Zoning study dies for lack of a second
About 30 people packed the Morgan County Commission room to hear a two-hour debate about zoning last Thursday morning, October 4. In the end, the commissioners took no action.
Barbara Tutor requested that the commissioners have the county's planning board put cluster development rules on hold and begin a study on land-use zoning.
She wanted them to implement the West Virginia Local Powers Act so officials would have the authority to manage growth and development.
Commissioner Brenda Hutchinson made a motion that the Planning Commission be ordered to do a study and report on zoning.
Her motion incorporated Commission President Glen Stotler's suggestion of forming a citizens advisory group to begin a dialogue about the heated zoning issue.
Hutchinson's motion died for a lack of a second from Commissioners Glen Stotler or Thomas Swaim.
Cart before the horse
Tutor sparked the debate by saying the planning commission was putting the cart before the horse by working on cluster development rules without having specific ordinances to put the county's comprehensive plan into place.
"Cluster development would open up the county to large-scale unplanned development," she said in a prepared statement.
"Allowing cluster development without ordinances to complete the West Virginia Local Powers Act puts the cart before the horse, and would leave our county wide open
to rampant development, endangered natural ecosystems,
loss of farmland, and over-burdened public services," Tutor said.
Commissioner Stotler asked Tutor what she thought zoning would bring to the county.
Tutor replied that she really didn't know because no one's explored it. Everyone seemed to be avoiding zoning like it was the plague, she said.
Tutor hoped the zoning process would identify certain areas of the county that need protection.
Commissioner Hutchinson agreed they were placing the cart before the horse by wasting funds on piecemeal research about cluster development. She thought the money should be used to educate people on what zoning could or couldn't do for the county.
Hutchinson quoted the seven components from the West Virginia Code that must be considered when enacting a zoning ordinance. They include promoting the general public welfare, health and safety, preserving historic sites and farmland, lessening congestion and promoting orderly land development.
Hutchinson felt these should be considered and applied to Morgan County. She believed that once a zoning plan was in place, county residents should vote on it.
Stotler disagreed that work to write cluster development rules should be halted.
"You don't stop what you're doing in the middle," he said.
Commissioner Swaim agreed.
Stotler felt there was a misconception by many that zoning controls growth.
It may control where the growth occurs, he said. Growth has pretty much occurred in Morgan County where it was expected.
Water and sewer issues are controlled by the state, he said. "Zoning is not going to give you authority over that," he added.
Swaim said he was opposed to zoning but has sometimes changed his mind. He wanted to hear some examples of where zoning had worked.
Hutchinson said she couldn't say that zoning was the answer to all ills, but she didn't understand why someone wouldn't want to know more about it.
Former county commissioner Bob Ford claimed that zoning takes rights away from property owners and raises taxes. He didn't see the need for zoning and wondered how they would fund the engineering studies for it.
Ford said that as spokesman for the PROMOTE anti-zoning group, he was serving notice that if the county entertained the notion of zoning, they would work to defeat it.
Reuben Darby opposed zoning and talked of the many problems that Berkeley County was having with their zoning ordinance.
Eric Pritchard also spoke against zoning and unveiled a "Don't Tread On Me" American Revolutionary War flag showing a coiled timber rattlesnake.
Jim Hoyt thought that zoning directs where high-density growth can occur and protects property values.
Several real estate developers he's talked to like the idea. Zoning would prevent a factory from going in a residential area, he said.
Currently, there's nothing to keep someone from putting an ATV racetrack in a residential area, he said.
Hoyt had collected several pages of signatures from local business people who are in favor of zoning and gave the petitions to the commissioners.
Charles Sullivan, an environmental educator, said the land will be here long after we're gone. Land development must be approached with intelligent design, Sullivan said. Healthy forests, clean potable water and protecting recharge areas are vital, he said.
Charles Biggs wondered if the Freeman Companies development of 1100 homes in Cold Run Valley would impact the springs.
"The springs are the lifeblood of Berkeley Springs and this county. We won't know for 40 to 50 years the impact. We can't take chances on it," Biggs said.
Hoyt worried about the traffic situation that could arise from the development.
Commissioner Hutchinson was concerned about the water condition in Cold Run Valley. While she felt Freeman is a responsible developer, she didn't want to find out in 40 to 50 years that they had depleted the recharge area of the springs.
Commissioner Stotler said he wasn't prepared to put the planning board in the middle of a war over zoning. People are already polarized on the issue, he said.
Stotler wanted to form a citizen advisory committee with members from both the pro-zoning and anti-zoning camps to try and find some common ground. There may be other ways to go besides zoning, he thought.
Stotler didn't believe that either side really understood what they were for or against.
"We need to find common ground before we can proceed," he said.
David Schwartz admitted that zoning is a divisive issue and suggested a study is in order. Swartz felt the planning commission could begin work on zoning while the citizen advisory group began its dialogue.
Biggs volunteered to serve on the citizens advisory committee, but the commission made no move to form the group.
At one point, Stotler said that everyone present had the best interests of the county at heart.
"We all want the same thing"— preserving the life we have come to love here, said one citizen in the audience.