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Attorney says judge dismisses impact fee lawsuits

June 07, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - A Berkeley County judge has thrown out two suits filed against the Jefferson County Commission by developers of the Huntfield community who believed they were eligible for about $6 million in waivers to Jefferson County's school impact fees, a lawyer for the commission said Tuesday.

Commission member Jim Surkamp said school impact fees are a vital part of the county's school funding process and said the ruling was significant.

"This is a real victory for the schools," Surkamp said Tuesday night.

Developers of the 3,200-home Huntfield community south of Charles Town maintained they should not be required to pay school impact fees for an 821-home senior living community in Huntfield to be known as Four Seasons at Huntfield.

Huntfield officials have said they should not be required to pay the school impact fee because people living in the community will have to be at least 55 years old and because no children will be allowed to live in the homes.

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Members of the Jefferson County Commission denied the waiver request because they could not see how the subdivision's covenants controlling the age of people living there and the child restriction could be enforced.

Huntfield developers filed suit against the commission in Jefferson County Circuit Court and asked the court to reverse the commission's decision.

Huntfield officials said in one of their suits that no impact fee can be imposed on a development which does not result increased demand for public facilities.

In the suit, Huntfield officials said the commission's decision was "arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of its discretion, plainly wrong and contrary" to state land county laws.

Berkeley County Circuit Judge Christopher Wilkes presided over the case because Jefferson County Circuit Judge Thomas W. Steptoe Jr. recused himself, said attorney David Hammer, who represented the commission in the case.

Huntfield officials filed two suits that closely resembled each other in what they were requesting, Hammer said.

In one of the suits, Wilkes threw out the case based on how Huntfield proceeded in matter, Hammer said.

Huntfield wanted clarification on the impact fee waiver without going through the impact fee process, Hammer said.

In his ruling, Wilkes said Huntfield needed to go through the process of applying for permits for the Four Seasons at Huntfield and then let the county's impact fee coordinator determine if the community was eligible for the waiver, Hammer said.

Huntfield officials did not immediately return phone calls Tuesday.

Impact fees are collected from developers to help offset the cost of public services needed because of population growth.

Jefferson County has impact fees for schools, law enforcement, parks and recreation, and fire and emergency medical services.

The school impact fee for a single family home is $9,877, the fee for a town house and duplex is $7,444 and the school impact fee for multi-family units is $5,484.

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