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Big crowd turns out for Jefferson Co. land-use hearing

November 29, 2007|By DAVE McMILLION

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Some parts of a new land-use proposal for Jefferson County got some favorable response from the public Wednesday night, but the plan also was criticized for being complicated, contradictory and "ridiculous" in how it mandates minute details like what kind of fence can be around swimming pools.

Land use can be a hot-button topic in Jefferson County and that was evidenced by a standing-room-only crowd of about 125 people during the first of six public hearings on the plan at the Shepherdstown Men's Club.

Local resident Eric Lewis sharply criticized the proposed zoning ordinance and said it would take a "Ph.D. in mathematics" to understand parts of it.

The plan aims to make livelihoods of farmers easier by allowing them to have operations like welding shops, farm stands, farm supply sales and bed-and-breakfasts that include small restaurants.

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Lewis, who has a small farm, said farmers should be given a list of operations they cannot have instead of making them choose from the list.

Lewis and other speakers expressed concern about some land in the county being changed from growth areas to agricultural areas, and Lewis warned that the plan could force more annexation of land by cities.

Some land that was annexed into municipal areas recently was in a protected agricultural zone, but landowners could pursue commercial development in the new city locations.

"There won't be any county left. It will all be municipality," Lewis said. "Take your time, don't rush into this. The housing boom is over."

Del. Bob Tabb, D-Jefferson, questioned the constitutionality of the language in the 276-page document, saying it puts restrictions on how future Jefferson County commissioners can address the plan.

County Planning Director Tony Redman, who gave an overview of the plan at the beginning of the meeting, acknowledged that some work needs to be done on the document and said in his overview that the current draft would be revised to reflect public comments.

A firm hired by the county to work on the plan said the county's current land-use laws have not been effective in managing urban and suburban growth or protecting agricultural areas.

Under the new proposal, builders no longer will be able to put subdivisions in the middle of a rural area with a so-called LESA scoring system, areas that are residential will stay residential and areas set aside for agriculture will remain that way, county officials said.

In his overview, Redman said the plan puts housing in tight clusters, allowing for more open space in the county.

In a PowerPoint presentation, Redman showed the crowd how some of the clustered developments could look. Redman showed the developments as if everyone was in a car, winding down a road on a wooded property and then seeing a development tucked away out of public view.

Redman, who recently took the planning director job, said he has been impressed by the county's history and anyone who does not understand that "would be lacking in appreciation of the place they live in."

The plan has also raised some concerns among the commissioners, who will have final say over the document.

Commissioner Greg Corliss said he is concerned about projections that the county could reach a population of 145,000 to 165,000 under the plan.

Redman gave a possible population projection Wednesday night of 100,000 by 2031, a doubling of the current population.

County resident Renny Smith, who has been working on expanding affordable housing for the county, said the new plan covers most of the areas her group has emphasized.

To see a copy of the plan or learn about the five other public meetings that are scheduled, go to the county government's Web site at www.jeffersoncountywv.org.




Land-use hearing highlights



According to Jefferson County government officials, highlights of a new land-use plan for the county include:

· Greater predictability of growth.

· There will be clearer guidelines, which will help eliminate the need for exceptions from subdivision regulations.

· Expanded range of farm activities to help farmers prosper. Some of the allowable operations would include welding shops, farm stands, farm supply sales, kennels and veterinary services.

· More affordable housing. Ten to fifteen percent of the residential housing units constructed will be required to be affordable housing.

· Preserving about 35 percent of the county's land and preserving over 75 percent of existing farmland with conservation easements.

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