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Development at issue in Jefferson County zoning

October 14, 2009|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. -- Big blue signs are popping up all around Jefferson County urging citizens to oppose a proposed "new" countywide zoning ordinance when it comes up for a vote Nov 7.

Early voting begins Friday. The last day to register to vote is Oct. 19.

Other factors separate the existing zoning ordinance, adopted in 1988, from the latest proposal, but the biggest is where new development would take place.

Existing rules allow development in rural areas. The new ordinance sets new residential developments near existing villages already served by public utilities. The county's rural areas would be saved for agricultural use and open space.

The new law also allows closer density for those developments that would be allowed in rural areas, from the one lot per 15 acres under the current rules to one lot per nine acres, depending whether a developer chooses to cluster homes or spread them out on large lots.

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According to information supplied by Jennifer M. Brockman, newly hired director of planning and zoning for the county, the new ordinance would preserve about 35 percent of the county's land and more than 75 percent of existing farmland with conservation easements.

It would also expand the definition of agriculture from such traditional uses as dairying, cattle and crops to uses such as commercial enterprises, pick-your-own and conventional farm stands, kennels, cultural tourism and veterinary services.

The current zoning ordinance makes no provision for affordable housing. The new one requires that 10 percent to 15 percent of the homes built in a development be affordable work-force housing.

According to Brockman, the new ordinance is based on growth principles established in the county's comprehensive plan adopted in 2004. It discourages scattered urban development in rural areas with no utilities, where water and sewer lines go out at random and there are inadequate roads.

"Zoning is not going to go away," she said. "If the new law fails to pass, the old one will still be here."

The Jefferson County Commission adopted the new zoning law in October 2008. Implementation was delayed after a group of citizens successfully petitioned for a countywide referendum. The commissioners postponed the election until next month to give Brockman time to become familiar with the county and her duties.

The blue signs are being put up by Paul Ashbaugh, a Blue Ridge Mountain developer, who ran unsuccessfully for a county commission seat last year.

Ashbaugh said he opposes the new zoning law "because it's too restrictive. It's taking away the landowner's rights. There's too many restrictions on developers."

Ashbaugh said he borrowed the signs from developers in Berkeley County who used them to fight a move to zone that county.

He affixed yellow "new" stickers and the Nov. 7 voting date on the signs to make them work for the Jefferson County vote.

He said he fooled the "no growthers" because the signs didn't cost him any money.

Brockman said residents can learn more about the new zoning proposal Oct. 19 in a public session sponsored by the League of Women Voters at Jefferson High School and at the Shepherdstown Men's Club in downtown Shepherdstown on Oct. 21. Both meetings begin at 7 p.m.

There will be a question-and-answer open house Oct. 27 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the Charles Town Library.

Both the existing and new zoning laws also can be viewed on Jefferson County's Web site at jeffersoncountywv.org, by going to county departments, then to links for planning and zoning at the bottom of the page.

Early voting



Early voting on the zoning issue begins Friday and runs through Nov. 4 at the Jefferson County Courthouse from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. There will be no early voting on Saturdays.

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