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Council fills zoning post

By Staff | Jun 18, 2010

Harvey Heyser is the town's zoning officer.

Shepherdstown Planning Commissioner Harvey Heyser has assumed the job of part-time zoning officer following the amicable departure of former zoning officer Michael Abshire.

Heyser becomes the fifth zoning officer to be employed by the Corporation of Shepherdstown since the job became a paid position in March 2004. He said he looks forward to working for the town.

“I care a great deal about the town,” said Heyser in a phone interview on Wednesday, noting that he has lived in town for 25 years. “The mayor and the council needed some help to carry out the planning and zoning operations of the town.”

Heyser has been a member of the Planning Commission since July 2007 and plans to continue working with the Commission as both a voting member of the body and zoning officer.

So far, Heyser says he has dealt with a large workload. For instance, last week’s meeting of the Historic Landmarks Commission, one of the municipal bodies with which the zoning officer works closely, featured 11 applications up for consideration. Normally, Historic Landmarks Commission meetings have two or three applications.

“It’s that time of year when people try to make changes to their properties,” said Heyser. “One positive thing is that there’s a lot of business activity in town. That’s hopefully a sign that things are turning around.”

The part-time position pays $13 per hour and is limited to 36 hours per week for a maximum annual salary of $24,000.

The zoning officer has been a paid position since March of 2004, when Charles Cheezum was hired as a part-time zoning officer earning $15 an hour. In October 2004, a second part-time zoning officer, Alicia Burdette, was hired at the same pay scale. Burdette and Cheezum worked together until Feb. 2005, when Cheezum left.

For eight months, between Feb. 2005 and Nov. 2005, Burdette worked alone until John Mathews was hired to fill Cheezum’s post. In January 2007, Mathews was promoted to full-time zoning officer. Mathews and Burdette continued to work together until Feb. 2008, when both stopped working for the Corporation of Shepherdstown, leaving Shepherdstown without a zoning officer for seven months until Abshire was hired in Sept. 2008.

Abshire held the job for almost two years, but a death in the family compelled him to play a larger role in running his family’s book publishing business, Pavillion IV Books. Abshire reports that the parting was on good terms, saying he enjoyed working as the zoning officer and that he would miss his former co-workers at Town Hall.

The position was a full-time job as recently as April during Abshire’s tenure as zoning officer. In May, Abshire’s employment status changed to part-time as he began to get more involved in his duties for Pavillion IV. By May 27 he had verbally resigned his post and was taken off the payroll. Abshire earned $15 an hour during his employment.

According to records on file at Town Hall, Heyser was added to the municipal payroll on the same day that Abshire was removed, May 27.

Mayor Jim Auxer, in an interview before last week’s Town Council meeting, said the vacancy was not advertised and that Heyser was the only applicant. “Legally there’s no requirement to advertise for a part-time position like the zoning officer,” said the Mayor. “We just got someone to fill the spot.”

The mayor emphasized that a new zoning officer was needed immediately, saying Heyser will work “part-time until we decide what to do.” Later the mayor said “the plan is to hire a full-time replacement.” He did not elaborate further on plans for the future of the zoning position. According to the zoning ordinance, the town may employ up to three zoning officers at a time.

Despite holding the paid position nearly three weeks, Heyser’s appointment still requires official approval by the Town Council.

According to Shepherdstown’s zoning ordinance, zoning officers serve “at the pleasure of the Mayor and the Council,” and states that “zoning officers will be appointed by a majority vote of the Town Council,” a vote which has not yet happened.

Auxer says he had intended to bring the issue to a vote at last Tuesday’s Town Council meeting during his Mayor’s report, but chalking it up to human error, he admits he forgot to ask for a vote. The vote will happen soon, he said, perhaps at a special session of the Town Council. “We have so many Town Council meetings coming up, that I’ll put it onto the agenda of one of them,” said Auxer.

According to the Shepherdstown code, the duties of a zoning officer are to simply administer and enforce the regulations laid out in Shepherdstown’s 114-page zoning ordinance, which sets restrictions and requirements for most new construction and some exterior renovations. A job description on file with the Town Clerk goes into more detail on the duties of the zoning officer, outlining several duties which the zoning officer is expected to perform, including assisting residents in applying for building permits, responding to day-to-day questions regarding the planning and zoning ordinance, notifying residents and the Planning Commission of zoning violations, assisting the Historic Landmarks Commission with its agenda, and crafting revised and new planning and zoning ordinances.