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Zoning ordinance vote could be delayed

May 12, 2007|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Berkeley County voters might not be asked to vote on a zoning ordinance until next year because a second land-use tool meant to make the proposed regulations palatable to property rights advocates must be approved separately in a regular election year, officials confirmed Friday.

According to state code, voters are to be asked whether a transferable development rights program should be implemented through adoption of an ordinance, but such a question only can be posed on a primary or general election ballot, Berkeley County Commission legal counsel Norwood Bentley III said Friday.

Transferable development rights programs could allow a property owner in a relatively rural area of the county to sell their development rights to another individual for a project where public water and sewer service already are available.

Del. Walter Duke, R-Berkeley, said Friday he wasn't aware of the election requirement while pushing a separate revision to the transferable development rights statute through the Legislature earlier this year.

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Duke was the lead sponsor of House Bill 2831, which eliminated a state requirement that a zoning ordinance be in place for five years before a transfer development rights program could be established. The bill also allows county commissions to determine how many years can pass before the development rights could be sold again.

"I just thought that (transferable development rights) language would be incorporated into the zoning ordinance," Duke said.

Berkeley County Planner Matthew Mullenax said Friday that the Zoning Advisory Committee is "right on the cusp" of presenting a draft of the zoning ordinance for public comment, and is expected to make a presentation about the panel's work next week to the county commission.

Mullenax said a lot of other jurisdictions have adopted zoning ordinances in advance of transferable development rights programs. But if Berkeley County leaders "want to show all our cards simultaneously ... it's not the most ideal situation," Mullenax said.

Even without being able to ask voters to consider a transferable development rights ordinance in November, Berkeley County Commissioner William L. "Bill" Stubblefield said county officials would be hard pressed to have the zoning ordinance ready for a vote by then.

"The county has not been sitting around dilly dallying for about a year on this," Stubblefield said. "They have been worked very, very hard on a complex issue. If we are to be faulted for anything, it would be underestimating the complexity of the issue."

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