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County approves commercial rezoning

By Staff | Nov 24, 2017

CHARLES TOWN – The Jefferson County Commission unanimously approved a request to rezone a 3.56-acre property outside Shepherdstown from a residential to a general commercial land use.

Commissioners Peter Onoszko and Patricia Noland said they supported the rezoningagainst opposition from about two dozen concerned homeowners near the propertybecause the land-use change conforms with a recently updated comprehensive plan guiding the county’s long-term development.

While acknowledging the citizens opposed to rezoning the now-vacant land, Onoszko said the commission had no legal grounds to oppose the request from the property’s owner, Christopher Rankin, owner of Christian Caine jewelers and Rankin Properties LLC.

Rankin’s property is located at the corner of Kearneysville Pike and Potomac Farms Drive. The property lies within an area earmarked as land that might appropriately be incorporated into Shepherdstown in the future as the town develops and grows.

Because the rezoning request fits property uses envisioned for that area in the comprehensive plan, Onoszko said Rankin could contest a denial of his property’s rezoning request in court and would likely win.

“We have no choice but to grant the applicant’s request for a rezoning,” he said.

Years ago his property was given a conditional use approval under a past county comprehensive plan for the construction of a 24,640-square-foot, two-story commercial office and retail building. The conditional use permit expired, and the property was never developed.

The county commissioners approved the rezoning change during a regularly scheduled public meeting Thursday.

Earlier the Jefferson County Planning Commission voted unanimously to support the rezoning request, and that county’s planning staff members made the same recommendation as well.

However, several existing homeowners living near the Rankin property spoke against the rezoning during a public hearing earlier this month. Seventeen residents also wrote the county’s five commissioners asking them to turn down the rezoning request. The homeowners cited reasons ranging from traffic and environmental concerns to lowered property values to a commercial development there being incompatible with nearby Morgan’s Grove Park. Some residents said a new commercial development wasn’t necessary at that site outside of Shepherdstown since several existing office and retail properties are vacant and available to rent near or in the town.

Shepherdstown Mayor Jim Auxer, who questioned whether the public hearing notice requirements were properly followed for the rezoning request, represented the town on the side of the homeowners.

However, Paul Raco, a zoning consultant whom Rankin hired, said the property in question is included in the Shepherdstown preferred growth area where urban scale development is supposed to be directed within Jefferson County.

Raco said rezoning Rankin’s property to a commercial use would be consistent with a new “traditional zoning” concept the commission deliberately adopted in the current comprehensive plan. He also pointed out that a previous commission approved the current comprehensive planformally called Envision Jefferson 2035 Comprehensive Plantwo years ago after a series of public meetings.

“They went through that comprehensive plan (that they adopted) page-by-page, recommendation-by-recommendation,” he said.

Raco said the county’s newly adopted and widely discussed zoning approach relies on property rezonings to guide land development rather than conditional use permits that were appropriate under the country’s previous “nontraditional zoning” approach.

Noland, who participated in the many meetings to review and update the current comprehensive plan, said the rezoning fits the concepts that previous commissioners agreed to for future development at the property and in the area.

Noland said Rankin’s property is close to high-capacity traffic roads and is accessible to water and sewer utility services. She also said a commercial development fits the vision for creating more “walkable” living options for residents that the comprehensive plan promotes.

“It’s the way it has to be,” Noland said of the rezoning approval, “as long as it is consistent with the comprehensive plan.”