Citizens call for caution in writing cluster rules
Nearly a dozen county residents urged planners to exercise caution when considering Coolfont redevelopment plans and cluster housing rules during the September 25 meeting of the Morgan County Planning Commission.
The board took a second look at rules for mixed-type residential subdivisions at the Tuesday meeting.
Cluster rules & Coolfont
Before planners discussed a draft of new rules about cluster development, the citizen board listened to concerns about plans by Freeman Companies to build 1,100 homes on the former Coolfont Resort.
"How do you determine
the standards for a cluster
development?" asked Barbara Tutor.
Planning Commission president Jack Soronen said engineers Kristin Aleshire and Joe Moss of ARRO Consulting, who are employed by Morgan County, have experience with cluster development rules in other localities like the City of Hagerstown and Frederick County, Md.
Aleshire said cluster developments include single-family homes, townhouses and condominiums built together in neighborhoods. Clusters can also include retail shops, recreation facilities, schools and a prescribed amount of communal open or green space.
Russell Mokhiber questioned Soronen about the role of Freeman Companies in the drafting of county rules about cluster housing.
Soronen said Freeman had shared their development plans during preliminary plat hearings with County Planner Alma Gorse and ARRO engineers.
Local surveyor Cindy Born said cluster development is not new in Morgan County, suggesting that Coolfont already had dense housing surrounded by open space.
Zoning before cluster rules?
"It's putting the cart before the horse to look at cluster housing before zoning is in place," Barbara Tutor told planners.
She said she's disappointed that work on the county's updated Comprehensive Plan has not continued toward developing zoning.
"The planning commission doesn't have a position on zoning. We're looking to the county commission for any request to pursue zoning rules," said Soronen.
"Why don't you take a position on zoning?" asked Ron Zerr.
"I think the zoning question
is a political discussion that needs to happen in the whole community, and I think it
should happen at the county commission level," said Soronen.
"Zoning is still a dirty word. The planning commission is shying away from it, but it needs to be done," said Charlie Biggs.
"You could say there will be no cluster development until we have zoning," said Biggs.
He argued that if the county passes cluster development guidelines, the planning board won't be able to limit inten-
sive building in sensitive
areas like wetlands and watersheds.
continues on page 5)
Colin Williams argued that planners shouldn't make rules to allow cluster housing when the Freeman Companies are planning that type of development in Cold Run Valley.
He said the Freeman development would create a city, which he called "Freeman Town," that would dwarf the Town of Bath.
"I don't believe this is something the planning commission needs to be doing right now," said Williams.
Soronen disagreed, saying the planners were taking the lead in drafting rules before an official proposal came from the Freeman Companies or Sovereign Homes, which had proposed 400 homes on the southern edge of Morgan County.
"If we were to do nothing, Freeman or whoever could do whatever they wanted under our high density development rules," said Soronen.
Gordon McLeod asked if the geology of the Cold Run Valley could support 1,100 homes.
Soronen said the location of developments was essentially a zoning question.
"It's not a zoning or a political question. Just a question of whether the land can support that kind of development," said McLeod.
Roads, shops, open space
Engineer Kristin Aleshire compared cluster developments and existing subdivision types at the request of Cold Run Valley resident Leigh Jenkins.
Aleshire said cluster communities bring different types of dwelling units together so surrounding tracts of land could remain undeveloped.
He said the county's current regulations already allow Planned Unit Developments, which combine commercial and residential buildings in the same subdivision.
"Regulations take into account what might be in a cluster development, like alleys," said Aleshire.
Cul-de-sac lengths, road widths and the size and ownership of green space are other issues addressed in cluster housing rules.
Proposals included a rule mandating 20% of a development be left as open space. Other options specify 10,000 square feet of space for each 10 living units.
Williams asked if open space rules would allow some discretion from the planners.
"The regulations are minimums. The elected body could say what the developer is offering is not adequate," said Aleshire.
He said instituting a 30-acre minimum for cluster developments would prevent someone from "cramming" too many units into a small space.
"What about a fire department, post office, churches and all that? They'll have to have those," said planning commission member Mary Ellen Largent.
Biggs asked if 50-ft. tall buildings permitted in a cluster development would require special fire equipment like a ladder truck for fire rescues.
Planning board member Tucker Stinebaugh said state rules would require the Berkeley Springs Fire Department to buy a ladder truck to serve taller dwellings. Stinebaugh said that equipment could cost $900,000.
"I'm hearing that the taxpayers will have to buy a $900,000 piece of equipment so a developer can build 50-ft. buildings? We're having trouble coming up with that for a courthouse," said Biggs.
Planning Commission member Sue Parker asked if new rules would be specific about commercial buildings in cluster developments.
She wondered if planners could specify a maximum square footage for commercial enterprises in order to keep "big box" stores out of cluster developments.
Work session planned
The planning board also approved an unlighted 100-ft. internet tower on Short Mountain Road for SkyWeb, Inc. and shifted their deadlines for subdivision applications during the three-hour planning meeting.
There will be a special workshop meeting of the Planning Commission on Tuesday, October 9 at 7 p.m. to consider revisions to the county's subdivision ordinance. Rules about cluster development, well and septic fields in the flood plain and riverside buffers will be discussed.