August 18, 2007

Fayette considers development plans

By Susan Williams
Staff writer

FAYETTEVILLE — Fayette County commissioners agreed Friday to wait for one housing developer to tell them his plans, but they disagreed on how to face the latest developer who wants to build houses in the New River Gorge.

Atlanta developer John Hosch hopes to build houses that would overlook the Kanawha River near Glen Ferris. He asked commissioners earlier this month if they would designate his River Ridge housing development as a Community Development District.

That would let him finance infrastructure on the property, but the people who bought lots in the subdivision would have to repay the money through their taxes. Lot owners oppose the move.

Fayette County Prosecutor Carl Harris recommended Friday that commissioners send Hosch a letter explaining that they could not make a “pre-emptive” decision for him.

“What [Hosch] presented was inadequate,” Harris said. “It’s not appropriate, and what he filed was not in line with the statutes. We have to wait until he files a formal application, but based on the way he left here the last time, I don’t think he’s going to do anything.”

The commissioners agreed to send Hosch such a letter.

Although people bought lots to build houses in River Ridge, their property will not support conventional sewage treatment. Without proper sewage treatment, they cannot build on the lots. For now the development is at a standstill.

In the last few years, several companies have proposed building housing developments in Fayette, primarily for people who want a second house. The largest proposed development is called Roaring River. Many people opposed this development for fear of how it would affect the New River Gorge.

Commissioners are set to hear about still another proposed development at the end of the month. County zoning board members will hear an application for a zoning change for Wild Rock West Virginia, a housing development located near Class VI River Runners, on Aug. 27 at 3 p.m.

Zoning board members will present their recommendation to county commissioners Aug. 31.

On Friday, Commissioner Matt Wender said he was “disappointed” that the commission still had no clear definitions for “viewshed” or the “rim” of the New River Gorge.

In the hearings for Roaring River, Wender said, it became apparent that parts of the county’s Unified Development Code contained “vague language” that needed clarification.

He asked members of the Fayette County Planning and Zoning Commission to address this issue almost a year ago.

“How disappointed I am that 10 months later we are not able to benefit from the lessons we learned in the first go-round,” he said. “We’re left with a tool that is not as effective as it should be.”

But Commission President Ken Eskew disagreed. “We have gained a lot of experience.”

He said. “I think viewshed is in the eye of the beholder.”

In previous meetings, National Park Service employees offered computer projections that showed houses in some developments could be seen from different parts of the park. Although Congress set the park’s boundaries, the park does not own all of the land within the park.

Also, depending on where a visitor stands in the park, the visitor might be in the park and look across the river to see new houses.

“The zoning decisions we make have a permanent impact on our community,” Wender said.