

Unger is a rural area about 13 miles east of Berkeley Springs where no public water or sewer is available.

Farnham is the force behind Outhouses of Unger, and heads up the Morgan County group facing the prospect of a new high-density subdivision being built close to their homes. The group formed about five weeks ago, he said.

Farnham said 56 houses on about 1.5-acre lots on 94 acres are to be constructed in Huntington Farms, the name of the subdivision. If more than 25 units are built on a piece of property that size, it is a high-density subdivision, he said.

The subdivision is being built by PVW Enterprises of Rockville, Md. Paul VanWagner of PVW Enterprises did not immediately return two calls for comment Wednesday.

One problem with subdivisions in Morgan County is that no impact fees will be paid by the developers, Farnham said.

"The taxpayers are left paying for the added costs," he said.

"We are not prepared for any additional costs brought on by this planned development," he said.

As a symbolic act against the housing development, Farnham said 56 outhouses were constructed.

"There are 75 outhouses now, and we're putting more up every day," he said.

"The fear is when you allow a national builder ... to come in, then other national builders will follow. It's not just a rally against subdivisions, but it sends a message to our elected officials to put a moratorium on the future."

Farnham said the group is challenging the septic permits approved for the subdivision by the Morgan County Health Department.

"Water is the issue," he said.

Local builder Colin Williams grew up in Unger, he said. His 18 acres of land had problems with the septic percolation (perc) test and he had to move his building site 400 feet. He said the ground in the subdivision is no different than his. He said it is difficult to believe that all 56 of the 1 1/2 acre lots have a suitable septic location.

Jack Soronen, president of the Morgan County Planning Commission, said all 56 permits were given to them by the Morgan County Health Department.

"We don't have the discretion to question the validity of these permits," he said.

The permits are up for renewal in July, Williams said.

"I believe if folks are concerned about this, Morgan County residents should contact the health department and ask them to review these permits. I question the validity of all these perc tests," Williams said.

Margery Sweet, health department sanitarian, said all 56 parcels of land perced and permits were issued. Fewer than half will have to put in a more sophisticated, more expensive septic system, she said.

All the lots "eventually perced," she said. Sweet said she either approves or denies the perc tests, all according to state law.

She said if a septic permit is approved and a well permit is paid to the Morgan County Health Department, the property owner then can apply for a builder's permit from the Morgan County Planning Commission.

Farnham said if the health department approves, then the planning commission and the Morgan County Commission will not deny development because there is no zoning in the county.

Two petitions will be circulated Saturday, Williams said. One will ask for signatures requesting the Morgan County Health Department revisit the 56 perc test permits and review the permitting process.

The other petition will ask for signatures requesting the Morgan County Commission place a moratorium on future subdivisions so the planning commission can finish the county's comprehensive plan, he said.

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