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Berkeley planners deny request for 74-acre subdivision

December 18, 2007|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A developer's voluntary offer to set aside $100,000 for road improvements and legal advice from the Berkeley County Planning Commission's attorney didn't stop commissioners Monday night from denying a controversial residential development off Mouth of Opequon Road.

The Planning Commission's 4-2 vote against Waterfall Farm Estates, a project consisting of 103 single-family lots and 152 town houses on about 74 acres near Bedington, W.Va., is expected to trigger a lawsuit. The developer's attorney, however, made no guarantee after the vote.

"We're disappointed that the commission didn't approve the plat," said Nathan Cochran, who joined developer Dennis E. Black in presenting the offer and renewed request for approval.

Voting against approval were Thomas Conlan, Gary Matthews, Richard Rauch and County Commissioner Ronald K. Collins. John Jeans and H. Daniel Gantt, who tried to encourage a compromise at the Dec. 3 meeting, voted for the project. Eric Goff was absent, and one commission seat is vacant.

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Cochran reiterated several times that the development met all of the county's requirements and the commission's legal counsel, Norwood Bentley, said he didn't believe the county had legal footing to deny the project.

"They made the offer without any arm-twisting," Bentley said of a proposal that came out of a meeting he had after the plat approval request was tabled two weeks ago.

The developer was willing to set aside a formula-based dollar amount per lot and deposit it into an escrow account set up by the Planning Commission, according to Planning Department director Stefanie Morton's presentation of the project.

The developers also indicated they were willing to make specific improvements, including widening the road and increasing elevation of a low area prone to flooding on Mouth of Opequon Road, and improving sight distance at the railroad underpass.

Opponents of the project cited a lack of access for firetrucks, notably a one-lane bridge on Mouth of Opequon Road and a one-lane underpass on Brown Road, the other access route to the proposed development.

In a Nov. 30, 2007, letter to Del. John Overington, West Virginia Division of Highways District Engineer Robert Amtower wrote that a recent inspection of the one-lane bridge prompted the agency to propose a weight limit on it.

"It's in relatively poor condition and shows some sign of settlement," Amtower said. "We also think it should be replaced, although we would not be able to program and schedule this work before 2009."

A 2006 inspection of the underpass built in 1913 concluded that it was in fair condition, according to DOH records obtained by Overington.

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