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Controversial land-use bill passes in W.Va.

March 10, 2008|By DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - A land-use referendum bill that was criticized by some local government officials as being a threat to the progress of new regulations in Jefferson County, but seen by supporters as a way to give "moderation" to such laws passed through the Legislature over the weekend, state Sen. John Yoder said.

Under the bill, 10 percent of a county's registered voters can sign a petition requiring county officials to put any new land-use regulations on a ballot for approval, said Yoder, R-Jefferson/Berkeley.

Jefferson County has about 33,000 registered voters, meaning that about 3,300 people would have to sign a petition to put land-use regulations - commonly referred to as zoning - on a ballot, Yoder said.

The Jefferson County Commission has been told that the county's current zoning laws have not been effective in managing urban and suburban growth or protecting agricultural areas. The commission is considering new regulations, although those have been criticized by some as being complicated and contradictory.

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Commissioner Greg Corliss has been a constant critic of House Bill 4511, saying it interferes with county government.

Corliss said Sunday he has been disappointed by local lawmakers who have supported House Bill 4511 and believes they are "pandering" to anti-zoning proponents.

"I think it's unconstitutional," Corliss said.

Corliss said the bill is also onerous because it requries a county to notify every resident of any new zoning laws that would affect them.

The commissioners previously passed a resolution asking Gov. Joe Manchin to veto House Bill 4511.

Yoder said he wants to know why the commissioners are so afraid of a vote on zoning if people want the type of land-use regulation that the commissioners stand for, a claim Yoder said he hears often.

Yoder said he believes House Bill 4511 gives "moderation" to zoning laws.

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

Berkeley County Commission President Steve Teufel said Sunday he can see the reasoning behind a bill that allows residents to have a say on zoning.

n In other legislative action, a bill that would allow Jefferson County government to enforce state blasting laws did not pass.

Some Shepherdstown, W.Va., area residents have expressed concern about rock blasting for construction projects in their community over the years, feeling that work may have contributed to cracks in older homes that are more susceptible to the blasts, said Del. John Doyle, who pushed the blasting bill.

Doyle, D-Jefferson, said the state fire marshal's office regulates blasting but officials in that office told him they do not have the personnel to oversee all blasting operations in the Eastern Panhandle.

House Bill 3204 would have allowed Jefferson County government to enforce the fire marshal regulations.

Although the bill passed in the House of Delegates, Yoder said he could not get the bill on the agenda in the Senate.

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