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Petitions could force vote on zoning laws

December 29, 2008|By DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. -- Two local residents who have been heading up an effort to put new land-use laws for Jefferson County up for a vote say they have collected enough signatures to force the issue to a referendum and added the milestone is a "big win for the people."

Outgoing Jefferson County Commissioner Greg Corliss expressed disappointment over the petition drive Sunday and said it was pushed by two people who did not understand land issues and who were "no zoners."

"To me, that's not what the county wants," Corliss said.

Commissioner Dale Manuel said he thinks an election on the laws could come in 60 to 90 days.

Once the signatures are verified, the land use laws would be "out of effect" and the county's old land use laws would be used until the referendum is dealt with, Manuel said.

"I would hope we would move on this expeditiously," Manuel said.

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Incoming Commissioner Patricia A. "Patsy" Noland -- who will be sworn-in Tuesday -- said Sunday she is hopeful the election can be held quickly.

Petition organizers Ronda Lehman and Ed Burns said they have collected the required number of signatures ahead of a Tuesday deadline.

Lehman and Burns said in an e-mail to The Herald-Mail that they have collected the required 2,828 signatures to put the newly-passed land use regulations -- also known as zoning-- up for a vote.

Lehman and Burns said they are planning to turn in the final 1,800 or so signatures today at the Jefferson County Courthouse at 2:30 p.m. Then it will be up to the Jefferson County Commission -- which passed the land-use laws -- to set the date for the election, Burns said.

Land experts told the commission that growth in the county was not effectively managed with previous land-use laws.

The new laws, passed Oct. 2, keep up to 80 percent of the county's agriculture and countryside land undeveloped but 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.

Despite support for the regulations, others in the county say they are complicated, out-of-touch for the area and will be expensive for landowners to follow.

A petition drive to collect signatures to put the laws up for a vote is allowed under a new state law.

Under the law, 10 percent of registered voters who are affected by the new laws could sign the petition. Citizens living in the county's five municipalities could not sign the petition. Names had to be collected within 90 days.

Signatures were collected a variety of ways, from organizers standing on the steps of the Charles Town post office and collecting signatures, or by cards tucked into some local newspapers which people could fill out, sign and mail to petition organizers.

In their e-mail, Burns and Lehman celebrated being able to get the number of signatures and said it reflected the ultimate expression of Democracy.

Besides criticizing petition organizers and state lawmakers who allowed for the petition process, Corliss said a referendum will cost the county about $150,000.

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