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Comprehensive Plan Update


Jefferson County West Virginia

prepared for the Jefferson County Planning Commission, June 28, 2001

by Richard E. Tustian, Land Use Policy Advisor


This report summarizes the preliminary findings of a land use policy consultant, hereafter referred to as the Consultant, retained by the Jefferson County Planning and Zoning Commission to evaluate the adequacy of the present planning and zoning system to respond to current and future regional trends.

These findings respond to the first four tasks outlined in the consultant contract, which are: (1) to review the West Virginia state code requirements for Comprehensive Plans; (2) to assess current and projected demographics; (3) to review all written correspondence, pertaining to the Comprehensive Plan Update, received by the County, and all neighborhood meeting summaries; and (4) to meet with such other officials and citizens as the consultant deems desirable to obtain a better sense of the community's range of concerns and ideas regarding the Comprehensive Plan.

These tasks comprise Phase One of the contract tasks. Phase Two is to comment on the strengths and weaknesses of the Comprehensive Plan with regard to the dominant issues and concerns revealed by the information gathered in Phase One, and to prepare an outline of a proposed Comprehensive Plan Update that responds to the issues and ideas evaluated in Phase One, and includes any new mechanisms or procedures desirable to ensure its successful implementation.

Appreciation is expressed for the contribution of time and ideas provided by the officials and citizens of the county, who have been uniformly friendly and gracious in responding to requests for information. It is hoped that this collection of information that is otherwise scattered in multiple places will be of assistance to the members of the Jefferson County Commission and the Jefferson County Planning and Zoning Commission, whose past leadership has put the county at the forefront of progressive municipalities in the State of West Virginia, and whose current foresight has initiated a new consideration of how the County's planning and zoning system possibly might be improved.


The touchstone for evaluating all powers of government in the United States is the Constitution. This provides that powers not specifically granted by the Constitution to the federal government, or construed to apply as a consequence of such grants, are reserved to the state governments. In the case of planning and zoning powers, these were held to be acceptable exercises of state governmental power, under the Constitution, by a decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1926.

These powers are reserved to the state governments, unless they are delegated by state legislatures to local governments within their states. The degree of power delegated to local governments depends on the language of the "enabling" legislation adopted by the state. In many states, (e.g. Maryland), the enabling legislation confers a broad grant of discretionary power to local governments, not subject to further review by the state government, but rather appealable directly to the state judiciary. In other states (e.g. Virginia), the enabling legislation limits the delegated powers to such classes of action as are specifically described in the enabling legislation. States with such types of limited delegation are known commonly as "Dillon Rule" states, named for the man who originally gave formal expression to the character of this concept.

Although the legal framework of all states in which the Dillon Rule is in effect is similar, it does vary to some degree from state to state. In some states, there appears to be more latitude provided to local governments by the state legislation than in others. However, it is the intrinsic nature of constitutional government and the common law system to allow for changing circumstances to be tested against the existing legal structure as new conditions arise in society. Hence, there arise a series of court decisions that, over time, tend to provide a more precise definition of the application of the existing legislation.

In seeking to evaluate the limit of powers granted to local governments in any state, it is always necessary to look not only at the existing legislation itself, but also at the cumulative effect of the historic sequence of court decisions arising from individual adjudicated cases relevant to the issue of delegated powers. The amount of time necessary to research and evaluate this history of judicial decisions, and to then interpret its relevance to any new local governmental initiatives proposed, can become very large and expensive. As a general rule, this expenditure will be most efficient when focussed on an evaluation of specific and detailed proposals, rather than broad and general concepts. The attached memorandum from John Keene, Professor of City and Regional Planning at the University of Pennsylvania and a national expert on planning law, explains this reasoning more explicitly in the context of his evaluation of the statutes and court decisions relevant to Dillon's Rule in West Virginia. (See copy attached to report immediately following page 4 of this section.)

In this review, Professor Keene notes (page 3 of his memo) that "this [a cited decision] makes the important point, with respect to Dillon's Rule, that first, the legislature must have delegated the power to do something to the county commission, and second, the county commission may sometimes have to be specific in its ordinance as to what powers it wants the planning commission to have and what kinds of considerations it may take into account in reviewing subdivision plats."

