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Jefferson County sued over new land-use laws

November 04, 2008|By DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Five companies have sued the Jefferson County Commission over new land-use laws that the commission passed on Oct. 2, claiming the commission did not follow the correct procedures in passing the laws and that there are flaws in how the laws protect historic sites, wetlands and water wells.

The suit, filed last Friday in Jefferson County Circuit Court, said the commission passed the new land-use laws - referred to as zoning - under a state code known as 8A-7-13.

But that section of state code does not apply, according to the suit, and the parties bringing the suit are asking the court to declare the commission's actions unlawful.

County Commissioner Rusty Morgan said Monday that he was not aware of the suit. Morgan said there was ample time for people concerned about the new laws to air concerns.

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"This was obviously planned to be as disruptive as possible," Morgan said of the suit.

Commissioner Dale Manuel declined to comment Monday until he had more time to study the suit.

The suit is being brought by Arcadia Building Co. - West Virginia; Arcadia Development Co.; Arcadia - Harvest Hills LLC; Oak Meadow LLC; and Jefferson Utilities Inc.

The Arcadia companies have ownership interest or management interest in county land, Oak Meadow has property in the county and Jefferson Utilities has ownership interest in water systems and property in the county, the suit said.

Also listed as defendants in the suit are the Jefferson County Planning Commission, which regulates development in the county, and Tony Redman, former director of planning and zoning.

Regarding historical protections in the new land-use laws, the commission only is allowed to create historic districts, the suit said.

But the county commission instead has allowed the Jefferson County Historic Landmarks Commission to determine historic sites, and the process set up in the regulations is not allowed under state code, the suit said.

The new laws include a process where certain historic resources may not be destroyed without a permit. An investigation period is required before the permit is issued, which provides the county time to seek a purchaser of the property, the suit said.

Regulations in the new land-use laws that protect environmental areas such as sinkholes and wetlands infringes on the authority of agencies such as the state Department of Environmental Protection, and regulations controlling development near wells violates authority of agencies such as health departments, the suit said.

The suit was filed by attorneys Richard G. Gay and Peter L. Chakmakian.

Nathan Cochran, who practices with Gay, would not say Monday whether parties in the suit prefer the county's previous land-use laws, which some have said were not effective in managing urban and suburban growth or protecting agricultural areas.

Cochran said it is unclear whether the suit would affect a petition drive to put the new regulations up for a countywide vote.

Some county residents say the new laws are excessive, and Blue Ridge Mountain resident Ronda Lehman has been working to get about 2,900 required signatures to put the laws up for a vote.

Cochran said the next step in the lawsuit involves a judge reviewing the suit to make sure it's filed properly. If it passes that test, a hearing will be set up to determine how the case will be handled, Cochran said.

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