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Judge: Martinsburg panel 'wrong' to deny duplex proposal

May 26, 2010|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD
  • Gina M. Groh
File photo,

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- A judge has ruled that the Martinsburg Planning Commission was "plainly wrong" to deny a proposed villa-style duplex project in November 2009, but she also declined to approve the development.

In a seven-page order, 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge Gina M. Groh reversed the city's decision and sent the case back to the planning commission for consideration.

Groh concluded that the planning commission acted "arbitrarily and capriciously" when it denied T&J Associates' proposal, and she instructed the commission to make findings of fact on the issue of road and traffic safety before issuing another decision on the developer's application, according to the order.

James M. Seibert and Telena A. Spies, doing business as T&J Associates, proposed a 31,672-square-foot parcel at the intersection of South Delaware Avenue and West Stephen Street be subdivided into four, single-family lots for the duplex project. Attorney Michael L. Scales filed the petition challenging the planning commission's denial of the project in December.

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In her order, Groh ruled that the planning commission's written findings, which cited the project's "overall compatibility" and "inappropriateness" in the city's west end neighborhood and one resident's concerns, were insufficient reasons for denying the subdivision application.

Groh ruled the planning commission correctly considered safety concerns about the existing road widths, increased use and ability for vehicles to pass one another, according to the order, which was filed May 18 in Berkeley County Circuit Clerk Virginia M. Sine's office.

Groh also noted that the commission's written explanation for denying the project "does not provide sufficient findings and conclusions for the court to provide any meaningful review -- there is only one line (sentence) addressing the inadequacy of the existing road widths."

"Although the record presented to the court on the Delaware Ave. (safety) issue appears to militate in favor of approving T&J's application, the court declines to give that approval at this level with such scant findings and conclusions by the commission."

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

City Engineer Michael Covell had 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 meeting minutes.

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

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