As an example of the way such reasoning in support of local power can work, he further notes (page 5 of his memo) that Circuit Court Judge Steptoe, in his opinion in the case of F & M Bank-Winchester v. Greenvest, L.C., "relied on the section [of the state legislation] that delegated authority to zone to the county commissions to support the granting of authority to the planning commissions to review subdivision applications using the community impact statement".

The last paragraph of Professor Keene's memorandum concludes: "Dillon's Rule is still the law in West Virginia . . . It will always be a matter of judgment on the part of the judge - and of effective advocacy on the part of county attorneys - to show that the particular power sought is reasonably and necessarily implied in the full and proper exercise of one of the expressly delegated powers."

Based on this evaluation of West Virginia law, plus discussion with the county's assistant prosecuting attorney, as well as prior practical experience, the Consultant, at this time, cannot recommend that tools such as Transferable Development Rights be assumed to be permissible within the present West Virginia legal framework. Of course, it is always possible to seek changes to state legislation. But it must be recognized that this course of action is both time consuming and expensive, and cannot be given an initial presumption of easy success, given the past history and general disposition of political sentiment regionally within the state. (c.f. the WV Supreme Court of Appeal's denial of the use of the moratorium mechanism in the case of Ashbaugh v. The Corporation of Bolivar, attached to report as Appendix 1-A)

On the other hand, it also seems reasonable to assume that extensions of current tools, (specifically in the form of more explicit criteria and supporting rationale, based on established legal principles of general health, safety, convenience, and welfare) could well be defended successfully as being "necessarily implied" within the planning and zoning powers already granted. Judge Steptoe's Circuit Court opinion (in the case of F&M Bank-Winchester/Greenvest,L.C. vs. Jefferson County Planning Commission, attached herein as Appendix 1-B) illuminates the nature of such a way of thinking. The success of this approach will depend on the creativity brought to bear on the problem, and the degree of support that new proposals receive from those responsible for implementing them. The Consultant concludes that, within the framework of West Virginia law, it should be possible to find at least some adjustments to the present system that will allow it to accord more closely with the aspirations of the community, provided some reasonable degree of community consensus can be reached with regard to these aspirations.


The rate of growth in both population and households in Jefferson County has remained relatively low and constant over a thirty year period, culminating in a year 2000 population of 42,760 persons in 15,670 households, for an average family size of 2.72 persons per household, according to Woods & Poole Economics, Inc., a private firm specializing in data and trend projections for counties at national scale. This compares to a 1970 population of 21,320 persons in 6,420 households, for an average family size of 3.30 persons per household.

Thus, in thirty years the population has doubled, while the average family size has decreased by almost one fifth. This decrease in family size is consistent with national trends during this period, while the relatively steady increase in households also is consistent with national trends for areas on the exurban edge of large metropolitan areas. Table 1 shows that the amount of increase per decade was highest between 1971 and 1980, but has been relatively constant in the two decades between 1981 and 2000.

Table 1 Population & Households


population (persons)

households (units)








(average per year)


(average per year)





































Statistical Trend Projections

Woods & Poole use a complex model of employment and population to make forecasts at national scale, and then allocate these control totals down to smaller governmental units such as counties. The W&P forecast for Jefferson County shows a relatively straight line increase from the present to a 2010 total of 47,670 persons and 17,850 households, yielding a very slight continuing decrease in average family size to 2.67 persons per household.

The problem with relying only on statistical projection models of this kind is that they cannot predict well the points in time when relatively stable growth rates may change suddenly due to employment and housing changes at the local and regional geographic scale.

Figure 1 shows how this phenomenon has affected neighboring Loudoun County, Virginia. For fifteen years, between 1971 and 1985, this county on the edge of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area grew at a relatively steady average pace of about 2,000 persons and 775 households per year. Yet suddenly, beginning about 1985, the county began to experience a dramatic increase in its rate of growth, an increase that could not have been predicted from a statistical projection of previous trend data.

