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Zoning vote pushed back to '08 in Berkeley County

May 18, 2007|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A special election slated for November to allow Berkeley County voters to decide whether to adopt a comprehensive zoning ordinance was officially scrapped Thursday by the Berkeley County Commission.

The decision effectively nixed a plan by Commissioners Steven C. Teufel and William L. "Bill" Stubblefield to also ask voters about increasing the size of the commission from three to five members before the 2008 election year.

Teufel, who is up for re-election next year, said he was "very disappointed" that the zoning ordinance question would not be settled until next year.

"Once again, we're dragging it into the primary election, which is not in the best interest of this document," said Teufel, the commission president.

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Even if the commission question is approved by voters in May 2008 as is hoped, the additional seats on the county commission would not be filled until the 2010 election year, legal counsel Norwood Bentley told commissioners.

Bentley told Stubblefield that he doubted the commissioner's idea to add the seats to the 2008 primary election ballot was legally possible when the question to increase the size of the "County Court" was not yet answered by the voters.

In addition to delaying the zoning ordinance vote, the County Commission accepted the recommendation of Berkeley County Planning Department planner Matthew Mullenax to allow the Zoning Advisory Committee and a consultant hired to help draft the ordinance to develop a Transferable Development Rights (TDR) ordinance, which can only be voted on at a primary or general election.

State lawmakers representing Berkeley County in the legislature, led by Del. Walter Duke, successfully amended the TDR regulations to eliminate a five-year waiting period requirement. But Duke said last week that he wasn't aware of the election limitation in state code and didn't realize the need to change it, too.

A first draft of the zoning ordinance is expected to be released sometime after May 24, the final scheduled meeting of the zoning committee members, said Mullenax, who already contemplated delaying a special election vote until December from November this year.

Mullenax acknowledged in his presentation that he told commissioners in January this year that he had planned to have a draft of the zoning ordinance ready by March or April.

"As you may have noticed, March and April came and went without a draft zoning ordinance being released," Mullenax said in prepared remarks.

"The reason for this, simply put, is that (the consultant) Gannett Fleming, the Planning Commission staff and the ZAC have always had a choice to make during this process: Draft the zoning ordinance fast or draft it well," Mullenax said.

"Every time, we have chosen to draft the document well."

"I think I've waited 50 years for this," Collins said smiling after hearing from Mullenax. "What's another couple?"

Mullenax said committee members were not "jumping for joy" that the process is going to take longer, but he felt the lack of a TDR ordinance alongside the zoning question could have a "significant effect" at the polls.

Bentley told commissioners that the public education process was crucial to any vote on the zoning and TDR ordinances happens.

"It's essential that the people of this community understand what this document is about before they vote on it."

Collins suggested possibly holding public meetings in each of the county's six magisterial districts.

Before his presentation, Mullenax prepared a timeline for advancing the zoning ordinance to a final form for voters' consideration that included a number of "public education" meetings and public hearings by the planning and county commissions.

Mullenax contemplated the County Commission would be able to adopt the ordinances by Jan. 10, 2008, allowing time for the primary ballot to be prepared for the May vote.

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