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Martinsburg planners vote againt proposed villa-style duplex project

July 08, 2010|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- The Martinsburg Planning Commission on Wednesday voted 5-1 against a proposed villa-style duplex project after several residents claimed that it poses road safety concerns and does not fit the surrounding neighborhood.

Foxshire subdivision by James M. Seibert and Telena A. Spies was previously denied by planning commissioners in November 2009, but the developers successfully appealed the decision to the circuit court where 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge Gina M. Groh reversed the city's decision and sent the case back to the planning commission for re-consideration.

Groh 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 an order filed on May 18 in Berkeley County Circuit Clerk Virginia M. Sine's office.

Seibert and Spies have proposed the project for a 31,672-square-foot parcel at the intersection of South Delaware Avenue and West Stephen Street.

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In a public hearing on Wednesday, residents and neighbors aired concerns about the road's width and increased traffic, given the potential for children to reside in the new development.

City Engineer Michael Covell told commissioners that South Delaware Avenue was as wide as 13 or 14 feet wide in places, which is several feet less than neighboring streets.

When he moved to the neighborhood, Harry Saunders said the narrow street was a gravel lane, a factor that helped slow the traffic, which has increased over time.

While Saunders said he simply objected to having more traffic, others renewed concerns about development that they believe would not fit the neighborhood.

Commission President Jim Rodgers seemed unconvinced that the commission was justified in denying the developer's project because the city did not have any traffic statistics, such as the number of vehicles that travel the narrow road, accidents or other data on hand to support the decision.

Seibert, who didn't have any data either, said making South Delaware Avenue one way in the proposed development area was one option that appeared to be suitable to the city's police department.

Widening the road would have to be paid for by the developer, according to City Attorney Floyd M. "Kin" Sayre III.

Groh previously had ruled that 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.

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.

Seibert described them as residential options for seniors, but residents said the developer could not guarantee who would ultimately reside there.

City Engineer Michael Covell has 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.

Several of the commissioners, including ex-offico member City Councilman Gregg Wachtel, reside near the proposed development, which is named Foxshire subdivision.

Wachtel does not have a vote on the commission. Commissioner Steve Workings cast the lone vote for the project. Rodgers only votes to break a tie. Ron Effland was absent.

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