Figure 1 shows that this new average annual growth rate was almost double that of the previous fifteen years, yielding an average between 1985 and 1992 of 3,830 persons and 1,590 households per year. This increase in rate was then followed by a second wave between 1992 and 2000 that doubled the rate again, for an average in this period of 8,320 persons and 3,130 households per year.

How long such high growth rates in Loudoun County are likely to prevail is difficult to predict. Loudoun County estimates that there are 37,000 unbuilt housing units with approved permits in its development "pipeline". This is an eleven or twelve year supply at the current growth rate. The relevant fact for Jefferson County is that the historical record clearly shows how the spreading nature of market driven population and household growth can suddenly overtake a jurisdiction on the edge of a metropolitan area in a way that statistical projection models have difficulty anticipating.

A more general reflection on the generic nature of all organic growth reveals that there appears to be a natural law at work. All cellular growth seems to follow an upward "S" curve, that begins with a long period of slow accumulation until it reaches the first so-called "inflection" point in the curve, at which the growth rate suddenly accelerates rapidly for a period of time, until it reaches the second inflection point, after which it slows down and eventually tapers off at a gradually decreasing rate.

Non-Statistical Analytic Techniques

Since it appears that quantitative statistical models are unlikely to predict the beginning points of accelerated growth periods, at least for relatively small geographic areas, the question is whether other analytical methods can be of assistance. There do exist other techniques used by real estate market analysts, but they tend to be focussed on particular types of real estate and are highly contingent on the skills and experience of the particular real estate analyst who uses them. It is for this reason that real estate investment retains a significant degree of risk, as the federal government's need to rescue so many failed savings and loan organizations, in the not too distant past, serves as evidence.

Within the scope of this study, less costly and more expedient methods of analysis than full blown market studies are necessary. The following is the Consultant's effort to use some common sense observations to address the timing question.

Access to Jobs

We know that residential markets are driven primarily by three factors: price and type of unit, quality of community, and access to jobs. The last is easiest to analyze. Figure 2 shows Jefferson County located on the fringe of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan region. The City of Charles Town in the center of the county is only slightly further away, as the crow flies, from the White House than is the City of Frederick in Frederick County, Maryland, which already has experienced a rapid increase in market driven growth in recent years.

However, the road accessibility of the two cities is notably different at present. Figure 3 shows the difference. Frederick City is located at the confluence of three major divided highways: Route I-270 from Washington; Route 70 from Baltimore; and Route 15 from Harrisburg. By contrast, no similar highways connect such external business centers to Jefferson County. In fact, Jefferson County at present is somewhat of an island of relative inaccessibility, surrounded by major divided highways linking to external destinations in the larger region: Route 70 on the north, Route 81 on the west, and Route 7, connecting to the Dulles Toll Road, on the south.

At present, a number of bottlenecks act as deterrents to easy access to external employment centers: to the northeast, the narrow bridges over the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers on Route 340 to Frederick; to the southeast, the narrow winding pass of Route 9 over the mountain to Leesburg, plus the lengthy traffic queues at Hillsboro in Loudoun County; to the west, the narrowness of the Route 9 connection to Martinsburg and Route 81 north to Hagerstown; and to the southwest, the narrowness of the Route 340 and other roads leading to Winchester and points southwest on Route 81 down the Shenandoah Valley.

Like the mythical and romantic Shangra-la, although not quite as remote and high up, Jefferson County has been sheltered so far by its rivers and ridges from the pressures of urbanization that normally accompany the extension of major roadways in metropolitan areas. The probability is that whenever Jefferson County is "hooked up" by expanded roads to the interstate highway system that surrounds it, the influence of this easier access as a stimulus for housing development will begin to come into play in a more forceful way than heretofore. Therefore, the timing of the inflection point, for an increase in the pace of residential market pressure on the county, can, to a large extent, be linked to the timing of the construction of such roadways.

At present, there are plans to widen Route 9 from the southern end of its eastern by-pass around Charles Town to the Loudoun County line, and from the northern end to Berkeley County and Martinsburg. The new Governor of West Virginia recently has put all transportation projects on hold for a comprehensive review. According to staff at the Region 9 of the Hagerstown Eastern Panhandle Metropolitan Planning Organization, a new traffic study for the region is about to begin. Potential projects for inclusion in this study might include a western by-pass road around Charles Town, in addition to other far larger projects such as the widening of Route 81 throughout the state. This study is only just beginning to get underway. It will take about two years to complete.

