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Berkeley Co. zoning ordinance to be topic of public hearings

July 17, 2007|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - Berkeley County residents have five more opportunities in the next few weeks to get educated on a proposed zoning ordinance that is slated to be on the ballot in May 2008.

More than 100 people on Thursday attended the first of the educational meetings. Berkeley County Planner Matthew Mullenax said he was impressed that many of those he talked to in Martinsburg High School's auditorium had already done some research on the issue.

"They were very well prepared," Mullenax said.

Aside from the public meetings, Mullenax invited the crowd gathered on Thursday to visit the county's Web site, the local public library or county offices at 400 W. Stephen St. to review the proposed ordinance, which is about 200 pages long.

Mullenax said county officials talked about having a display at the Martinsburg Mall and the Caperton Train Station, but said nothing was finalized.

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Another slate of public education meetings on the companion ordinance being proposed for Transferable Development Rights is targeted for this fall, and public hearings also are expected to be held on both proposals.

"We're hoping that you will be able go away from here tonight with a lot of good information concerning this," Berkeley County Commissioner Ronald K. Collins told the crowd.

Collins emphasized the meetings were not an orchestrated effort to sell the idea to the public, only to explain the work of the Zoning Advisory Committee and consultant Gannett Fleming to develop a document designed to shape and manage future growth.

At each of the public education sessions, maps and information displays will be set up to detail the proposed zoning districts, which range from industrial to rural residential.

In an overview of the districts on Thursday, Gannett Fleming's Dick Koch said adult entertainment uses, defined as adult bookstores, theaters, cabarets and massage parlors/studios, would be limited to the industrial district-zoned areas of the county.

A map of the proposed zoning districts shows high density and industrial development generally limited to areas around the City of Martinsburg and elsewhere in the county along W.Va. routes 9, 45 and 51, U.S. 11 and Interstate 81.

Areas proposing the most restrictions on development under the rural residential district appear to be generally in the southwestern and far northeastern regions of the county.

Slightly more than 40 percent, or 81,148 acres of the county, is in a rural residential-zoned district, which still allows for agriculture, single-family detached dwellings, campgrounds, stables, churches, greenhouses and recreation, among other "permitted uses," according to the map's legend.

To ease the potential financial limitations placed on such a rural district, county officials expect the transferable development rights ordinance to allow restricted property owners there to essentially be allowed to "sell" their potential money-making opportunity to a developer in a district that could more readily allow a project.

The zoning ordinance also has supplemental regulations on signage, including billboards, temporary and permanent signs and nonconforming uses, Koch said.

Existing nonconforming structures and signage are generally "grandfathered" and not affected by the zoning ordinance, Koch said.

But instances of nonconforming use could eventually be eliminated, if for example, an adult entertainment business is abandoned for 12 consecutive months. The structure would then lose its grandfather rights, according to the ordinance.

Koch said if the zoning ordinance is adopted by the voters, the county's planning department would be charged with registering the nonconforming uses already in existence to protect property owners' rights.

"Good luck staff, that's a big job," Koch said.

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