CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — Following a long, and at times rancorous, discussion Thursday, the Jefferson County Commission voted 3-2 to override its own planning commission to approve a 9-acre commercial development project on U.S. 340.
The applicant, Patricia Sanderson, an owner of Shenandoah Professional Center LLC, was asking to rezone her land from residential growth to light industrial.
The tract is behind a large 19th century brick manor home that her company owns and renovated for office space. The property is at the intersection of Bakerton Road and U.S. 340 across the highway from Millville Road and the Harpers Ferry Flea Market.
Earlier this week, the Jefferson County Planning Commission denied the request on grounds that it’s not consistent with the comprehensive plan, Zoning Enforcement Officer Steve Barney told the county commissioners.
Sanderson said after the vote that her company has no definite plans for the property.
The rezoning request was championed by County Commissioner Walter Pellish, the board’s representative on the planning commission.
Pellish said the issue is one of “property rights. They own the property, they want to develop it, and they need the zoning. Under the regulations, now they could put in a trailer park,” he said. “I wonder what the National Park Service or the neighbors would think of that. I don’t want to see the flea market or the painted buses (at River Riders Inc., a canoe/kayak outfitter) but that’s what we got.”
Pellish said the planning commission staff’s report on Sanderson’s proposal “was the worst I’ve seen. They interpreted the facts the wrong way.” He said the planning commission members “didn’t understand what they were voting for.”
Pellish said it was “ridiculous” to delay the rezoning request until the 340 Corridor study, currently under way, is finished early next year.
The Sanderson project means economic development and jobs, he said.
“I fully support this,” Pellish said.
Pellish was chastised by fellow Commissioner Frances Morgan for voting twice for the project; first as the county commission’s representative on the planning commission and for voting again for it Thursday as a county commissioner.
Morgan, who with County Commissioner Lyn Widmyer, voted against the request, called it “spot zoning.”
Widmyer wanted the commissioners to hold a public hearing before voting on it.
“This is the wrong use, the wrong place and the wrong time,” she said.
The planning commission has held three public hearings on Sanderson’s requests, commissioners said Thursday.
Commissioners President Patsy Noland, who with Pellish and County Commissioner Dale Manuel voted for the rezoning, criticized her fellow board members for creating unnecessary delays when such issues come before them.
“The way we have been pushing these people around is absolutely inexcusable. They have to keep coming back and spending so much money. Is it any wonder wonder why we have such a hard time attracting development? We need a better way. We have to stop dragging people through the mud,” she said.
“On one side of our mouth we say we need jobs for Jefferson County, and on the other side we say no,” Noland said.