Whatever the outcome of this study, there remains the question of whether its recommendations will get funded. There are no county roads in the State of West Virginia. The Department of Transportation owns and maintains all roads in the state other than privately owned ones. The state treasury faces limited fiscal resources, and multiple needs in local jurisdictions across its entire territory. Unless the Eastern Panhandle should become considered as a special area for state investment, it seems unlikely that there will be new road improvements in Jefferson County in the near future.

However, even if we assume that the Route 9 extensions get built within five years (a very optimistic schedule - two years to study, one year to approve funding, two years to build), there are no plans in Loudoun County to widen Route 9 through its territory. The new updated plan for this county calls for its western area to be zoned for residential uses at a minimum lot size of 20 acres, and does not propose any road widenings in this large agricultural and rural residential area. Hence, the traffic congestion at Hillsboro and elsewhere along Route 9 on the route to employment centers near Dulles Airport will not be relieved under any current Loudoun County planning.

[Other counties' plans & ordinances are available from http://www.listeners.homestead.com]

(See Appendix 2-A for extracts from the proposed Loudoun County Comprehensive Plan, which was approved by the Loudoun County Planning Commission on May 2, 2001, and appears to be headed for approval by the County Board of Supervisors later this summer.)

Similarly, there are no plans to widen the existing bridges crossing the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers on Route 340 east. Unlike Route 9 through Loudoun County, Route 340 already is a four lane divided highway through Frederick County between the Potomac River and the City of Frederick. But like Loudoun County, the land use along the Route 340 corridor in Frederick County is planned to remain in agriculture and rural uses, so that there will be no development pressure along this corridor for the long term future.

(See Appendix 2-B for extracts from the adopted Frederick County Comprehensive Plan, containing a discussion of the rationale within it regarding agricultural preservation. Compare this to the discussion in the Loudoun Comprehensive Plan on the same topic. As a result of the planning of these two counties, Jefferson County will remain separated from employment centers closer in to Washington D.C. by a wide swath of land, on both sides of the Potomac River, that is zoned for agricultural preservation and low density rural land uses.)

The conclusion of this short employment accessibility analysis, therefore, is that no major change in roadway connections out of Jefferson County can be expected within at least the next five years, and possibly longer, unless they are part of a special state initiative.

Character of Community

The second factor affecting housing markets is the character of the community that surrounds the housing units in question, and the way it is perceived in relation to the communities in other residential parts of the region with comparable access to jobs.

At present, Jefferson County presents to potential new home buyers the image of a beautiful rolling farm and forest landscape, dotted with relatively few exurban housing tracts scattered widely across the county, with three major anchors of mixed uses and higher densities at town/village scale: Harper's Ferry-Bolivar, a dramatic historic enclave and tourist attraction on the bluffs where the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers meet, surrounded by land owned and maintained by the National Parks Service; Charles Town-Ranson, a traditional, court house oriented, full service center of an historic farming and local business culture; and Shepherdstown, a charming large village oriented around the cultural attraction of historic Shepherd College.

Altogether, this image can appeal to many families seeking relief from the perceived stresses of more urban life styles. If combined with low prices, this combination of perceived small town virtues and rural open space esthetics can act as a significant market incentive, especially for baby boomers approaching retirement age. For younger families with children, the added factor of the reputation of the school system constitutes a probably even more important role in choosing a home location. If the school systems in neighboring Maryland and Virginia are rated higher than those in West Virginia by potential home buyers, this factor will reduce market demand from families with children, and delay the arrival of an inflection point upward in residential growth rates in Jefferson County.

Price and Type of Housing Units

Some very attractive new housing units are being built in both eastern Loudoun County and around the City of Frederick. Housing in both these locations is cheaper than comparable units in Montgomery and Fairfax Counties, reflecting the fact they have less proximity to the closer in suburban high tech job centers, as well as to established cultural and entertainment centers, not to mention the prestige of established neighborhoods and school systems. These facts attest to the old rule of land economic theory that the rent price curve for urban development declines the further the location is away from the major business and entertainment centers of the region.

