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Zoning vote to be on most Berkeley County ballots in May

Martinsburg, Hedgesville residents likely to be excluded

Martinsburg, Hedgesville residents likely to be excluded

January 18, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Residents of Martinsburg and Hedgesville, W.Va., apparently will not have the opportunity to vote on zoning and a related transferable development ordinance in the May primary election.

Acting on the advice of Berkeley County's legal director, county commissioners on Thursday voted unanimously to place the proposed land-use ordinance proposals on ballots in county precincts except in Martinsburg and Hedgesville.

The decision appears to exclude the vote of any county property owner who may reside in either of the two municipalities where a form of zoning already is in place. County commission legal counsel Norwood Bentley III told County Clerk John W. Small Jr. and Bonnie Woodfall, the supervising deputy clerk for voters registration, that he believed only county residents were allowed by state law to vote on the zoning ordinance, which is not yet in final form.

After formally receiving the proposed ordinances from the county's planning commission, Berkeley County commissioners on Thursday approved the advertisement of two public hearings, both on Feb. 7. One will be held at 10 a.m. and the other will be held at 6:30 p.m. in commission chambers at 400 W. Stephen St. in Martinsburg.

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"When all this is done, then you can breathe," Commissioner Ronald K. Collins told county planner Matthew Mullenax after hearing the presentation about the timeline for having the zoning ordinance in final form for voters' consideration.

"I don't have any breath left, Commissioner Collins," Mullenax responded.

County Commissioner William L. "Bill" Stubblefield, without specifying, said he expected "three or four changes" to be made to the zoning ordinance before the final draft is made available to the public and before the election.

"We owe it to the public to get the document out as soon as we possibly can," Stubblefield said.

After the presentation, Woodfall said the exclusion of municipal precincts only would pose a substantial challenge to her office in precinct 44, which includes the town of Hedgesville and county residents eligible to vote.

County leaders on Thursday were less clear as to whether the prohibition on voting on zoning questions also applied to the proposed Transferable Development Rights (TDR) ordinance, which will be a separate question on the ballot.

The TDR ordinance, if approved along with zoning, essentially would allow one property owner to sell the right to develop land to another developer in the county.

Commissioner William L. "Bill" Stubblefield said he did not believe the prohibition existed for the TDR ordinance, but Bentley said because it was essentially connected to the proposed zoning guidelines, he believed the prohibition would carry over.

Martinsburg Mayor George Karos on Thursday said City Council was approached by a resident who owned county property about possibly being excluded from the vote on zoning, but said the city's legal counsel advised state code was clear on the municipal exclusion.

"We don't have any dog in that fight," Karos said.

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