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Commission hashes out UGB options

By Staff | Nov 19, 2010

(Submitted photo) In order to change the boundary, Shepherdstown town council officials would need to tell the Jefferson County Commission what they want in terms of an urban growth boundary.

The Shepherdstown Planning Commission invited Jefferson County officials to Monday’s meeting to discuss and help members better understand urban growth boundary (UGB).

Jennifer Brockman, county director of planning and zoning, and Tom Trumble, Jefferson County Planning Commission member, spoke to the committee, explaining language from a house bill that will allow UGBs in counties with county-wide zoning as long as there is agreement with the municipality.

Brockman said that according to the current zoning map, all five towns in the county had UGBs. But Brockman said the county attorney said there was to be an understanding between both the county and town officials as to what the boundary should be. Jefferson County is currently updating its zoning map and making revisions to the code.

Right now, Charles Town and Ranson are the only two towns that have adopted the UGB. Brockman said Bolivar, Harpers Ferry and Shepherdstown “are all sort of still struggling with this concept.”

In order to change the boundary, the Shepherdstown town council would need to tell the Jefferson County Commission what they want in terms of a UGB.

“So the county commission needs to agree with this the way it is in the state code,” Brockman said.

According to West Virginia House Bill 2845, authored by Del. John Doyle, the “boundary shall be established by the county commission in consultation with each individual municipality regarding that municipality’s boundary. If the county commission and municipality cannot agree either party may file for declaratory judgment relief in the circuit court which shall submit the dispute to mediation or arbitration to final resolution by the circuit court.”

Brockman and Trumble also explained the benefits of putting a UGB in place. Annexation process would be more efficient.

“Assuming this boundary reflects something realistic for the municipality, when the municipality decides to annex something within that boundary, you don’t have to have a public hearing at county commission,” Brockman said.

According to Shepherdstown Comprehensive Plan’s chapter about the Greater Shepherdstown Area, written in August 2001, “the key recommendation is to establish a dialogue and working relationship with Jefferson County for the planning of this area. Without this little can happen that does not rely on annexation.”

Brockman said that what isn’t annexed within the UGB “of urban density level,” or four houses per acre, is still within the county’s jurisdiction.

“It’s hard to say in the future what we may or may not annex,” said Mayor Jim Auxer. “We’ve been pretty slow to annex (in the past).”

Trumble thinks it’s essential for Shepherdstown to get on board with the UGB so they can define what its vision for the future.

“If you all want to maintain even the semblance of the cultural heritage of the German village, then you guys have to decide where you’re going to grow and how much growth you want to go in,” he said.

Neal Martineau who spearheaded a reworking of the town’s boundary after reading the town’s comprehensive plan when he was on town council three years ago, said rewriting the UGB is just the first step.

He said the town needs to “take control of the area around around our town.” Martineau said the county has made bad development choices over the years, like allowing the construction of St. Agnes Catholic Church and Maddex Farms, which he said isn’t compatible with the town’s architecture.

Martineau also advocates implementing smart code, which would hinder suburban sprawl and encourage a compact corporation, which he said is what Trumble was referring to as far as a German village.

“We want a clustered, high-density village design,” he said.

The county commission has asked its planning department to come up with a memorandum of understanding between the county and the towns. Brockman said the memorandum is a way for the county and town to inform one another and allow for comments about projects happening along the boundary.

“It ties to the urban growth boundary because that’s a logical place to limit where we share that information,” Brockman said.

Some commission members brought up their concerns.

“The danger we have, I think, is more of a connective sprawl along the commuter arteries in the area,” said Josh Stella, the newly selected planning commission president. “And that’s something that we won’t probably be able to get a handle on for lots of reasons from local government. But the county government might be able to have some impact.”

Martineau, who attended the meeting as a resident, also questioned annexing non-contiguous land.

Brockman said that language was “awkward” in the state code and needed to be looked at by town and county attorneys.

Stella ended the discussion by saying between now and the next meeting the commission has three tasks, to define the new UGB, think of input for the memorandum of understanding between the town and county and find out if it is possible to annex non-contiguous land.

But Martineau believes that this issue will eventually fall by the wayside.

“It’s very hard to get people to wake up (about UGB and smart growth),” Martineau said, “including our council.”