Assuming this rule holds true as a generalization in the Washington metropolitan region, it is to be expected that the price of the same housing unit will be highest in Montgomery and Fairfax, second highest in Loudoun and Frederick, and least in Jefferson and Berkeley. Since the price of housing correlates strongly with the income of the home buyers, it can be assumed that the dominant market of home buyers attracted to Jefferson County, insofar as they are wage earners, will be at the lower end of the middle income scale rather than at the higher end. For retirees or others with independent incomes, this factor will not apply to the same degree.

Despite the utility of broad observations like those above, there remains always a difficulty to overcome in comparing the relative price of housing in different locations, in addition to that of deciding what proportion of the price is due to accessibility versus community. This is the difficulty of separating the proportion of the price that is due to the individual elements of the dwelling unit itself: its size, layout of rooms, quality of construction, size and orientation of lot, etc.. The multiplicity of these factors, plus the subjective nature of individual family tastes, makes it very difficult to use statistical methods to analyze housing prices.

Access, Community, and Price: Combined Effects

Appendix 3 contains three recent newspaper articles that help to illuminate the difficulty of predicting the timing of shifts in the residential housing market at the edge of metropolitan areas. Appendix 3-A compares the decisions made by two similar married couples with children who moved from elsewhere in the nation to take jobs in Bethesda. One family chose a house in Bethesda, and one chose a house north of Frederick City. The description of their decision making process illustrates how difficult it is for analysts to predict how they, and others like them, will decide in the aggregate.

This article not only notes the kinds of trade-offs that these families considered, but also that the Washington metropolitan region currently has the lowest unemployment rate in the nation and the second highest job growth. It is asserted that new housing construction in the area cannot keep up with the demand from this level of immigration, with the result that housing prices in the closer areas have been increasing dramatically in recent years, and buyers unable to afford these prices have looked increasingly to opportunities in places further and further away in the countryside, including Jefferson County.

Appendix 3-B describes how this phenomenon has affected the small town of Middletown, northwest of Frederick City. Appendix 3-C describes how a similar phenomenon is at work in California, where house prices in scenic locations near high tech job centers are far higher than they are in the Washington area. It is the national scale of this residential market pressure on metropolitan employment centers, and the effect that the resulting so-called "sprawl" development is having on both migrating workers and existing residents, that is bringing ever increasing numbers of people across the nation to look for answers for what they dislike about this situation, and for many to embrace the widespread cultural movement known as "smart growth".

In searching for answers, the above observations suggest that there are two primary housing markets to consider: one for wage earning families with children, and one for retirees and others with income that is not dependent on daily access to job locations. For the former, the composite relative attraction of Jefferson County will reflect a consumer trade off of low cost versus accessibility, with community as the wild card. For retirees and related others, the dominant trade off will be low cost versus community, with accessibility as the wild card. For families with children, the definition of community will focus heavily on K-12 educational facilities, or the ability to have access to local parochial or other moderately priced private schools. For retirees, it will focus more on esthetic character, passive recreation opportunities, and the availability of higher educational facilities or cultural attractions.

The conclusion of this line of analysis is that a steady growth rate is the more probable scenario for the next five years, especially if the national or regional economy slips into a recession, which seems to be still a question in the mind of the Federal Reserve Board members as they meet soon to consider whether another cut in the prime rate of interest is necessary or not. But, if the regional economy continues to grow, it remains quite possible for Jefferson County to experience a sudden upsurge in housing market pressure, driven by the dynamics of the price market in the closer in counties of Loudoun, Fairfax, Frederick, and Montgomery.

Although the nature of the kind of analysis outlined above suggests that Jefferson County will not be overwhelmed with new home buyers in the next few months or years, it is important that such a conclusion not preempt proceeding with all deliberate speed to give serious consideration to the adequacy of the current plan to cope with the future needs of the county. Not only does there lurk the possibility that the building market might turn up quickly, as happened in Loudoun County. But also another factor is important in land use planning. Once a development pattern has been set by the approval of subdivision plats, it is virtually impossible to revise it later. Once land is platted, it does not matter, from a long term land use perspective, whether the pace at which it actually develops is moderate or fast. The pace does matter from a municipal fiscal perspective. But not from a long term land use perspective. History demonstrates clearly that many great opportunities to create well designed suburban living environments have been lost because of inadequate foresight in this regard.

