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Jefferson County commissioners say new land-use rules likely to pass

September 30, 2008|By DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. -- New land-use regulations that seek to keep up to 80 percent of agricultural and countryside land in Jefferson County undeveloped, but also propose to expand business areas will likely pass Thursday, two Jefferson County Commissioners said Monday.

The county's five commissioners, who are studying the new regulations, are scheduled to discuss the new regulations when they meet this week, Commissioner Greg Corliss said.

The commissioners have been working on the new regulations for months, and Corliss and Commissioner Rusty Morgan said Monday they believe the new regulations will pass Thursday, although three amendments also are expected to be considered.

One amendment deals with a building height restriction of 35 feet in the new regulations, Corliss said.

There was concern in recent public hearings on the regulations that some houses being built in the county are higher than 35 feet, county officials have said.

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Corliss said he thinks problems with the regulation arises when the height of homes are measured from the lowest portion of a house.

The problem can be corrected with an amendment that says height of houses must be measured from the average terrain around a home, Corliss said.

Another amendment being considered would clarify higher density housing near transit access areas, Corliss said.

The commissioners want to allow higher density around train stations at Harpers Ferry and Duffields, Corliss said.

The way the proposed new land-use regulations are written, some people worry that bus stops could be put around the county allowing high density housing at the stops, Corliss said.

Corliss said he wants an amendment that would clarify that the higher density would only be allowed around the county's train stops.

The third amendment would allow country inns on 75 acres to seat 250 people at banquets, Corliss said. That is intended to accommodate the growing number of large groups - like wedding receptions - at inns, Corliss said.

County officials started drawing up new land-use regulations - also referred to as zoning - after experts told them the county's current regulations have not been effective in managing urban and suburban growth or protecting agricultural areas.

Although members of the agricultural community have shown support for the proposed regulations, J. Michael Cassell, a local attorney who represents local housing developers, said previously that the proposed laws are complicated and are more suited for places like Montgomery County, Md., or Fairfax County, Va.

An election can be held on the regulations if 10 percent of affected county residents sign a petition to put it on the ballot. Corliss said Monday that signatures are being collected.

Corliss said he does not think enough signatures can be collected - estimated at more than 3,000 - although Morgan said it is unclear if it can be accomplished.

Cassell would not say Monday if he thinks enough signatures will be collected to put the issue up for a vote, but said he believes it is important to have an election because of the far-reaching effect of the laws.

"This is the ultimate issue for public input," Cassell said.

Public meeting

What: The Jefferson County Commission will discuss and possibly vote to adopt new land-use regulations in the county.

When: Thursday, 9:30 a.m.

Where: Jefferson County Courthouse, corner of Washington and George streets

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