Crowd turns out for zoning hearing
Nearly 100 people attended the first public hearing on the proposed Morgan County Zoning Ordinance at the Warm Springs Middle School on Thursday evening, July 1.
Morgan County Commission president Brenda Hutchinson gave an overview of the ordinance using a slide presentation. Copies of the draft ordinance were given to everyone who attended.
Hutchinson described the five zones; rural residential, high density residential, general commercial, light industrial and heavy industrial as well as the three overlay zones; billboard, water resource protection and rural villages.
After her 20-minute presentation, Hutchinson went down the list of those who signed up to speak and each person got three minutes.
In all, 31 people voiced opinions about the ordinance. Seventeen spoke against zoning, 10 spoke in favor and four asked questions or suggested changes.
Those who favored the zoning ordinance and some who spoke against it praised the work of the County Planning Commission, the citizens advisory group and County Planner Alma Gorse for the hard work they put into the document.
David Schwartz said the ordinance would “serve the general welfare of the community.” Larry Lower said it was a moderate proposal that allowed changes for the future. “We tend to think about what things are at the moment and we really need to be looking at what the future holds for the county,” Lower said.
George Farnham pointed out with a zoning ordinance in place, impact fees could be charged for new development.
“If we have a reasonable $5,000 impact fee, 1,200 new homes would bring in $6 million,” Farnham said.
“The taxpayers in Morgan County, in the long run, will benefit from what zoning allows us to do. Zoning is home rule,” Patti Miller said.
“Zoning is a tool to promote responsible development,” said Jim Hoyt.
Burt Lustig said the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is “the perfect example of what happens when free enterprise runs the show without any government control.”
“We have the same possibilities for our own little natural disaster happening in Cold Run Valley. We need to protect the Cold Run Valley,” Lustig said.
“As far as impact fees, people have to pay to live here. You have to buy into a community. You can’t put in 400 or 1,000 houses with 1,000 kids and expect the rest of us to say, “Oh, just raise our taxes, that’s okay,’” Bob Rayner said.
Phil Harmison said he has 50 years experience in farming “and seeing what transpires with paper shaking regulations, I have no support for zoning and its regulations. We don’t need more regulations to deal with.”
Reuben Darby said, “I am against most aspects of zoning because in the long haul, I honestly have more trust in my neighbor than trust in my government.”
Darby said he did, however, support the protection of the Warm Springs resource area.
Ellen Spieles voiced her mistrust of government, saying: “When the government gets involved, there is no common sense. You might approve this document come November, but it won’t look like this 15 years down the road, I can guarantee you.”
Bob Ford challenged the commissioners to a debate. “There is not just one issue in that ordinance, there are a whole lot. There are a lot of parts in that ordinance that are really not legal,” he said.
Eric Pritchard also contended the ordinance is illegal. He cited the absence of a financial plan in the county’s comprehensive plan, which he said was required by the state code.
Several people questioned the burden that impact fees would put on home buyers.
“Surely the builders and developers are just going to pass that impact fee on to customers,” Terry Miller said.
Others questioned the cost of zoning administration.
Portia Henry noted that Jefferson County employs seven people to work on zoning and has a lawyer on staff.
Brad Close said the ordinance should not be taken lightly and encouraged everyone to read all 74 pages before forming an opinion.
Daryl Cowles questioned the 1,000-sq.-ft. size limit on a home business and the legal costs involved with administering zoning.
Cowles said the county already has plenty of rules, citing a list of ordinances, including subdivision regulations, building permit rules, the floodplain and stormwater management ordinances and others.
Several others were also critical of the 1,000-sq.-ft. limit on home businesses. Jim Hoyt felt this should be increased to 2,000-sq.-ft.
One percent compromise
Cowles and several others took issue with a change that the county commissioners made that seems to conflict with the West Virginia State Code.
If a “substantive amendment” is proposed to the ordinance, the commissioners may either “enact the amendment, place the proposal on an election ballot, or place the amendment on an election ballot if petitioned to do so by at least one percent of the affected eligible voters,” according to the present proposal.
According to the State Code, at least 10% of the affected eligible voters must petition to force an election about a zoning law change.
Hutchinson said the 10% was reduced to one percent due to a compromise reached by commissioners.
But Jim Dupont predicted that if this were challenged in court, the one percent rule will be thrown out.
Dupont said he was at the meeting when commissioners made the change. When he told his wife about the change, she said, “It looks like they are trying to flim-flam us.”
Jane McCloud pointed out that the ordinance allows billboards every 1,000 ft. along U.S. 522 from Rock Gap Road to Winchester Grade Road.
There are currently 13 billboards in that 5.4 mile stretch and, as written, the ordinance would allow 15 more, she said.
McCloud thought the ordinance should clearly state that billboards should not interrupt the view of residential properties, detract from or block business signs or detract from driver safety.
Todd Farris asked how zoning will be administered.
Hutchinson said a zoning administrator will be hired at an estimated cost of $50,000 for salary and benefits. She said the zoning board would be made up of volunteers.
Farris asked if the county ordinance on adult entertainment would be affected by zoning.
Gorse said the ordinance will still apply.
If the county commissioners decide to amend the proposed ordinance due to public comments, another public hearing must be advertised and held to hear comments on the changes.
At that point, they will decide whether the final ordinance is placed on the ballot in November.