Permit Approval Analysis

The final analytic technique to be addressed in this report is that of examining the so-called "pipeline" of approved subdivision plats and building permits, to see what it may reveal about the expectations of land developers in the county with regard to the anticipated pace of market absorption of new houses and buildings. Table 1 shows the record of residential lots approved over the years between FY 89-90 and FY 98-99, extracted from the annual reports of the Planning and Zoning Commission. (Note that this data includes a number of commercial use subdivisions, which have been omitted from this analysis.)

Table 1 shows that 2,504 buildable lots were created in this period, at an average lot size of 2.97 acres for the decade as a whole. The number of lots fluctuated each year by a considerable amount, and no strong pattern of increase or decrease in rate is discernible over the period.

The only obvious pattern in this time series is the decrease in average lot size since FY 96-97, dropping from 2.96 acres (FY 92-93 to FY 95-96) to 2.07 (FY 96-97), and then again further to 1.70 acres (FY 97-98 & FY 98-99). Without extensive analysis of individual subdivision approvals since FY 96-97, it is difficult to say whether this reflects a shift in the market towards higher density, or just other factors unique to individual locations. More insight will become possible when the data from FY 99-00 and 00-01 become available .

Table 1 Subdivision Approvals

fiscal years

number of lots

acreage in lots

acreage in residue

acreage total

average lot size in acres









































































Table 2 is in the same format as Table 1, but compares the number of residential lots in approved subdivisions to the number of residential units in approved building permits over the same ten year period. All data is from the Planning and Zoning Commission annual reports. Table 2 shows that, between 1989 and 1999, 2,504 lots were subdivided and 3,843 units were given building permits (technically called "location permits"). Thus about one and one half times more units than lots were approved during this period. Assuming no discrepancies in the data, this difference can be explained by the existence of a prior supply of subdivided lots, given approval before 1989, that had not yet been given building permit approval as of that date. Without a count of all existing housing units plus all housing unit building permits not yet built, and all existing residential lots with approved subdivision status, there is no way to calculate the difference at any given time between the two measures of lots and units.

Table 2 Subdivision and Building Permits Compared

fiscal years


Building Permits


(#of lots)

(annual change)

(# of units)

(annual change)








- 87


- 88



- 233


- 12





- 7



- 140


- 59



- 20


- 64



- 9


- 5










- 97



- 193








For any jurisdiction that wishes to estimate the probable pace of growth in jobs and housing within its borders, it is extremely useful to have accurate data as to how many units within the supply of already subdivided land have not yet been built. Without this indicator, there is no real way to tell whether pressures to obtain additional subdivision approvals reflect realistic expectations of market fulfillment, or simply inflated expectations or stockpiling of subdivided land by land developers or long term investors.

Whether a jurisdiction cares about knowing such information depends in turn on whether it wishes to take a reactive or proactive stance towards its land use future. The maintenance of a data base of land use activities does require an annual expenditure of funds for its maintenance, although once past the initial inventory phase the annual upkeep of this data tends to become marginal in scale.

Without a complete data set, however, the information in Table 2 still can reveal some clues to market pressures. Both subdivisions and building permits peaked in 1990, and declined to a low point in 1996, followed by a fluctuating increase back up to 1998, at a level about 30% below the peak annual figure for 1990 . In 1999, subdivisions went down and building permits went up. Although there is some general parallel movement in the two kinds of permits, there is also a lot of annual fluctuation, for the reason outlined above. Building permits reflect substantial investments to meet short term market expectations. Subdivision permits reflect very marginal investments to protect the opportunity to make future substantial investments. Building permits are the better indicator of short term market pressures, but subdivision permits are useful for gauging long term market possibilities.

