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Berkeley Co. adopts new subdivision rules

July 30, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- New rules for subdividing and developing land in Berkeley County will go into effect Sept. 1, the Berkeley County Commission decided Thursday.

The commission voted 2-1 to approve the county's subdivision ordinance, which bring sweeping revisions to the county's subdivision ordinance after two years of review and numerous public hearings.

Among the changes was a requirement that developers complete hydrogeological studies for projects of 15 lots or more.

"If they cannot show that they have a sustainable water source for the number of (residential) units they are proposing, they can't get approval," Norwood Bentley III, the commission's legal counsel, said after Thursday's commission meeting.

Another substantial change requires a longer period of time for bonds to be in place for projects.

Developers will continue to be able get a proportion of the bond back as parts of a project are completed, but there's a new requirement for the county to keep a minimum of 15 percent of the original bond amount for a period of 180 days after a project is completed.

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Other changes prevent land transfers among family members from being used as vehicles to skirt subdivision regulations and increased restrictions on variances to the subdivision ordinance.

In a procedural change, the public will have two opportunities at public hearings to comment on development plats submitted for planning commission approval instead of one, Bentley said.

Commissioner Anthony J. "Tony" Petrucci voted against adopting the changes, saying he had reservations about some revisions he believe might pose legal problems.

"I haven't heard since I've been on board why we need to change so many things," said Petrucci, who took office in January. "I'm sure (the reasons for the changes are) there. I just haven't heard of whole lot (about) that. And I certainly believe we need subdivision regulations, as I've said all along, but sometimes, in my own personal opinion, too much government is not always the best answer."

Petrucci and Commission President Ronald K. Collins and Commissioner William L. "Bill" Stubblefield commended the work of the county's planning and engineering staff on the new 238-page ordinance, but questioned how the county would shoulder the burden of enforcing more rules and regulations.

"The enforcement process that we have is good, but I think we still need to get better," Petrucci said. "If we create more rules and regulations, sometimes the enforcement gets much more difficult."

Collins agreed with Petrucci's comments that future changes to the document be made on a timely basis.

"I feel that in the future, if something is proven to beyond a reasonable doubt that it does not work then the change needs to be made then and not wait," Collins said. "I really don't want to go through -- and I may not be around to go through -- another subdivision rewrite. It's not fun."

Planning Director Stefanie Allemong said the new regulations will not apply to pending applications that are "currently in preliminary plat review stage." They are grandfathered in under the 2004 regulations, which were put into effect Jan. 1 of that year, Allemong said.

"Anybody that has not gotten that far -- they may have submitted a preliminary plat, but it has not been reviewed (by our staff) -- has to comply with the new regulations as of Sept. 1," Allemong said. "We still have some that have actually come through under the 1975 regulations that we're dealing with."

Allemong said some developers have been waiting for the new ordinance to be enacted before submitting plans for review.

More information about the grandfathering notice and how it applies to the new ordinance will be posted at www.berkeleycountycomm.org.

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