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Growth is key issue in candidate's forum

September 18, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION

SCRABBLE, W.Va. - Growth and how it should be regulated in Jefferson and Berkeley counties were the issues in the spotlight Sunday during a forum for county commission candidates in the two counties.

There were spirited exchanges between audience members and the candidates during the forum at Mt. Wesley United Methodist Church, which is in the small community of Scrabble, north of Shepherdstown, W.Va., near the line separating Jefferson and Berkeley counties.

The forum was designed to shed light on the Jefferson County Commission race between Democrat Frances Morgan and incumbent Jane Tabb, a Republican, and the Berkeley County Commission race between Democrat Ryan Frankenberry and Republican Bill Stubblefield.

The winners will be determined in the Nov. 7 general election.

The event was sponsored by Scrabble Rabble and the Whitings Neck Group, two citizen-interest organizations in the area.

None of the candidates said they were satisfied with the way land use is being regulated in the two counties and they presented differing viewpoints about how growth should be controlled.

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Morgan has been wary of the rate of residential development in Jefferson County and said Sunday she wants to see more emphasis on tourism in the county, among other issues. Morgan said Jefferson County does not have the environmental regulations it needs, and there have been some new proposed regulations to protect historic properties but they have been "ignored."

"The process has been very jumbled and confused," Morgan told a crowd of about 50 people.

Tabb touted her record of working on farmland protection in the county and said there have been growth-related issues that have been examined in the Legislature, but many times local lawmakers are defeated in their attempts to find solutions.

One of those areas has been how cities are allowed to complete annexations, said Tabb, who is finishing a six-year term on the commission.

Stubblefield said he is concerned about having adequate well water supplies to serve the growing population in Berkeley County. During Sunday's forum, Stubblefield said he fears someday people will wake up in Berkeley County, turn on their water spigots and "nothing's going to be there."

Stubblefield supports zoning - regulations that designate various areas for different types of development - to manage development.

Frankenberry said he thinks subdivision regulations can adequately protect well-water supplies and that Berkeley County does not have to go as far as zoning like neighboring Jefferson County.

Some questions were prepared for the candidates, and after those were answered, members of the audience were allowed to ask questions.

Jefferson County resident Carol Dunleavy asked Tabb to describe a motion that she has made while on the commission that the commission passed and how it improved the county.

"I'm sorry I cannot remember a specific vote," said Tabb.

Tabb, however, said she voted for an increase of the real estate transfer tax, which was used to increase funding for farmland protection and that she voted for impact fees, which are fees paid by developers to help pay for expanded public services demanded by growth.

Jefferson County resident Terry Tucker asked the candidates if they supported expanding country roads that can serve bigger populations or if they favored keeping back roads the same, which helps spur tourism and reflects the uniqueness of the area.

Morgan said Jefferson County is on the "razor's edge" on that issue. Morgan said she supports "keeping beautiful vistas" in the county and supports impact fees for roads that have to be built.

Tabb said she supports agricultural tourism, but said too many young people are being killed in local crashes and better roads have to be built.

"Our country roads are beautiful to drive on, but they're not safe," said Tabb, a Leetown, W.Va. farmer.

"A lot of people die on (Interstate) 81 too don't they," yelled an audience member.

David Klinger asked the candidates how public trust can be restored in the land-use regulation process, adding that people do not feel they are being heard on the issue.

Frankenberry said all land use regulations need to be followed, the public needs to have ample time to express their concerns and all open meetings laws need to be followed.

Stubblefield said the problem stems from waivers that are given to land-use regulations in Berkeley County. The solution is coming up with subdivision regulations that truly satisfy the public, Stubblefield said.

Morgan said fixing certain land use laws and tightening others will help and Tabb emphasized several times during the forum that the county's land-use regulations are currently being reviewed, which should help restore trust in the process.

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