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Zoning issues debated at Berkeley County forum

May 09, 2008

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Berkeley County officials conceded Thursday night that zoning would not stop a shale quarry from locating next to homes or cure road congestion, but maintained the proposed land-use regulations weren't designed to stop development or be overly burdensome to taxpayers, either.

"Zoning deals with where (something is to be built)," Berkeley County legal counsel Norwood Bentley III said in a forum hosted by Berkeley County Commission President Steven C. Teufel and Commissioner Ronald K. Collins. "And subdivision (regulations) deals with how."

As it stands now, West Virginia counties such as Berkeley County that have a planning commission cannot restrict the location of adult entertainment clubs without zoning, Bentley told vocal ordinance opponent Robert "Bob" Heavener, who was part of a heavily populated anti-zoning crowd.

The questions of adopting zoning and transferable developments rights, a program that allows one property owner to sell its development rights to another, are on Tuesday's primary ballot.

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County planner Matthew Mullenax told a concerned real estate agent that the development rights, whether or not they would be used by the buyer, would renew after 10 years.

If zoning was adopted by voters, several people attending the forum said they were concerned about the cost of impact fees on home buyers, particularly their children, that could come with the new ordinance.

Bentley reiterated previous statements by commissioners that county officials had every intention of making it a modest fee.

"I personally don't think its going to keep people from buying houses," Bentley told developer Doug Copenhaver. Bentley noted that affordable housing programs are being considered by county officials and some assistance already is available.

Teufel said that the impact fees that would be collected were restricted to eight uses, and the money would have to be spent to improve services, such as law enforcement, EMS and roads to the area affected by new construction. Teufel said the impact fee could be used as a tool to get more state funding for roads, which already are strained.

"Maybe we can dangle that carrot out there in front of them," Teufel said.

Bentley agreed with Trudy Slater of Gerrardstown, W.Va., that the zoning ordinance could not stop a proposed shale quarry operation from locating next to the historic southern Berkeley County town because of state code favoring the industry, but the zoning ordinance would impose conditions.

"They have to jump through some hoops to get there," Bentley said.

He said the county on Thursday was able to issue a stop work order after discovering that earth moving had occurred at the proposed quarry site without gaining the proper permits. A public hearing is scheduled for Wednesday about the state Division of Environmental Protection permit requested by North Mountain Shale LLC for the project.

Though given the authority, Collins told former Planning Commissioner Linda Barnhart that he would not support adopting the ordinance if voters rejected the land-use regulations.

"I have no desire to ram anything down anybody's throat," Collins said.

Officials have estimated the zoning program could cost about $200,000, a budget they projected would be supported by fees.

"We're not looking to Jefferson County as a model, let me tell ya'," Bentley said after one resident mentioned the neighboring county's embattled zoning program.

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