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Annexation frustration

County commissioner calls proposal a 'land grab'

County commissioner calls proposal a 'land grab'

March 09, 2007|by DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA. - For the second time this week, a proposed annexation to the City of Charles Town angered other government officials as concerns grew about how such annexations are affecting the ability to offer public services, among other issues.

The Jefferson County Commission on Thursday refused to certify the annexation of the approximately 48-acre Windmill Crossing project along U.S. 340 north of Charles Town after hearing about how annexations are making it difficult to handle 911 calls and other concerns that were raised.

On Monday, local residents and government officials criticized a proposed 638-acre annexation to the City of Charles Town near Harpers Ferry (W.Va.) National Historical Park, and there was general frustration at Thursday's commission meeting about how annexations are being handled in the county.

"It's turning our society upside down," Commissioner Rusty Morgan said.

The Windmill Crossing project involved the development of 15 commercial lots and condominiums.

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The city was interested in annexing the property to build its commercial tax base, which Charles Town officials have said is an important issue for them.

To reach the property, the city proposed going up U.S. 340 to reach the property at the intersection of Marlow Road.

Using a highway to annex a property sometimes is referred to as a pipestem annexation, and county officials have complained that pipestem annexations make it difficult to do effective land planning.

Commissioner Greg Corliss made a motion not to certify the Windmill Crossing annexation because the project does not meet the state's definition of a contiguous property.

The commissioners unanimously voted in favor of Corliss' motion.

The vote came after a discussion between the city's attorney, county lawyers and others about how a reasonable annexation is determined.

Commissioner Dale Manuel questioned Charles Town officials about how they plan to offer city services such as police protection and snow removal at the distant end of the city, and the director of the county's 911 center said his agency has had difficulty in handing 911 calls in newly annexed areas because it is not always clear which jurisdiction should handle the call.

Commission President Frances Morgan said she believed Charles Town was being "aggressive" with the Windmill Crossing annexation and that it amounted to a "major land grab."

"I'm having a hard time controlling my anger over what's taking place," Morgan said.

The proposed 638-acre annexation to the City of Charles Town involves a section of land near the intersection of Millville Road and U.S. 340.

That proposed annexation, which is about two miles north of the intersection of Marlow Road, also is a pipestem annexation because the city would use U.S. 340 to reach it, officials said.

The 638-acre annexation is where three developers are proposing a $200 million office space and hotel project.

Opponents of the annexation say the project is too close to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park and is "out of character for the area."

Charles Town attorney J. Michael Cassell, who is representing the three developers, downplayed criticism of the project, saying the objections are outweighed by the benefits.

The annexation plan is a new proposal, and it will be presented to Mayor Peggy Smith, City Manager Jane Arnett and Jeremy Camp, director of community development for the City of Charles Town, at a meeting March 16 at 2 p.m. at the Independent Fire Co. in Ranson.

The proposed annexation then will be presented to the Charles Town Planning Commission on March 21 at 7 p.m. at the Independent Fire Co., Camp said.

If the planning commission approves it, the annexation would go before the city council in April, Camp said.

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