The Jefferson County peak of building permits in 1990 corresponds closely to national data, reflecting the fact that nationally the housing market dropped into a steep recession about 1991, and did not begin to recover until around 1994-95, since when it has taken off like a rocket, apparently fueled by the information age, dot-com, entrepreneurial revolution, which now, in 2001, is showing signs of having run its course for the time being. Although it is a tentative conclusion, it is possible to interpret the slower pace of decline after 1990 in Jefferson County, compared to the national experience, as being due to the in-migration of retirees during this period, whose incomes probably were less affected by the recession that those of wage earners.

In any event, building permits shot up by 50% in 1997 over the preceding year, and have continued at a high plateau since then. Completion of the data set for 2000 and 2001 would be very useful to extend this analysis to the present. Based on anecdotal evidence, the number of subdivided lots approved since January 2000 is substantial, especially with one of the most recent approvals providing capacity for over 3,000 lots in one large area. Thus, although the pace of new housing construction in the county may, or may not, increase in the next few years, there probably is no shortage of subdivided lots to absorb whatever the short term market may produce.


Throughout the twelve months of calendar year 2000, the Planning and Zoning Commission convened a series of neighborhood public meetings to receive comments from all interested parties about problems and proposals relevant to the county's Comprehensive Plan, last updated in 1994. Notes recording the central points made by speakers in these meetings were made by members of the Planning Commission. A copy of these notes, plus other written material received, was given to the Consultant in mid February 2001, shortly after the execution of his contract with the county.

The Consultant's task involved reading, analyzing, and categorizing the testimony and written position papers of between 150 and 200 different individual citizens and dozens of organizations. This material includes hundreds of specifically identified problems, and a somewhat smaller list, although still lengthy, of specific recommendations for changes or studies. With such an enormous list of detailed items, it becomes necessary to cluster individual problems and proposals together into a more manageable list of overarching issues, in order to set about evaluating the entire set in a reasonable manner that can be summarized for purposes of discussion.

The outcome of this synthesizing process is a set of 30 generic issues, which are listed below. Each issue is given a short name, for ease of identification, followed by a short description of the central question that seems to be at issue under the generic title. The Consultant believes that this list is a reasonably accurate and comprehensive reflection of the questions, recommendations, and issues presented to the Planning and Zoning Commission at the neighborhood meetings. It is proposed that this set of issues be used as a benchmark of concerns against which to measure the product called for in Phase Two of the Consultant's contract, a set of proposals for either reaffirming or improving the existing Comprehensive Plan.

The following list of issues has been put in a sequence that reflects, not their ultimate importance to the final product of this study, (they all are important, one way or another, or they would not have been pointed out by citizens to the Commission), but rather their relative place in the time line of Consultant consideration that ultimately leads to a composite assessment of the balance point among them all.

The actual process of analyzing and responding to the content of all these issues cannot be a linear process, of course. In the end, it requires a cross cutting iterative approach, in which the planner goes back and forth across the different issues and their possible solutions, in an effort to find the best trade off among their various conflicting needs. Thus, the relative position of the thirty items is a very preliminary estimate only. After the first few items on the list, the sequence probably bears little relationship to the order in which the Consultant actually will perform research into specific issues. Ultimately all will be covered, and none will be reported on in detail until the final product of Phase Two is complete. At that time, an explanation will be provided for the way that the recommended Updated Comprehensive Plan Concept responds to each item on the list included herein.

The reader will note that the first two issues listed correspond to the first two sections of this Reconnaissance Report, namely Legal Framework and Trends Analysis. Most of the other issue topics also have been the focus of data collection and analytic probing during this reconnaissance phase, but it would be excessively time consuming and expensive to write up their status, as has been done for the first two, at this stage of the work. The plethora of maps, studies, documents, and other information gathered so far for many of these topics will be supplemented by further research as necessary in Phase Two.

It is anticipated that a public forum will be scheduled by the Consultant Policy Committee of the Planning Commission, for a date soon after the presentation of this report to the members of the County Commission and the Planning Commission. At that forum, the Consultant will respond to any questions from the general public with regard to the material in this report. It is hoped that everyone in the community will understand the need to develop a set of consolidated issues like the list below, and that comments provided to the Consultant at this next forum will be directed towards finding the most efficient and effective ways of improving understanding with regard to all of the issues affecting the Comprehensive Plan Update.



