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Jefferson County residents petition for vote on newly passed land-use laws

October 03, 2008|By DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. -- The Jefferson County Commission passed a controversial set of new land-use laws Thursday afternoon, and within minutes a petition was circulated to put the regulations up for a vote before county residents.

County Commissioner Dale Manuel, who has concerns about the new regulations and tried unsuccessfully to convince the four other commissioners to put the laws up for a vote before the people, was the first to sign the petition.

Under recently passed state law, if 10 percent of registered voters in the county who are affected by new laws sign a petition, the laws will be put up for a referendum.

Blue Ridge Mountain resident Ronda Lehman, who has complained about the new regulations, brought the petition to the commission table for Manuel to sign.

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Manuel said good work has been accomplished on the regulations, but there were three flaws in the laws, which the commissioners plan to address through amendments.

Manuel suggested the commission slow down on voting on the regulations until they could be refined further.

"We're going to go ahead and pass it anyway. I can't do that," Manuel said.

One of Manuel's concerns was new regulations that protect the Blue Ridge Mountain area from erosion, and he called for a study to determine if the regulations are needed.

Lehman said the new regulations require that certain parts of mountain residents' properties be preserved, and it will cost mountain residents "an arm and a leg to do the simplest things," like putting in a paved walkway.

Land-use issues historically have been a hot-button issue in Jefferson County, one of the few counties in the state to have such regulations, also known as zoning. In neighboring Berkeley County, voters overwhelmingly rejected zoning in May's primary election.

The laws passed Thursday keep up to 80 percent of Jefferson County's agricultural and countryside land undeveloped. But the regulations also expand the county's business park zones by 30 percent and allow farmers to diversify into new areas like warehousing, welding shops or trucking businesses.

The regulations require new housing developments to have up to 15 percent of affordable housing, and the laws set new standards for protection of historic properties and environmental areas.

Some debate focused on whether to implement the new regulations in 30 days or 90 days, with Commissioner Rusty Morgan saying he favored 30 days, and the commission agreed. Morgan said the county's current zoning laws have not been effective in managing growth and he wanted to "get this over with."

"I think it's a good direction for our county to go in," added Commission President Frances Morgan, who voted along with Morgan and Commissioners Jim Surkamp and Greg Corliss for the regulations.

County resident Dan Lutz pointed to the "absurdity" of the laws at Thursday's commission meeting, showing where a clause referred to in the laws could not be found, that there was no definition for intensive agriculture, and that strip club regulations could be interpreted to prohibit breast-feeding mothers.

Lutz and another resident signed the petition.

Referendum supporters believe they need 2,800 to 3,000 signatures to put the issue to a vote. They have 90 days to collect the signatures. The Jefferson County Clerk's Office will determine how many signatures are needed and will verify each signature, Manuel said.

Manuel said it is too late to put the issue on the Nov. 4 general election ballot, and that it is unclear which zoning laws would be in effect if citizens get enough votes to put the issue up for a referendum.

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