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County sets hearing for impact fee appeal

By Toni Milbourne - For the Chronicle | Feb 26, 2021

The owners of the Quality Inn in Shepherdstown are appealing an impact fee assessment in hopes that apartments under development at the location will not be charged the full fee amounts. Toni Milbourne

CHARLES TOWN — The Jefferson County Commission has designated its April 1 regular meeting as the time for a public hearing for an administrative appeal of the county’s impact fee coordinator’s decision by the Lowe Hospitality Group, that the conversion of the Quality Inn Hotel, at 70 Maddex Square Drive, requires the full payment of impact fees.

Lowe’s Hospitality Group plans to convert the hotel into 20 one-bedroom and efficiency apartments with first floor retail space, and has applied for a building permit and exemption from the impact fees.

Robert Glenn, an attorney with Jackson Kelly, PLLC, filed paperwork with the county for the appeal. In that paperwork, it stated the appellant “requested that no impact fees be imposed on the proposed conversion of the motel use to the residential apartment use because (a) the conversion would not add any square footage to the existing building, (b) the conversion would result in no increase or a reduction in the need for infrastructure required to service the apartment building use, and (c) the project should receive an offset for the substantial real estate and hotel/motel occupancy taxes paid by the owners of the property since 1998.”

On Feb. 15, the county’s impact fee coordinator had found that exemption to the impact fees was not in order, and had ruled that each converted apartment unit was to be assessed the appropriate impact fee, as a condition to the issuance of the building permit for the project.

In a written argument presented to the JCC, Green said the Impact Fee Ordinance states that “the impact fee due shall be based only on the incremental increase in the fee for the additional public facilities needed for the change in use,” when a change from commercial to residential use occurs and that, therefore, the Lowe Hospitality should not be charged full impact fee amounts.

The appeal goes on to argue the proposed apartments will be “small dorm-like apartment units targeted at college students and young professionals and will not be suitable for occupancy by more than one adult occupant. . . . Accordingly, the project should not result in greater demand on the county’s school system as it is highly unlikely that children who would attend county schools would reside in the apartment building.”

The JCC is required to hear, offer a public hearing and render a decision within 90 days of the filing of the appeal. At their Feb. 18 meeting, the group discussed whether they should appoint a hearing officer to hear the appeal, who would then make a recommendation to the governing body for action.

According to county attorney Nathan Cochran, a hearing officer is an attorney appointed to hear the appeal. At times, a hearing officer is appointed so the commissioners do not have to potentially commit themselves to large amounts of time hearing evidence.

JCC President Josh Compton asked about the cost of hiring a hearing officer. Cochran indicated the cost would depend on the time needed to review all evidence and hear the case.

“I don’t think it will be more than an hour,” said county engineer Roger Goodwin, who oversees the Office of Impact Fees.

Because the JCC has the final say in the appeal, the five commissioners voted unanimously to hear the appeal themselves and forego the hiring of a hearing officer.