September 01, 2007

More houses for the gorge

·  New construction is less troubling to development’s usual watchdogs

By Susan Williams
Staff writer

FAYETTEVILLE — Fayette County commissioners agreed Friday to allow another luxury housing development in the New River Gorge.

Developers Class VI River Runners and Optima Properties WV LLC want to build houses in an upscale development, called Wild Rock West Virginia, in the area around Class VI River Runners.

People who live near the proposed development worry that their quiet way of life will come to an end when the building starts. They also fear that people unfamiliar with the area will cause accidents on the narrow, winding road that leads to the development outside Fayetteville, not far from the New River Gorge Bridge.

“I can sympathize with you people,” Fayette County Commissioner John Lopez said when he voted for the project. “As time goes by, our lifestyle changes.”

Commissioner Matt Wender, who voted against a previous proposed housing development, thought he would vote no on this project, as well. However, after he visited the property around Class VI and read the developers’ materials, he said it appears the development would be less visible than other proposed developments in the gorge.

He said he felt the developers had “made every effort to make their application in accordance with the requirements of our code.”

Members of the New River Gorge National River and the National Parks Conservation Association made forceful presentations in opposition to other developments. People from those groups said Friday that this development is less troubling because they do not think the houses will be as visible.

Still, “anytime you have a development this close to a park, we are concerned. We are still concerned about water-quality issues,” said Erin Haddix St. John, the regional representative for the NPCA. She also outlined concerns about lighting from the houses and the impact on plant and animal life.

Developers have not said exactly how many houses will be part of the development. Gene Kistler, a county zoning board member, said earlier this week that developers had agreed not to build more than 160 houses.

Wender criticized county planning and zoning officials, specifically Leon Cooper, chairman of the zoning commission, for not clarifying questions that arose over a previous housing development, Roaring River.

After hearings on that project, Wender said he asked members of the county Planning and Zoning Commission on two separate occasions to clarify some language in the Unified Development Code.

When the first large development was proposed, Wender said, he realized that the code had not kept pace with development.

“[County commissioners] need guidelines with which to make these decisions,” he said.

The county still lacks information about a clear definition for the rim of the gorge and a more expanded definition for “viewshed” or what visitors to the gorge can see from different points within the gorge, he said.

He, Lopez and Commission President Ken Eskew voted to change zoning in the area to allow the Wild Rock West Virginia project to proceed.