Residents have say on comprehensive plan
Some 70 people, voicing all sorts of opinions, attended the Thursday, January 18 public hearing about the current draft version of the Morgan County Comprehensive Plan.
The audience at Warm Springs Intermediate School included County Commissioners Tommy Swaim and Brenda Hutchinson, members of the Morgan County Planning Commission and consultants Kristin Aleshire and Joe Moss.
Citizens commented on local growth and development, impact fees, zoning, infrastructure and the need for preservation of resources. While many applauded the planning commission's efforts in creating the 250-page plan, some thought the goals and objectives were not specific enough.
David Schwartz said that he went through the draft and found it to be a "comprehensive non-plan" in every significant area.
Schwartz felt there were many good goals and objectives, such as preserving the rural nature of the county, but wondered how the county was going to achieve them.
"What's the cost to the citizen when all these goals are attempted?" asked Eric Pritchard.
Purpose of plan
The purpose of the Morgan County Comprehensive Plan was to be a general guide in developing county policies and ordinances, said Jack Soronen, planning commission president.
Goals and objectives came from surveys, meetings and questionnaires. Spelling out specific ways of achieving goals and objectives was beyond the scope of this document, Soronen said.
But if it isn't in the comprehensive plan, you have trouble defending it in an ordinance, said Charlie Biggs.
Biggs felt more mention should be made of the Warm Springs and riparian buffers along streams and creeks. Clean water was essential to the county and any development along the tributary of those springs needs to show how water quality will be protected, he said.
"The springs are the core of the tourism industry here. If they get damaged, it will hurt tourism," Biggs said.
Farms & open space
Abby Porter said she was encouraged to see that the comprehensive plan spoke of protecting rural areas, sensitive areas and farmland. She wanted to see open spaces be one of the plan's top areas since it would help the county meet a lot of its goals.
"We must take care of our farmland and farmers," said Phil Harmison.
"No farms equal no food. Take care of the farm and it will take care of you," Harmison said..
Barbara Tudor felt the comprehensive plan contains valuable information on the historical growth and development of the county. She suggested the document could be strengthened with a mission statement.
Tutor had concerns about the financial impact of growth on the county resources. She spoke of preservation, conservation and ways to safeguard water, air, land and the quality of life for future generations.
Sandy Bienen liked the completeness of data and the broadness of outlook in the plan. He wanted to see the county list its top five priorities and how to implement them .
Rebecca MacLeod thought the plan was a good inventory, but didn't feel it had a vision or showed what we wanted Morgan County to look like in 10-20 years.
Retired farmer and conservationist Jim Michael thought the land plan's maps could have been clearer. He noted that the Eastern Panhandle Conservation District's Warm Springs Run program wasn't mentioned as a water resource.
Septic systems were discussed but many residents' septic tanks aren't working well, he said. Michael also didn't think all the floodplains were on the map, though overall, he thought the plan was "quite a document."
Impact fees, zoning
Unger resident George Farnham recommended that the planning commission implement impact fees. The county doesn't have the business base or the taxpayer base to support the growth we're seeing, he said. Developers need to help pay for the road and infrastructure use that will come, he said.
Biggs thought population growth might require a new high school in the future. "Without an impact fee, we'll be building it ourselves," he said.
Rather than impact fees that would drive up home prices for his kids and grandkids, Ruben Darby asked Soronen if the planning commission could turn developers down if the infrastructure wasn't in place.
If the requirements are met, there's no reason to deny the permit, Soronen said.
Dale Moser asked how a developer's request to put in a subdivision relates to the comprehensive plan. Soronen said subdivision applications are evaluated against existing ordinances.
The county's subdivision ordinance governs the size of lots, septic permits, entranceways and other technicalities, Soronen said.
Portia Henry asked how zoning would affect those who have lived here a long time, those who live here now and those who are moving here.
Soronen said they didn't have a proposal on the table about zoning at this time. There is only an ordinance being considered that related to the placement of billboards.
Morgan County native Randy Waugh wondered why everyone at the meeting wanted to change the county.
"If you don't like what's here in our county, why do you stay here?" Waugh asked.
He said he hoped natives would fight the impact fees and whatever else they dreamed up "to hell and back."
Helgi Nelson, a six-year resident, said that he'd come to love Morgan County as long-time residents have. Nelson said he's here for the long haul and wants what's best for the county.
Resource for grant writers
Jeanne Mozier was excited to see all of the county data in one place, which will make things easier for local grant writers. Mozier felt the comprehensive plan would help groups integrate their plans with the county's plans.
We need to make sure that anything we want to see happen over the next five years is covered in the plan, Mozier said. She also felt that in some places the plan was too specific and may be outdated in five years, when it would be reviewed again.
Commission has final say
The final draft of the comprehensive plan must be submitted to the Morgan County Commission for approval. The commissioners will hold their own public meeting at that time, said Soronen.
Copies of the Morgan County Comprehensive Plan can be reviewed at the Morgan County Planning Office, the Morgan County Public Library and the Paw Paw Library.
Residents can also find the county comprehensive plan online at the county website: www.morgancountywv.info.
Residents can drop off written comments to County Planner Alma Gorse at the Morgan County Planning Commission Office.