Commission hears public comments on planning, zoning
The Pocahontas County Commission hosted a public forum on Monday evening at Marlinton's Opera House to hear comments on the need for a county comprehensive plan and zoning. Commissioner Martin Saffer moderated the event and introduced each speaker.
Several community leaders attended the forum, including commissioners Saffer, David Fleming and Reta Griffith; Sheriff David Jonese; county assistant prosecutor J.L. Clifton; county assessor Dolan Irvine; Marlinton mayor Dennis Driscoll; Public Service District board member Tom Shipley; county libraries director Allen Johnson and Snowshoe Mountain Resort COO Bill Rock.
Attendees enjoyed a potluck meal prior to the beginning of the comment period.
Two speakers spoke in general support of comprehensive planning; five spoke against planning and zoning and two residents said more information was needed.
Johnson was first to offer his comments.
"It's hard for me to imagine a large city without planning, or even a relatively small city or town without planning," he said.ﾠ "Those towns and cities that have not planned are having water problems, traffic problems, sewer problems - all sorts of problems associated with development.
"I think, in a rural area, we don't have quite the pressures but we do have issues involving water quality, disposal of water, air, soil. Just things like that. I think that we need to recognize also the tremendous attributes we have within our community - our heritage, our rural nature, our hardworking people, the beauty of our land and the general tenor of our major industries, which are forest products and tourism and federal jobs involved with the national forest."
The director said planning was not synonymous with zoning.
"I do not believe that planning, necessarily, implies zoning," he said. "I have no preconception that we need zoning, but I don't think that it should be off the table."
Rock said he was commenting as a resident, not as a representative of the resort. He said he had lived in several areas, mostly rural, and in Pocahontas County for more than five years.
"Some of the places I've lived in have probably been some of the most planned - particularly in Vermont and Colorado - and I've seen the good and bad in both of those places," he said. "As a business person, I can't imagine having a debate in my management team for the need for planning. We constantly plan."
Rock said he would like to know the ramifications of a county plan before he would lend his support, but that well-executed planning could be beneficial.
"I do believe that citizens of the county can be well-served by a plan that takes into account all the folks in the community and tries its best to meet their needs," he said.
The Snowshoe resident said Pocahontas County could learn from others' mistakes.
"One of the luxuries we have as a community is we're not on the leading edge of this - we're on the tail end," he said. "All the mistakes that have been made - we can know - before we make them. But I encourage the commission and my fellow citizens to learn about those mistakes and make sure we don't repeat them."
Norman Alderman, of Huntersville, operator of the Etater message board, said "zoning destroys communities."
"When you try to tell Norman Alderman what he can do with his property, you're going to war," he said.
Dick Evans, of Hillsboro, said the community needed more information.
"I think the first thing we need to do is to do some homework on plans that have been approved or defeated in other counties and why," he said. "Greenbrier County comes to mind. When the time comes for the hard decisions to be made, in the future, our opinions will be based on that informed homework."
John Leyzorek, of Marlinton, said existing laws, such as nuisance and environmental laws, already regulate how landowners legally can affect the property of others and that additional regulation would be an infringement on liberty.
"The essence of a community is a voluntary association, a web of voluntary relationships between free individuals," he said. "When the relationship ceases to be free and voluntary, we have a prison, not a community."
Charles Wilfong, of Dunmore, president of the West Virginia Farm Bureau, spoke against planning.
"I don't want a handful of people in the courthouse telling me what I'm going to do on my property," he said.
Wilfong said powerful people in the community could always get a zoning variance but that "average, ordinary folks" could not.
Comprehensive planning is land use planning for a certain geographic area. Communities establish goals regarding transportation, utilities, land use, recreation, and housing. After completing a valid comprehensive plan, communities may institute zoning, which can restrict certain land uses in designated areas.
The components of a valid comprehensive plan in West Virginia can be found at http://law.justia.com/westvirginia/codes/08a/wvc8a-3-4.html.