CHARLES TOWN – The Jefferson County Commission has declined to take any action on the U.S. 340 Gateway Plan developed by its planning staff, arguing that doing so would interfere with a steering committee’s work on the county’s 2014 Comprehensive Plan.
Outgoing Commissioner Frances Morgan moved to send the plan to the steering committee directly from the commission, but that motion failed for a lack of a second. This leaves the plan effectively shelved, though as several commissioners pointed out, the gateway plan is publicly available and can be consulted by the steering committee if it wishes.
Planning Department Director Jennifer Brockman brought the plan to the commissioners in the hopes they would fully or partially approve it, but she found no support for it.
“We’re beginning work on the Comprehensive Plan, and I think that this is going to be very confusing,” President Patsy Noland said. “I just think we need to wait until the work is done on the comprehensive plan,” she said.
Commissioner Walt Pellish agreed, calling the U.S. 340 plan a distraction.
“It is going to add confusion to what the steering committee is going to be [looking] at,” he said. “I realize there has been a lot of effort and hard work put into this, but it is time to put it aside and let the steering committee do its work. For this commission to adopt any piece of this, in my estimation, is absolutely wrong. You’re putting handcuffs on the steering committee.”
Brockman said she worried that shelving the plan would nullify the work of some 485 citizens who she said contributed comments as the study was developed.
“The only thing that concerns me is that we had hundreds of people give us input into this, so I don’t want it to be shelved,” she said. “I would hate for all those people to have to come back out and say the exact same things that they’ve said over the last year and a half about this corridor, when they could focus on other areas of the county that haven’t been discussed.”
Public input for the plan was gathered at five separate public meetings between March 26, 2012 and Jan. 19 2012.
Brockman said refusing to either approve the plan in part or whole or even forward it to the steering committee would not give participants in its development their due.
“It seems like there is no acknowledgement by the County Commission of the citizens who participated in the process,” she said.
Some commissioners voiced problems they had with certain parts of the plan, and Pellish said he thought forwarding the plan to the steering committee would be a tacit endorsement of it, which would pressure the committee to adopt its ideas.
“I am perfectly willing to say take the 340 plan and give it to the steering committee and have them read it, tear it up, dispose of it, whatever they want to do with it. But I am not about to take part in anything saying that I agree with this part or that part or the other part,” he said. “If you guys want to use it as a reference material, that is fine.”
Commissioner Lyn Widmyer agreed it would be wrong to forward the plan to the steering committee directly from the commission, but also argued that approval of rezoning requests should be put on hold until the Comprehensive Plan is complete.
“There’s no point in having a plan if you don’t implement it through a zoning policy,” Widmyer said. “I think the one thing that is creating uncertainty in the whole process and throwing a monkey wrench in it is that this commission is approving rezonings in the middle of a master plan process. And I think that that alone … is going to undermine the committee that we just appointed more than this study.”
Morgan said she also had some problems with the study’s recommendations and was not prepared to endorse it in whole or in part, but argued that it would be helpful to forward the study along to those considering the comprehensive plan.
“I have no intention of making anyone rework all of this. This is good work,” she said.