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Berkeley County leaders don't expect zoning to return to ballot anytime soon

May 15, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Though county leaders have the right to place the question of zoning on the ballot as early as November's general election, Berkeley County Commissioner William L. "Bill" Stubblefield said Wednesday that he doesn't anticipate another vote on zoning happening for the next few years.

"I don't see any reason to, not after last night," Stubblefield said of the overwhelming defeat of the proposed land-use regulations tallied Tuesday.

Unofficial tallies Tuesday showed 66.4 percent, or 11,241 people, voted against zoning, while 33.6 percent, or 5,689 people, voted for the land-use regulations. The question wasn't answered on 469 ballots.

Another 3,489 ballots cast in Tuesday's primary election apparently were from residents of the Town of Hedgesville and the City of Martinsburg, who were not allowed the option to vote on the zoning questions. Though residents in both municipalities pay county taxes, county leaders have said they were following state code, which provided for the exclusion.

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"The people have said they're not in favor of zoning," Berkeley County Commission President Steven C. Teufel said. "We put it on the ballot, and I think that we just need some time to reflect and see where we need to go with what's available and what may work for the people in the community that you know are in favor of zoning.

"And spot zoning is one of those things, and we can always bring that up."

Adoption of a revised subdivision ordinance is another option. The demise of zoning was expected to trigger the scheduling of public hearings to consider that ordinance.

In addition to Martinsburg and Hedgesville, three areas in the county currently have spot-zoning program in place, and Stubblefield said county officials will accommodate other spot-zoning requests from property owners.

Disappointed with the outcome, Stubblefield said he believed zoning would have passed if not for what he said was a well-organized, well-funded anti-zoning campaign that fed on the fears of the voters.

"If the fate of the zoning had been based on merits and merits alone, I am confident it would have passed," Stubblefield said.

In addition to the zoning question, voters separately and overwhelmingly rejected (69.2 percent against to 30.2 percent for) the transferable development rights ordinance, which provided a market-driven mechanism for compensating property owners in rural areas for their right to develop their property. Overall, even fewer voters who cast ballots and were eligible actually voted on the question, with 2,366 failing to answer "yes" or "no."

Opponents had contended that zoning would have resulted in double-digit tax increases, allowed for areas of the county to be overly developed where infrastructure wasn't in place to support it and didn't support affordable housing. County officials have refuted those claims.

Stubblefield said he had evidence to believe that the anti-zoning coalition spent $100,000 on its campaign. Such expenditures do not have be disclosed publicly, according to campaign finance law. Prominent vocal opponents included mobile home park owner Robert Heavner, developer Doug Copenhaver, David Michael Myers, his wife, Nancy, and Del. Jonathan Miller, R-Berkeley.

County officials have authorized spending more than $100,000 on drafting the zoning and transferable development rights ordinances.

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