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Morgan County residents explore zoning issue at meeting

January 18, 2007|by TRISH RUDDER

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va - Understanding the West Virginia Code can help citizens become better informed to make decisions on issues such as zoning and impact fees, Morgan County residents learned during a meeting Monday night.

More than 45 people attended a meeting on the Local Powers Act to learn about implementing zoning and enacting impact fees in Morgan County.

Growth in Morgan County has many people concerned, and the meeting was held to inform the public on what the laws are and what tools to use to find information.

It was co-sponsored by the Morgan County Public Library and the Morgan County Forum for Arts, Sciences & Technologies (FAST). Head librarian Larry Springer and FAST President Bill Lands organized the meeting.

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Lands demonstrated the use of computer technology available to learn the rules of the West Virginia Code, and local attorney Larry Schultz explained the steps needed for zoning and impact fees.

An information booklet explaining all of the steps, which was created by FAST, was handed out to follow Schultz's presentation.

The booklet includes Web site information on the West Virginia Code to help people understand the rules of local government, Lands said. It can be obtained from the public library.

According to West Virginia law, a county zoning ordinance must be in place before impact fees can be implemented, Schultz said.

Jefferson County is the only county in the Eastern Panhandle that adopted a zoning ordinance, he said.

Schultz said people need to participate by reading the code documents and attending county planning commission public hearings.

"Educated voters make the best citizens," Schultz said. "When we take control and begin to have an informed and educated decision, it can bring change. We need a civil and informed discussion with our leaders."

Jack Soronen, president of the Morgan County Planning Commission, said, "if there is sufficient interest in holding a public meeting on zoning," people may call him at 304-258-8540.

Soronen said the planning commission public hearing tonight at 7 p.m. at Warm Springs Intermediate School is for public input regarding the county's Comprehensive Plan. There will not be an open discussion on zoning, he said.

Soronen said a draft of the plan has been accepted by the planning commission.

According to West Virginia law, before enacting a zoning ordinance, the planning commission must complete several steps:

· It must study the land by evaluating its existing conditions, including the most desirable land use and conservation of property values.

· It must hold public hearings for public input.

· It must prepare a report on zoning by using the gathered information.

Schultz said "impact fees, not zoning" is why the Monday meeting was held.

He said by implementing the Local Powers Act, impact fees can be charged to subdivision developers before the development is built, in order to protect the county from having to pay for infrastructure to accommodate the growth.

Schultz said the Local Powers Act has seven requirements before it can be implemented, and four of the seven have been met in Morgan County.

Morgan County Commissioner Brenda Hutchinson and commission President Glen Stotler attended the meeting.

"This kind of a town hall meeting for special purposes is a good way to educate the citizens about issues and the process of how to address issues," Stotler said.

Schultz said this kind of informational meeting also could be used for the open government meeting law, the Morgan County Courthouse reconstruction plan and the new county hospital.

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