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Planning chair explains position on UGB, annexation

By Staff | Jun 10, 2011

I noticed that The Chronicle pointed out my position has changed on the Urban Growth Boundary from last year to this and wanted to explain why my position has changed. I am stating my personal opinion as Planning Chair and a Town Councilor on this not speaking for the Planning Commission or Town Council.

I changed my mind because I learned what the UGB really is, rather than what is being said and implied about it. The UGB was created at the state level in order to constrain municipality growth from “pipe stem” annexations such as those Ranson has pursued. It provides no new powers to the municipality in terms of annexation within the UGB, nor does it imply the municipality will grow to its UGB. It is a line that limits the municipality in advance and grants no new powers or capabilities other than skipping the county level approval of annexation which has been a rubber stamp in the past.

There has been talk about working with the county on memoranda of understanding for those properties within the UGB but not annexed into Shepherdstown. I am skeptical that any MOU would hold up as enforceable if a property owner or investor chose to challenge it. The county has been clear that they aren’t interested in changing any zoning in un-annexed areas within the UGB.

Therefore, the UGB is purely a limit on Shepherdstown and has no particular bearing on our Comprehensive Plan or ultimate size and composition. It is a bureaucratic requirement placed on us by the state legislature in order to combat a problem that Shepherdstown doesn’t have aggressive pipe stem annexation.

Because the UGB only reduces our flexibility and does nothing to increase our capabilities, it is my opinion that it is not that important unless we try to annex outside it in the future, and therefore it should be fairly liberal. In general, I’ve been a critic of annexation in Shepherdstown, so this is an effort on my part to make annexation easier, but to clarify what the UGB actually is and how little it has to do with planning for Shepherdstown.

On the subject of annexation, we have an application now for a shopping center west of town. I’d love to hear from residents what they think about it. While I cannot implement a referendum on the subject, I intend to keep careful track of number of residents who speak for or against the annexation as time goes on and to ask people on both sides of the issue to attend the public meetings or send signatures in the form of petitions. I will vote with the majority view expressed, will ask the other members of Town Council to pledge the same, and will introduce all public comments into the record.

Josh Stella