Revealing results from compatibility meeting
Last Friday’s Compatibility Assessment Meeting conducted by the Jefferson County Planning Department on the Twin Oaks Subdivision request for a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) to develop their “Farmer’s Market” proved to be very revealing. The protracted session, which lasted nearly five hours, afforded concerned members of the community an opportunity to identify issues that need resolution during the County Board of Zoning Appeals hearing which is now set for April 19. Approximately 20 nearby property owners in addition to representatives of the Shepherdstown Community Club (SCC), owner of the adjacent Morgan’s Grove Park identified a total of 38 issues that they believed require resolution before any CUP could be granted. Interestingly, other than the developers, there were no proponents who spoke in favor of the proposal.
The issues identified focused on eight critical areas: water and sewer facilities, collateral damage from blasting and site preparation, surface water run-off management, perimeter buffers and setbacks, traffic control and safety, lighting and noise restrictions, the potential adverse impact on Town Run, and general incompatibility with the historic park and surrounding residential and recreational area.
The 40-page CUP petition and discussion shed little light on actual plans for business activities on the site other than indicating that 65,000 square feet of buildings would be constructed in three phases. The petition simply listed a number of commercial activities permitted under the “rural” zoning classification that applies to this property. It appears that the governing criteria is who is willing to sign a lease rather some business activity that is within the scope of the “farm-friendly” pitch that the developers have been using to soften the impact of their retail plans. It is very clear that we are faced with a comparatively large shopping mall with all of its attendant baggage that will irrevocably change the residential-agricultural environment on that side of town.
The first meeting of the “Friends of Morgan’s Grove” will discuss this among other issues upstairs at the War Memorial Building starting at 7 p.m. on March 15. Please join us and also, most importantly plan to attend the BZA meeting on April 19.
Mike Austin, SCC member
Don’t commercialize the rivers
Imagine buying property in a rural residential neighborhood, only to find out that now hundreds of tourists could be dumped off practically in your front yards and your roads – which were not designed for this type of traffic – could be clogged with vans and trailers hauling canoes and rafts. Imagine knowing that a campground or food truck could be set up in the neighborhood, with hundreds of strangers camping out. Imagine all the trash that would be generated, and the vermin it would attract – not to mention the vision of porta-potties as permanent fixtures in the neighborhood. Your privacy would be severely impacted, your quality of life would be ruined, crime would increase, your property values would decrease (as if the recession hasn’t hurt them enough) and the reasons you chose your communities would no longer exist.
It could happen, and it’s up to all of us to stop it. The Jefferson County Commissioners are getting pressure from the river outfitters to allow commercial recreational use in rural residential areas and have been holding public meetings to discuss this issue. It’s also possible that floating zoning could be implemented, which means you won’t know what could or couldn’t happen next door, and your protections under the Conditional Use Permit process would be reduced. Tourism dollars are important to the county and we want people to enjoy our beautiful natural resources – but not at the expense of our quality of life. Stand up for your neighborhoods so that these businesses operate in places that actually make sense.
This measure would go against the Jefferson County Comprehensive Plan, which clearly calls for a study of the Pack Horse Ford area – which has not been done. Also, there are already a large number of public put-ins available to the Potomac and if additional put-ins are developed, they should be in appropriate areas – which rural residential neighborhoods clearly are not.
We rely on our elected officials to represent the interests of the community as a whole and to keep Jefferson County a great place to live. Please contact our County Commissioners and voice your opinion, and attend the next Planning Commission meeting, to be held at 7 p.m. on March 13 in the Betty J. Roper Auditorium at Wright Denny Intermediate School located at 209 West Congress St., Charles Town. This is one of the main agenda items for the March 13 meeting.
Water park or local treasure?
Recently, the Planning Commission held a largely attended public meeting to get input for new commercial zoning categories. The most controversial being the “Rural Commercial” zone that is a floating zone proposed for the area between Harpers Ferry and Shepherdstown in response to river outfitters who have expressed a need for more access to the Potomac. The floating zone allows the planning staff to customize requirements for each site or request. The list of allowed uses in the Rural Commercial zone is long and includes heliports with proper permitting. So is the county determined to change the character and nature of the Pack Horse Ford area to a Disneyland water park complete with helicopter rides? It would seem so.
Interestingly, one outfitter was given a “grandfathered” campground use designation of the area near the railroad underpass on Bakerton Rd and then allowed an ancillary use of a zip line operation. The area was never a campground. The zip lines are not ancillary but the primary use of that land. The outfitters are now asking for food tricks, primitive campgrounds and the county planning staff is trying to create those uses along the Potomac, now zoned rural residential.
Residents of Bakerton Rd area feel like they are under siege. The Rt. 340 corridor plan shows the commercial corridor extending to the river on Bakerton Rd. The new zoning categories would change forever the natural rural and historic character of the Pack Horse Ford area.
With the overcrowded conditions on Rt. 340 one has to wonder why the county would be seeking to increase tourism, especially the river outfitter tourism which does little to help local merchants. In fact, the tourism created by the outfitters is not included in tourist dollar estimates because the river clients usually live within an hour or so drive, buy or rent their equipment and supplies from the outfitters and then go home after a day on the river. So we all give up the quality of our lives so that a few outfitters can make lots of money.
The Shenandoah River recreational area is served by two primary four-lane roads and has grandfathered commercial use. One outfitter stated that they put 80,000 people on our rivers last year. The county should look to that area for improvement and protect the serenity of the Potomac in the historic Pack Horse Ford area where hikers and bikers on the C & O Canal and local residents can enjoy watching eagles and listen to quiet.