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Morgan Planning Commission Vote Could Allow Commercial Development at Oakland Overlook

A Morgan County Planning Commission hearing was held Feb. 17 regarding re-platting of lots at Oakland Overlook in the southern part of the county. Cross Development, LLC, which has a purchase contract on the land with contingencies, requested a change in classification of some lots in the residential subdivision from residential to mixed use. This mixed use of commercial and residential is termed a “planned use development” or PUD.

WAIVER REQUESTED

Cross Development also asked for a waiver from the commission on the minimum lot size for residential use, an apparent technical matter since there was the existing request to change part of it from residential to commercial.  When the development was planned residential, the lot sizes were a half acre. Now, the subdivision ordinance requires a minimum lot size of one acre. So, the two requests were necessary.  There is no zoning in the county.

Commission members who voted to allow the change said they recognized the developer’s financial hardship of digging up pavement and underground utilities if required to change lot size from half-acre to one acre.

Planning commission member Scott Swaim favored the developer be in compliance with the current ordinance on lot size. But George Didawick thought the developer did have a hardship to change all utilities from half-acre to one-acre lot sizes. Member Jim Hoyt said he was opposed to allowing the change due to financial hardship for complying with the new rules of one-acre lot size. Member Sue Parker said when they changed the minimum lot size to one acre, it was mainly for a septic tank reserve area and buffer zone to adjoining lots. But this subdivision already has water and sewer in place.

The commission passed the measure 7-2, with one abstention and two opposed. Wayne Omps recused himself. This change of nine lots would allow for commercial development of 2.5 acres and the remaining 8 lots in question would total 5.56 acres.

Oakland Overlook was originally planned by Cacapon Associates as half-acre residential lots for working class families to be able to afford to build.  However, many lots have remained unsold due, officials of Cacapon Associates said, to the building boom when builders could build higher-priced homes elsewhere to market to retirees, and the economic downturn that flooded the market with affordable existing homes. A broker for the buyer approached the firm about buying a portion of the land that borders Oakland Road and U.S. 522 for a possible Dollar General store.

RESIDENTS OPPOSED TO A NEW DOLLAR STORE AT OAKLAND ROAD & DEVELOPER RESPONSE

Some area residents who live on Oakland Road or in the nearby Cacapon South subdivision have been vocally opposed to the building of a convenience store at the location, citing traffic issues given the high speeds traveled on U.S. 522. They didn’t like the planned entrance and exit on Oakland Road and thought the space for tractor trailer deliveries was inadequate. They also worry about an expected drop in their property values. 

At least 40 to 50 people have opposed the store at three meetings thus far.  Some saw no need. They said they have a deli just a couple miles away, and the Cacapon Market on U.S. 522.

Rick Watson said Dollar General appearing on the southern end of 522 would give an impression to visitors of Morgan being a poor county.

Dave Owens said, “It makes no sense to put in another store with the economy the way it is. There are only so many dollars to go around. How will this Dollar General affect the existing Dollar General or Family Dollar.? Will they survive if you take business away from them?”

Josh Allen, representing Cross Development, said market research done supports another dollar store in Morgan County and that in three years they have not had any Dollar General fail because another one was nearby.  There would be approximately 15 miles between this store and existing Dollar General or Family Dollar stores.

Several residents opposed said they moved to that area in retirement from the city to get away from “urban sprawl.” Some didn’t want any commercial development of this type nearby, and others said it wasn’t the best location.

Paul Stern sent a lengthy complaint letter to the planning commission and said this store being built constitutes “sprawl.”  He didn’t believe the developer had satisfied requirements in the subdivision ordinance of “extraordinary hardship” in their request of waiver to keep the half-acre lot sizes.

Jerry Berman co-wrote a song against the store to the tune of “Country Roads.”  He said he liked the natural ambiance of the area the way it was.  Bob Donadieu moved to his nearby home 42 years ago from the “city.”  He said this location was not the place for a store.

Roger Salen lives in Cacapon South, and said he was involved in the development of that community.  “It is a very nice community. If you build Dollar General there, it will be disgusting.”

Representing Cacapon Associates, Justin Cowles said, “Even Cacapon South is already a PUD. It’s platted for commercial land that faces 522. The concept of residential and commercial existing side by side is not a foreign concept. That area is designated in the county’s comprehensive plan as a commercially viable area.”

Cowles also speculated if there would be so much opposition if the store was to be another art gallery as can be found in Berkeley Springs and dotted on the landscape of the county.  Berkeley Springs is one of the top art destinations in the country.

RESIDENTS SUPPORTING THE NEW STORE

At this third public meeting about the possible construction, several residents said they actually wanted another dollar store. Peggy Oakes said she helps out many elderly residents, and driving several miles to Dollar General, Family Dollar, or Food Lion nearer Berkeley Springs is difficult.  She and a couple others said they need a store of this type that isn’t 24 miles away from them roundtrip.

Ginger Johnson presented a petition to the planning commission of 127 signatures for the store which she said she was able to get in only one day of canvassing.

WAIVERS FOR TIME EXTENSIONS REQUESTED & PLANNING COMMISSION VOTES

The planning commission also voted on five waivers requested by the developer for time extensions, which passed 8-1 with one abstention each time. Those waivers were regarding a Morgan County Health Department well permit; a revised West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection/West Virginia Department of Health sewage permit; West Virginia Department of Highways entrance permit; A West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection storm water and sediment erosion control permit; and an Eastern Panhandle Conservation District sediment and erosion control review.

These permits will be required later during final plat submittal for review and vote.  Planning Commission President Jack Soronen reminded all those present that these are merely time extensions, and there will be a public hearing in the future before a final vote to approve the commercial development.  He also said these are administrative procedures. His board does not make final judgments on permits for highway entrances, wells, and septics. They rely on the DOH and entities such as the health department for their expertise. His commission basically dots the “I’s” and crosses the “T’s.”

Jim Hoyt was opposed to having a store at the residential subdivision.  He said the developer was spending a lot of money and time to change the classification and to possibly build commercial store on a lot more difficult to enter and exit than one in the existing business park nearby.

“If you put in a store, who will want to buy the remaining lots next door? One mile down the road, there is a beautiful retail location with a flat lot in the business park. It has water and sewer and is under $100,000 price tag. There are fifty employees now in the business park who would stop in a Dollar General to get bread or milk when passing by.”

Those residents opposing the store kept asking the commission to stop the commercial development at that particular site, and some submitted letters stating why they thought the paperwork turned in by the developer was not complete. All this, Soronen said, will become part of public record and will be available for review at the planning commission in the Morgan County Courthouse.

Soronen said again the planning commission cannot oppose commercial development at a particular site for personal reasons.  If rules are complied with and all paperwork is proper, they can only rule on those grounds.

He said this process will take several more months, and public hearings will be announced.

Photo Credit: https://flic.kr/p/53q1DH