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Developer sues planning commission

December 21, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. -- A developer has sued Martinsburg's planning commission in Berkeley County Circuit Court, claiming a villa-style duplex project proposed in one of the city's more affluent areas was wrongly denied by commissioners who live near the site.

A hearing regarding the appeal filed on behalf of James M. Seibert and Telena M. Spies of T&J Associates by attorney Michael L. Scales is scheduled for Jan. 11 before 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge Gina M. Groh, according to court records.

T&J Associates proposed that a 31,672-square-foot parcel at the intersection of South Delaware Avenue and West Stephen Street be subdivided into four, single-family lots.

In a Nov. 4 public hearing, Seibert said they planned to build two one-story structures, with each sharing a common wall to divide the housing units.

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City Engineer Michael Covell told planning commissioners the applicant's proposal met requirements for a two-family building with each unit being owner-occupied on its own parcel, according to a draft of meeting minutes attached as a petition exhibit.

"Overall compatibility with the existing established neighborhood, inadequacy of existing road widths with regard to new access and increased use and 'passing' capability with an eye toward road safety," were stated in the Planning Commission's findings of fact and conclusions denying the project, according to court records.

In the petition, Scales said the planning commission's decision was "biased, arbitrary and capricious since (T&J Associates) application complied with all aspects of the Martinsburg subdivision ordinance" and the planning commission had no discretion to deny an application.

When Planning Commissioner Mark Palmer suggested during the hearing he should possibly excuse himself because he resides "down the street," City Councilman Gregg Wachtel noted that they all resided nearby, according to the minutes.

Concerned about the project proposed in the same block as his residence, West King Street property owner Craig Comontofski suggested only one home be built on the property, arguing the proposed construction would otherwise hurt property values and historic preservation, according to meeting minutes.

Seibert told commissioners building a single-family home facing the back of a neighboring church and down the hill from a water tower would not make sense.

Planning Commission legal counsel Floyd M. "Kin" Sayre said he had not filed a response to the lawsuit, but indicated the case involved "interpretation of the subdivision ordinance."

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