Following a public hearing format, the Jefferson County Planning Commission heard testimony from developers of the Morgan's Grove Market project at Tuesday evening's meeting as well as words from neighbors of the property. At issue during the hearing were three proposed requests for waivers from requirements of the process for moving ahead with the development.
The project, according to the documentation submitted to the planning offices, calls for the establishment of "an agricultural based economic empowerment zone." Intended uses for the property include a food hub, general merchandise (retail), professional/business offices, community amenities and other associated uses.
Twin Oaks Subdivision, LLC with representatives Fred Blackmer and Peter Corum, addressed the commission in three separate hearings Tuesday. The first involved a request for a waiver to begin early site grading before a completed site plan is approved. Blackmer, who spoke throughout the evening on behalf of the development project, told commissioners that the request in no way askes for changes from standards.
"This is to allow a parallel process completely at the risk of the applicant," he said.
Planning Department staff agreed with request sought and recommended the commission approve allowing initial grading to commence. According tot he written request, the grading would only be done on the northeast corner of the property.
Public comment on this portion of the evening's discussion focused largely on the need for the commission to "follow its own rules." Concerns were also raised about potential stormwater issues especially with the proximity of Town Run.
Planning Director Jennifer Brockman indicated that should the waiver be granted, the developer would have to secure an NPDES permit that would only be given if there were no threats of negative stormwater issues. The developer would also be bonded for the project as a precautionary measure.
While the waiver was granted with a vote of five to one, Kelly Baty, a member of the commission, voiced his opinion against allowing the grading to move forward.
"To do this in a piecemeal process could be disastrous," Baty said. "I think the neighbors have real concerns."
Commissioner Steve Stolipher made the motion to approve the waiver which was voted on in the affirmative by members Daniel Hayes, Paul Taylor, Eric Smith, Morgan Etters and Stolipher.
The second waiver requested by the developer was to forego the installation of sidewalks along Route 480 in front of the project.
Blackmer approached the request stating that at least in one part of the county's subdivision regulations, no sidewalk is needed. Attorney Steve Groh, who represents the commission, indicated in another segment, the requirement does exist. Regardless of the conflicting opinion, the commission voted to grant the waiver to the developer; however, the developer is required to establish a 10 foot buffer for future bike/pedestrian pathways.
The discussion on the sidewalks had Commissioner Hayes, a resident of Shepherdstown, explaining that the community is a "walkable" community and sidewalks would be appropriate. Staff also recommended that the sidewalks be required.
However, the commission as a whole decided against the need for sidewalks at this time. They approved the easement. While Hayes agreed with the easement after his initial motion to not grant the waiver was defeated in a 4-2 vote, Hayes voted against the final motion made by Stolipher to grant the waiver with the condition of the easement. That vote passed 5-1.
The third portion of the evening's public hearings centered on a waiver request to eliminate a traffic study. This topic drew several comments from members of the public regarding the dangerous conditions of Route 480 and the speed and volume of traffic already on the road as well as what could come as a result of the build-out of the project. The developer indicated that he would provide improvements to the roadway that staff indicated should be sufficient based on past projects. These improvements would include a center left-turn lane, right-in/right-out only entrance and a deceleration lane. Staff recommended approval of the waiver as long as these conditions were met and that a letter was received from the State Department of Highways stating that "no traffic study is required."
The condition set for the the CUP indicated the requirement of a traffic study unless DOH indicated there was not a need for such a study. The vote by commissioners Tuesday simply restated that condition. The vote, 5-1, had Baty voted against the motion because of concerns he has regarding the limited resources of the Department of Highways and their potential priority lists. This project,he said, could be one not on their priority list but could be one with significant increased traffic and safety concerns involved with that.
The final action of the evening with regard to the Market project had commissioners vote against a request by the developers to hold a public hearing on the site plan prior to the plan being "complete" in the files of the planning staff. The group voted unanimously against the request to schedule the hearing in February. According to policy, the hearing must be held within 45 days after it is determined by the planning staff that the site plan is complete.