(Featured image, above) The application submitted by Jefferson Orchards, Inc. (JOI) requests a change in zoning for a ~240-acre parcel (outlined in blue) to a combination of residential growth and light industrial uses. Like much of the surrounding area, this parcel is currently zoned as rural (green shading) according to the 2015 Future Land Use map of Jefferson County. The area in white at the lower right is location of the Rockwool factory in the City of Ranson.
On April 15, Jefferson Orchards Inc. (JOI), applied to the Jefferson County Commission to change the zoning designation for the old Miller Orchard and a second, adjacent property located to the northeast of Kearneysville. The two parcels (approximately 240 acres) are currently in the rural zone. The JOI application requests that the Commission amend the zoning map to allow residential growth and light industrial use on the parcels. Per the ordinance revision process in WV state law, the County Commission referred the application to the Planning Commission for review and scheduled a public hearing and possible vote on the application (See bottom of page for key dates).
JOI plans to develop approximately 196 acres of the land for residential housing, consisting of a mix of single family homes and townhouses. Documents submitted with the application indicate that JOI also envisions extending Northport Drive from the Rockwool factory property through the residential development to create at least two connecting routes for through traffic from Route 115 (adjacent to Route 9) to Route 480 (Kearneysville Pike). The southern portion of the JOI property (approximately 44 acres) abuts the Rockwool factory property and is proposed for light industrial use. This parcel was identified in a 2017 land use agreement between Rockwool and JOI as potential additional property to be acquired by the Rockwool factory owner (which also obtained a right of first refusal on the parcel).
The recent expansion of utilities, specifically water, sewer, and natural gas, to the adjacent Rockwool factory property is mentioned as a consideration for why rezoning the proposed development area would be consistent with the County’s Comprehensive Plan. New development by JOI in the rezoned parcels would facilitate additional expansion of utilities into the Kearneysville area, currently designated as a Preferred Growth Area (PGA) in the Comprehensive Plan. The County staff are currently evaluating these considerations in advance of the scheduled Planning Commission meeting.
Planning Commission Recommendation
On May 11, the Jefferson County Planning Commission reviewed the rezoning request (file 2021-2-Z) and voted to recommened the request to the County Commission.
While the staff report prepared for the Commission found “that the request is not consistent with the Future Land Use Guide of the 2035 Plan because it is designated as Future Rural/Agricultural and is outside any Preferred Growth Area (PGA) or Urban Growth Boundary,” the county’s zoning ordinance allows for the Planning Commmision to take into account changes in the neighborhood that have occurred since the adoption of the current land use map and comprehsive plan. JOI specifically noted in its application that there have been changes in the vicnity of this property, specifically the availability of public water & sewer, the construction of Northport Drive, and the rezoning of the adjacent property in the City of Ranson (the Rockwool factory site). JOI also noted that the county will soon need to begin a review of the comprehensive plan (WV state law requires a county’s comprehensive plan to be updated at least every ten years) and suggested that these changes in this neighborhood would likely be reflected into an updated plan.
After recessing to executive session, the Planning Commission returned to the open meeting and voted to support the rezoning request, referencing the claims about changes to the neighborhood included in JOI’s application.
County Commission Public Hearing
On June 3, 2021, the Jefferson County Commission held a public hearing and voted to approve the rezoning request 2021-2-Z.
Prior to the public hearing. the Commission received comment from several hundred individuals (starting at page 129 of this linked PDF document), with all but one commentor requesting the Commission to vote against the rezoning request. Following the JOI presentation and additional public comment during the hearing, the Commission voted 4-1 to approve the rezoning application based on the findings presented by the Planning Commission. Commissioner Jane Tabb, who opposed the approval, expressed disagreement with the assessment that the neighborhood changes provided substantation for the request. Commissioner Tabb also noted her lack of confidence that the WV Department of Environmental Protection would be a reliable safeguard of the local groundwater, based on her first-hand experience with the Jefferson County waste landfill site.
What We Heard…
The Observer heard several common questions from Jefferson County residents about the proposed rezoning of the old Miller Orchard purchased by Jefferson Orchards Inc. (JOI) in December 2017:
- What specifically are the permissible uses in a “light industrial” zone?
- What would prevent a future change in zoning to allow light industrial or other non-residential use on the entire 242 acres?
- Is the 44-acre portion proposed for light industrial zoning the same land included in the 2017 land use restriction and right-of-first refusal agreements between Roxul and JOI?
- Could the tax relief programs that apply to the current Rockwool factory apply to any adjacent property acquired by Roxul?
- Is a 9-acre buffer between light industrial and high-density residential use sufficient (in discussing the 2017 land use restriction agreement, Roxul expressed concern that residential construction is not compatible near its industrial plant, given the truck traffic, nighttime lighting, and noise)?
- Is the WVDOH Novak Drive extension project the I-81 connection referenced in the zoning amendment application?
- What are the traffic increases expected from connecting Northport Drive to Route 480 and is WVDOH planning improvements to the adjacent roads (Routes 9, 115 or 480)?
- Does the current school system planning for elementary and middle school construction take into account the number of children who could be added from this development?
This article was published initially on April 27, 2021; updated on May 12 2021 to include Planning Commission action to recomend to County Commission; updated on June 3, 2021 to include Jefferson County Commission action to approve the rezoning request.