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Sinkhole concerns voiced at subdivision ordinance hearing

June 12, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. -- Little more than a dozen people showed up Thursday afternoon for what could be the last public hearing on Berkeley County's long-standing effort to overhaul its rules for new development.

"Most of the things that I heard today are technical changes, which would not require another public hearing if changed," Planning Department Director Stefanie Allemong said after the county commission heard comments from six people about the proposed rewriting of the county's subdivision ordinance.

Allemong said she anticipated hearing concerns about the ordinance's rules for development around sinkholes and bonding requirements.

Bill Weis, one of two people who voiced concerns about sinkhole protection, said he believed the wording of the proposed ordinance would allow the environmentally sensitive geological feature in the county's karst terrain to be paved over under roads and parking lots.

"I'm concerned about the water quality issues," Weis said. "The least that the county commission could do is to act to protect the water quality in these sensitive areas."

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Gary Heichel of Whitings Neck said the reduction of buffer around sinkholes from 100 feet to 50 feet was a "serious error."

Heichel said the reduction actually amounted to a reduction of protection to the sinkhole by 75 percent.

"Would you reduce the filtering capacity of your relative's kidney dialysis machine by 75 percent and assume that the remaining (25) percent would sustain life? I doubt that," Heichel said. "I ask you to reconsider and go back and adopt your original proposal in November 2008, which is a 100-foot setback."

After the hearing, Fred Blackmer of the Eastern Panhandle Home Builders Association said there is no evidence to show the 100-foot buffer would be more effective than 50 feet.

"Fifty feet actually is more than enough distance scientifically to filter the water from sinkholes," Blackmer said. "There is no significant difference in the filtration ..."

After taking part in numerous meetings and hearings since December 2006 to comprehensively rewrite the ordinance, Allemong said she agreed with the view that the subdivision rules are "a living document" and changes need to be considered more promptly.

"When we see something wrong, we need to change it right then, instead of waiting and working on it for two and a half years to get it to what we want it to be," Allemong said.

Commissioner William L. "Bill" Stubblefield said the time it has taken to get the document close to its final form was "time well-spent."

"We have not short-circuited due process," Stubblefield said. "I'd much rather that it's done properly and that everybody has a chance to give their input than to short-circuit."

Commission President Ronald K. Collins estimated it would be two or three weeks before the commission takes further action on the ordinance.

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