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Circuit Court rules Ranson failed to give proper notice in Rockwool construction

By Staff | May 15, 2020

This computer-generated picture shows what Rockwool's completed plant in Ranson is anticipated to look like. Courtesy photo

RANSON — Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge David Hammer recently ruled that the City of Ranson failed to give proper notice of proposed zoning amendments in regard to the issuance of Rockwool building permits.

The suit was brought against the City of Ranson by Jefferson County Vision, a nonprofit group formed to support sustainable growth, without heavy industry. JCV has actively been fighting Rockwool’s move to Jefferson County and this suit is one of several calling in question actions leading up to the approval of the plant location and construction.

In the current case, JCV alleged that Ranson failed to give proper notice of proposed zoning amendments for the Rockwool location, at what was formerly known as Jefferson Orchards.

JCV filed its suit stating that Ranson, who was required to provide public notice of. Zoning change, did so for only one week, rather than two weeks that is required by West Virginia Code.

As such, JCV alleged that the ordinances adopted by Ranson “were not validly adopted and should be declared void.”

The court documents show that Ranson was required to meet the requirement of public notice to allow for public comment prior to changing their zoning ordinance from Smart Code-New Community to permit heavy industrial uses to allow Rockwool to build.

While Ranson moved to dismiss the case stating it is “statutorily immune from ‘claims’ arising from legislative or quasi-legislative functions such as enacting ordinances,” the Circuit Court ruled otherwise.

Hammer, in his ruling, agreed with the Plaintiff.

“The Court agrees with the Plaintiffs that the West Virginia Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act, W.Va. Code 55-13-1, specifically authorizes an action against a municipality to determine the validity of an ordinance,” Hammer said.

“As an initial matter, the Court rejects Defendants’ argument that the State code governing amendments to zoning ordinances does not apply to certain future zoning changes Ranson makes because Ranson enacted a municipal code that provides certain future modifications (specifically, placement or replacement of transect zones) shall not be considered amendments triggering State code notice requirements,” Hammer said. “The Court has not been provided authority, and is unaware of any authority, establishing the right of a municipality to unilaterally exempt its zoning changes from State law notice requirements, and accordingly, finds State law controls.”

The court ruling does not officially settle the matter.

“The Court notes that the instant ruling does not dispose of the issues in controversy because Rockwool has raised certain defenses, including laches, that challenge Plaintiffs’ request for this Court to order that the Industrial District Ordinance is invalid and void,” the Order read.

Hammer then provided Ranson with a time frame to correct the problem by reenacting the failed amendments to the Industrial District Ordinance through proper public notice by the close of business July 3.

Jefferson County Vision said, in a press release, it sees Hammer’s ruling as a victory in their efforts to disallow Rockwool from opening their industrial plant in Ranson.

“Now the Court agrees that Jefferson Orchards was not lawfully rezoned for heavy industry and that Ranson does not have the authority to exempt itself from state law requirements,” said JCV board member Catherine Jozwick.

Christopher Stroech, attorney for JCV, delivered a cease-work request to Ranson, stating the ruling effectively reverted the location’s zoning to its original classification, which does not, at this time, allow Rockwool to continue with construction under industrial zoning.

The City of Ranson did not reply to inquiries regarding whether or not they will abide by the cease work request at this time.