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Harpers Ferry analysis

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  • Stephen
    Ok folks...before you get out the tar and feathers.... The first point I am making here is that no amount of public activism is substitute for good planning,
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 4, 2010
      Ok folks...before you get out the tar and feathers....

      The first point I am making here is that no amount of public activism is substitute for good planning, and there is precious little planning in West-by-God Virginia. I know...I worked in Jefferson County's Planning Department before I fled back to Maryland in 2003. No, I had no involvement in this issue.

      Historically, other posters are right. The semi-impoverished state of West Virginia looks at the eastern panhandle as a cash cow, and that will never change. Getting planning laws adopted in West Virginia was always a massive fight to result in little. All of the other counties in the state look at the eastern panhandle and say "we wish we had your problems".

      The second point I want to make is that the land development environment/climate in Jefferson County COUNTYWIDE is the most toxic I have ever seen, and in no small way contributes to this problem.

      Jefferson is the only county in WV with county-wide zoning (or at least it was in 2003), and what they have is lame and easily manipulated by developer and conservationist alike. A zoning ordinance should lay out very clear direction of what is permitted and what is not, which gives the owner a level of comfort of what they can do unmolested and the activist a line to know that if they challenge, they will most likely lose. But, given the state-wide climate on the issue, don't expect Berkeley Califorina. No predictability currently exists in the planning process in Jeff Co.

      The exercise of property rights as outlined in our founding documents should not be subject "he who screams the loudest gets his way" decision making.

      Charleston looks at Jefferson like it has four heads when every other major development lands on appeal in front of the State Supreme Court and this is probably why the legislature passed the law that is allowing this unfortunate turn of events to occur. The no-growth crowd has (in my opinion) abused the process over the last 15 years, and Charleston took notice.

      I am pro-preservation. I volunteer at and love HFNHP. I am pro good planning (I posted a letter in a paper a few years back criticizing the way land along the Charles Town bypass was being developed), but I also have respect for private property rights. No one should have to have a team of lawyers at hand just to develop property in accordance with applicable zoning law.

      Unfortunately, even to do routine development in Jefferson County involves two things: An engineer, and a battalion of lawyers. When I worked there, there wasn't a development that did not generate vociferous opposition and there were numerous lengthy court challenges. Most Jeff Countians are transplants, yet there is a virulent "I am here now, draw up the drawbridge" mentality. I didn't detect that so much in the folks whose ancestors were there before John Brown was a failed Ohio business speculator. Its the transplants. I understand that in 2005, someone was even party to a lawsuit over the approval of an adjacent development, and their own house on a suburban scale lot in the next development over wasn't even completed yet...and the development was in a growth area and no where near the park.

      That's how bad it is.

      The US 340 corridor has been the commercial spine of the County for 200 years. When the county zoning ordinance took effect in 1988, the area along US 340 was zoned for development.

      When I crafted the initial draft of the County's Comp plan in 2002-03, I explored the idea of policies for the protection of the park area (which, following planning principles, would have resulted in zoning ordinance and map changes to implement the policy) but there wasn't much support for it. Most of the community (both sides of the aisle) looked at the comp plan as a "whatever" exercise....at least until the first public draft hit the streets. Hence, there isn't much in the comp plan on the subject.

      What should have happened?

      If the community believes that the borders of the park and other historic areas (like Shepherdstown Battlefield) should be protected, it should have been in the comp plan (or an amendment should be crafted to the comp plan to add such policy), then amendments made to the zoning laws and map adopted to do so to downzone the area or implement signficant design standards to mitigate the impact of the development on the adjacent parkland.

      This is similar to Orange County, which shows the Wilderness area as a growth area in its comp plan and zoning, and hence, we have Walmart.

      The preservation community would do well, and save countless dollars and anguish if it monitored the comprehensive plan and comprehensive rezoning processes in sensitive jurisdictions and get its activism involved at the planning stage, rather than sounding the battle alarm when someone proposes to do something in accordance with adopted law. At that point, the horse is out of the barn. Unfortunately, I predict Walmart will win the Orange County court battle. We'll see. For the sake of the battlefield, I hope I'm wrong.

      How does all this preaching relate to the issue?

      I knew these developers when I worked there. If you can get past the concept of all developers being the devil in human form as a matter of principle, they aren't bad guys. They are just trying to develop land in an area that historically been a development corridor, where the utilities are and have been planned, in accordance with County's adopted zoning law, and have been fought, hammer and tong at every step over everything...and they are building houses for folks who will move in and hate them for their project on the next property over.

      They bought easements across that land that was later bought by CWPT and given to the park, paid their hard-earned money for it, and it appears (at least to me) the 106 process was being dog-piled to use it as a means of blocking their exercise of the property rights they purchased. Someone had to be watching the public notices pretty closely to get over 100 written comments on an obscure permit that, if the surface of the land was restored, the only thing bothered would have been the archeological contents.

      Am I defending them? No. However I do believe if one looked into it, the local no-growth activists were using the 106 process for their own agenda. As an observer with a foot in each camp, I can understand their frustration and perhaps sense of persecution. The climate is as ugly there as in any jurisdiction I have ever seen, and they were protecting their interests.

      Summary...don't believe everything the press tells you...including that press that is pro-preservation. All press is skewed...including the press that favors your view. There are two sides to every story. I don't pretend to know what is accurate on both sides of this issue, and won't try to tell anyone I do. I have been out of the Jefferson County loop for far too long. But, based on my experiences there, I can draw some conclusions.

      Bottom line: If places like Jefferson County, WV or Orange County, VA did a better job planning, such fights would be fewer.
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