FAYETTEVILLE — In an effort to encourage development in Fayette County, Commissioner Tom Louisos announced in a press release earlier this month his intention of introducing motions to amend and remove the Route 19 Corridor Management Plan from the county’s comprehensive plan.

“The U.S. Route 19 Corridor Management Plan is the only one of its kind in the state of West Virginia and was added to the Fayette County Unified Development Code, which is one of only seven of the 55 counties in the state of West Virginia,” Louisos said in the release.

“In my opinion, this is the main reason most of the development has gone to other counties, pushing development to Raleigh and Nicholas counties.”

Louisos expressed his intention to introduce his motion at last Thursday’s commission meeting, and it brought out supporters and opponents to the virtual Zoom meeting.

After being ceded the floor for his motions, Louisos said, “Before I make any motions or anything, does anyone have any questions?”

The county’s two other commissioners questioned the necessity of such action now, in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The complete plan will be under review for upgrade in the May to June time period,” pointed out Commissioner John Brenemen. “We will be moving, going throughout the entire county getting input on redefining the current plan.”

The county is operating under a comprehensive plan adopted in December 2001 and state code requires the update of that plan in 2021.

Denise Scalph, commission president, agreed with Brenemen.

“I understand there is a process for this particular plan. … I personally would like to have the opportunity to hear from people throughout the county. As Commissioner Brenemen stated, those updates … would happen, I believe, starting at the beginning of the year,” she said.

“Why can’t we wait and do that during the process when we can have more people involved? This is the end of 2020. We’re addressing it in 2021. What is the advantage of pushing this through right now,” Scalph asked.

Louisos’ reply was succinct.

“To get a jump start on it,” he said.

“You’re going to start a process that’s going to be taken care of anyway in a couple of months with the proper input from the public,” Scalph pointed out.

Brenemen added that scheduling community meetings, public hearings and the like would be difficult at this time because of the pandemic. “I don’t think the Health Department will allow us to” hold large meetings, he said.

In order for members of the public to be able to comment, Scalph asked for Louisos to make his motion and Brenemen seconded the motion to amend the corridor management plan in order to allow for public discussion.

A number of those virtually attending the meeting asked to address the subject and others commented in the Zoom chat.

Most weighing in on the topic expressed their opposition to any immediate action on the plan, including Lizzie Watts, superintendent of the New River Gorge National River.

“(The comprehensive plan that is in place) was started about the same time the park was very young. I think it deserves all kinds of attention, (but not) this decision you’re going to make and changing it on a whim,” she said.

“As far as the Park Service (is concerned), we are at that point where greenspace has become even more important.

“We have three of the most unique parks in the world and protecting that viewshed of what you see in Fayette County (is vital). To rush it through, I think, is really a dangerous move. … You can’t take one part of a comprehensive plan and just throw it away.

“I’m not against business at all, (but) I think it’s important that we use the process, look at it constructively and in the long-term range,” Watts said.

Mayor Sharon Cruikshank of Fayetteville agreed on the timing issue, but said she wasn’t against updating the plan.

“How is this going to further develop our area,” she asked. “I am opposed to doing away with the plan, but would be in favor of modifying, but it all needs to be done with public hearings.

“We need broadband for development, not doing away with our greenspace and mindful development. I think you need to get the horse before the cart and ride the pony into the future and get broadband.

“I hope the commission will allow for public meetings further down the road,” Cruikshank said.

Going along with the message from Watts and Cruikshank to focus on the county’s exceptional offerings in nature, Katie Johnson added her comments to the Zoom chat.

“I am opposed to removing the corridor management plan. As the rest of the country is looking toward more biophilic towns and cities, we seem to be going backward with the proposal to remove the plan,” she wrote.

“Human beings have an innate need to connect with the natural world. Their curiosity is not piqued by the development on the roadside, the stoplights and the sprawl. People are looking for an absence of that more than they ever have in our country. This is what we have in Fayette County. We cannot bite the hand that feeds us,” she concluded.

Several others who commented, including two veterans of the planning process in Fayette County, Gene Kistler and Jeff Proctor, urged the commission to follow state code and begin the planning process early in 2021.

Only one individual spoke in favor of Louisos’ motion to amend the Route 19 plan.

“We’ve had zoning in Fayette County for almost 25 years,” Rick Johnson said. “Fayette County has grown practically none in 25 years. I do think it’s imperative that we get rid of this right now. It’s not worked well.

“You don’t have a tax base in Fayette County. People don’t want to locate their businesses in Fayette County because there’s no commercial property. You stick it up the holler and nobody’s going to come,” he said.

“I don’t think we can wait another year,” Johnson said.

After everyone who wished to speak had done so, Scalph called the vote. Both Brenemen and Scalph voted against supporting Louisos’ motion, promising the management plan, as part of the county’s comprehensive plan, would be fully addressed in the scheduled 2021 update.

• • •

In other action, the commission:

• Accepted the resignation of Renee Harper as director of the Fayette County Park, effective Dec. 4. The commission unanimously accepted Harper’s recommendation of Wayne Workman as her replacement.

• Accepted the resignation of Prosecuting Attorney Jeff Mauzy effective Dec. 1. “My last date would be Nov. 30, 2020,” Mauzy told the commission, recommending Anthony Ciliberti as his replacement “since he will take office in a month anyway.” Ciliberti won the 2020 election as the county’s prosecuting attorney. Commission accepted Mauzy’s resignation and unanimously approved his recommendation before thanking him for his service and wishing him well.

• Unanimously approved a request from Susanna Wheeler, director of the New Roots Community Farm and president of the West Virginia Agrarian Commons, for the hiring of two individuals, using grant funds and funds generated through food sales, to positions at the farm. “I think they have a pretty well thought out plan,” Scalph said regarding the farm. “I’m very impressed with them trying to make these improvements.”

• Agreed 2-1, after being assured no further funds would be required from the commission, to allow Resource Coordinator Gabriel Peña to hire an assistant coordinator to aid in financial oversight over community and county boards, assist with administration of the Solid Waste Authority, Farmland Protection Board and other groups, as well as other duties. Louisos voted against the hiring.

• Discussed problems with physical addressing as the county attempts to complete updates to the addressing project which began in the early 2000s.

• Following the urging of Louisos, discussed transparency of county commission meetings and the possible means of allowing a larger number of the county’s residents to view the meetings. While no concrete action was taken, the county resource coordinator was tasked with considering different options and preparing for additional discussion at a future meeting.

Email: ckeenan@register-herald.com; follow on Twitter @Fayette_Cheryl

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