Court Rules County PC Violated WV Law
On Feb. 26, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals (WVSCA) ruled that the Jefferson County Planning Commission (PC), in two instances, violated the West Virginia Open Governmental proceedings Act (OGPA) when the PC granted extensions to the developer of Far Away Farm (FAF). The WVSCA rulings reverse prior rulings by the Circuit Court. The WVSCA rulings were the result of a petition filed by Gary Capriotti, Edward Dunleavy, Edward Moore and the Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association Inc.
In July 2011, the PC approved a secret agreement with the developer of FAF granting extensions of the Conditional Use Permit (CUP) and the Community Impact Statement (CIS) to build 152 houses on the farm. The agenda for that meeting did not identify the PC/FAF agreement as a subject of consideration. The agenda item under which the agreement was discussed was titled: “Reports from Legal Counsel and legal advice.” The WVSCA ruled that: “Because the agenda notice did not adequately inform the public of the specific items to be considered at the Planning Commission’s July 26, 2011, meeting, we find that the Planning Commission violated W. Va. Code 6-9A-3 and reverse the circuit court’s contrary ruling.”
Also, the WVSCA cited W. Va. Code 6-9A-4(b)(11) that “if the public agency has approved or considered a settlement in closed session, and the terms of the settlement allow disclosure, the terms of that settlement shall be reported by the public agency and entered into its minutes within a reasonable time after the settlement is concluded.” While the Court stated that the PC “referenced the settlement at its meeting of October 11, 2011, and indicated that it would attach the final settlement to the minutes of that meeting, it has yet do so.” “Accordingly, we find that the Planning Commission has violated the reporting requirements set forth in W.Va. Code 6-9A-4(b)(11).”
The WVSCA remanded the case back to the Circuit Court to provide a remedy for the violations.