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Jefferson County Commission opposes Legislature's zoning proposal

February 15, 2008|By DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Who should be allowed to vote on zoning for Berkeley and Jefferson counties?

It's a contentious issue that continues to receive spirited debate.

A new bill has been drafted in the state Legislature to allow residents in a county to vote on proposed land-use regulations, and again the measure is coming under attack from the Jefferson County Commission.

Jefferson County is in the process of drafting new land-use regulations, and the proposals have been criticized by some as being complicated and contradictory.

The commission began considering the new regulations after experts told them the county's current regulations have not been effective in managing urban and suburban growth or protecting agricultural areas.

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Berkeley County also is in the process of considering zoning, which has been controversial.

Although the Jefferson County Commission is working on new zoning laws, some local officials and state lawmakers believe residents should be able to vote on any new regulations.

One of those supporters, Del. Bob Tabb, D-Jefferson, has called it "democratic process in action."

Tabb sponsored an earlier bill, known as House Bill 4119, which would require elections on new land-use regulations.

Some Jefferson County Commissioners called it a "horrible idea" that was drafted in "darkness" without telling them.

Now another bill -- House Bill 4511 -- has been introduced that offers a different approach, including that the county government "may" put zoning changes up for a vote rather than being required to, as under the first bill.

Or 15 percent of eligible voters in a county can petition to put the issue on the ballot, according to the new bill.

Among the sponsors of the new bill are Tabb, Del. Locke Wysong, D-Jefferson, and Del. Walter Duke, R-Berkeley.

As they did regarding the first bill, the Jefferson County Commission on Thursday passed a resolution opposing House Bill 4511.

Commissioner Greg Corliss said the bill interferes with local government and represents a vocal anti-zoning minority in Jefferson and Berkeley counties.

"I can't compromise on a bad idea," Corliss said.

Commissioner Rusty Morgan said no mention was made of such a bill when the commission and local legislators met to determine what issues would be addressed during the legislative session.

"Now, we have a divided community again," Morgan said.

Commissioner Dale Manuel, the only commissioner to vote against Thursday's resolution, said he does not understand why there is a fear of having a zoning election if there is a belief that only a minority of people oppose zoning.

Tabb said Thursday that if the Jefferson County Commission addresses citizen concerns about its new zoning regulations, he does not believe there will be any election.

"It's only if the commission screws up," Tabb said.

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