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Berkeley County zoning proposal draws mixed reaction

February 08, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Several people who attended two Berkeley County Commission public hearings Thursday about a proposed zoning ordinance asked for properties to be changed from residential to commercial zoned districts or to another classification.

Others simply urged the county commissioners to move ahead with finalizing the zoning ordinance for voters' consideration, which has been scheduled for the May 13 primary election.

Still more people said they objected to a zoning plan that appeared to heavily concentrate development in certain areas, such as Inwood, W.Va., at the expense of rural and more affluent areas of the county.

Written comments about the zoning ordinance proposed from the public will be accepted through Feb. 13, commission President Steven C. Teufel said.

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A public hearing for the transferable development rights ordinance, a companion proposal to the land-use regulations, is scheduled for Feb. 14 at 6:30 p.m.

"This has been going on for two years," Teufel said after the hearing. "We're not going to rush at the last minute."

Yet, Teufel said he didn't hear a particular objection or suggestion that appeared to cause a delay to plans to place the zoning question on the May ballot.

As for the map amendment requests, Teufel said the requests appeared to be "common-sense" changes.

"I had some concerns with the maps myself," Teufel said.

Aside from questions about zoning classifications, Sherry Smith suggested the ordinance proposed discriminated against low-income housing developments.

"I am concerned this an attempt to not allow mobile home parks in Berkeley County," Smith told the commission during the morning public hearing.

Smith asked the commission to make mobile home parks a permitted use, instead of a conditional use, to ensure affordable housing is available to people who cannot afford a more expensive home.

Reuben Darby thanked the commission for placing the zoning question on the ballot, but was critical of the land-use rules, saying they would give arbitrary power to a select few.

Darby also criticized the educational sessions on the zoning ordinance, describing them as a "sham" because hard questions about the proposal were not allowed to be aired to county officials in a public manner.

Businessman Jim Linsenmeyer said zoning would provide a level of predictability for businesses, and cited a recent West Virginia University study that indicated area business growth was dwarfed by residential development.

"Eventually, you're going to have a train wreck when it comes to funding ..." Linsenmeyer said.

David Klinger said he hoped Berkeley County would join 5,000 jurisdictions in the nation that have zoning as a means to establish "order out of chaos."

"This may be our last best chance to keep Berkeley County a desirable place to live," Klinger said.

Bill Weis asked the commission not to grant last-minute map amendment requests to change zoning classifications for certain properties, noting the requests appear to bypass a three-stage process that is in the ordinance and circumvent adequate public review.

Katy Fidler criticized the map amendment process in the zoning ordinance, describing it as "pretty burdensome." Fidler asked the commission to institute a grandfather clause that would exempt projects that already are in the works to help alleviate the need for amendments.

Robert Heavener, who regularly wears shirts to meetings that spell out messages about the county's land-use proposals, said the zoning ordinance, along with transferable development rights, potentially could allow for more than 30,000 new housing units in southern Berkeley County in the Inwood area.

"I'm not sure we want to allow that many there," Heavener said.

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