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Berkeley County zoning hearing brings out both sides of issue

November 28, 2007|By DAVE McMILLION

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The discussion continues on whether zoning would be good for Berkeley County.

During a public hearing Tuesday night on a proposed zoning plan for the county, those concerned about the land-use regulations spoke out against government controlling their property and feared it will drive up the cost of housing in the county.

Supporters tired of growth "rapidly getting out of control" in the county looked to the zoning plan to help manage problems like growing traffic congestion and the spread of adult entertainment businesses.

The zoning ordinance proposed for Berkeley County has been going through the revision process and Tuesday's public hearing before the Berkeley County Planning Commission was one of two planned for this week.

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Another public hearing is set for 7 tonight before the planning commission in the Berkeley County Commission chambers.

At the start of Tuesday's hearing, planning commission chairman Don Fox said he did not want people to simply say they oppose zoning.

"That's no information to work with," Fox told the crowd of about 75 people.

At the end of the hearing, Fox said planning commission members would consider the comments as they go through the process.

A vote by the planning commission to send the proposal to the Berkeley County Commission for additional review could happen by mid-December and voters are expected to get a chance to vote on the proposal in May.

Bruce Hawley, a supporter of zoning, said he was attracted to Berkeley County because of its rural character. But after the Falling Waters, W.Va., resident moved here, acres and acres of orchards around his house were plowed under and replaced with about 90 homes.

Then there were "more buses, more trash trucks, more commuter traffic," which soon started crumbling road berms because the thoroughfares were not built to handle the traffic, Hawley said.

Then water wells in the area had to be dug deeper because water levels began to drop, Hawley said.

Hawley said he has heard that county officials are being criticized for considering zoning, but he asked them to "stick it out."

"Give us the benefits of planning," Hawley said.

Lyn Marsh Hansen, a representative of the Eastern Panhandle Homebuilders Association, said she worried about what zoning could do to an already struggling home-building business in the county.

Hansen said she and her husband decided to buy a home in Berkeley County more than 10 years ago because housing was more affordable here than in Hagerstown.

"We quickly came to understand that one reason housing was more affordable here was because of the lack of burdensome governmental restrictions as well as lower fees and lower property taxes," Hansen said.

If zoning is enacted, Hansen said she believes impact fees will soon follow, and the $2,000 to $3,000 impact fees on each house that she believes is being considered in the county would affect the county's competitive edge in the housing market.

The recent downturn in the housing market already is causing construction jobs in the county to disappear, Hansen said.

One man in attendance wore a red shirt that had zoning written on the front of it with a slash mark through the word.

The back of the man's shirt read, "Ask me about the truth."

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