The question is to what extent the Dillon Rule nature of the state's enabling legislation for planning and zoning limits the power of the county to consider adopting new and innovative planning and zoning mechanisms.



The question is whether the forces at work in the regional land development market are speeding up the rate of conversion of farmland and open space to residential and commercial development, and whether the current rate may be expected to remain stable, increase, or decrease in the next ten years or so.



The question is how do present types of employment, and their locations in the county and region, match up to the county's labor force and its residential locations, and whether this is a desirable situation or not.



The question is what is the status of present county efforts to manage its economic base, and what are the prospects for achieving its objectives?



The question is how serious are the market pressures on farmers in Jefferson County, whether creative adaptations to current practices offer potential for economic relief, and what efforts should be made to preserve farmland and farming in the county.



The question is to what degree state and federal agencies roles and grant monies affect the county, and how this factor should be assessed in updating the Comprehensive Plan.



The question is to what degree the county should agree to the recommendations on land use issues provided by the separate municipalities, and whether the comprehensive plan should address directly any ongoing process for coordination between the county and the municipalities.



The question is what level of quality should be expected from the school system, and what is the relevance of this public service to the updating of the Comprehensive Plan.



The question is whether the county should establish impact fees on new development, and, if so, how it should design the fee structure.



The question is whether the possibility of the county seeking approval from the state legislature, to become the first county in the state to receive this delegation of taxing power, is relevant to this updating of the Comprehensive Plan, and, if so, how.



The question is how adequate the current transportation system is for future needs, and whether changes are needed to manage traffic congestion and safety as the zoning envelope is built out.



The question is whether the present methods of taking care of water supply and waste are the most efficient and effective, and how they relate to the objectives of the Comprehensive Plan.



The question is how adequate and safe is the aquifer that supplies fresh water to the county, and whether any additional precautions to protect it are warranted.



The question is whether the present methods by which Homeowner Associations are established, and the protocols by which they relate to the county government and related agencies, are efficient and effective, or whether additional guidelines should be considered.



The question is what level of public services should be expected from a community like Jefferson County, and whether this factor should be addressed in the Comprehensive Plan.



The question is how effective have these tools (purchase of development rights, transfer of development rights, adequate public facility ordinances, etc.) proven to be in other places, and whether they could work well in Jefferson County's current situation.



The question is how well the CIS system has worked in practice, and whether it should be continued in its present form or modified further to complement the Comprehensive Plan.



The question is how well the LESA system has worked in practice, and whether it should be continued in its present form or modified further to complement the Comprehensive Plan.



The question is what role historic preservation should play in the exercise of land use regulations such as zoning and subdivision, and whether more precise guidelines should be developed than exist at present.



The question is whether it is necessary to make special plans to set aside certain areas for active and passive recreation, and for the protection of natural flora and fauna, or whether the relatively low density residential pattern under current zoning is sufficient to address these needs.



The question is whether the preservation of existing scenic vistas and the shaping of the spatial character of the built environment are sufficiently important to the welfare of the community to warrant being addressed directly in the Comprehensive Plan.



The question is how the pattern of new development, that is beginning to become perceptible under the current planning and zoning system, will affect the traditional community culture of the county, and whether this direction of change is desirable or not.



The question is whether the existing Comprehensive Plan is adequate to respond to the issues raised by current trends, or whether it warrants significant updating and refinement.



The question is whether the density and character of new housing, within the planned growth areas, should be left to the decision of land developers, or be consciously designed in some way as part of the Comprehensive Plan.



The question is whether the price of housing in the county should be addressed in the Comprehensive Plan, and, if so, how.



The question is how to define what the term "smart growth" means, and whether to adopt or adapt any of the elements that have been proposed in other places under the banner of this term.



The question is whether a comprehensive plan should act as a reference document that may be adhered to, or deviated from, at the discretion of the decision makers responsible for approving development projects, or as a more specifically controlling guide.



The question is whether the Comprehensive Plan should address the effect of its land use policies on the fiscal resource base of the county.



The question is what is the status of the county's present data base of information necessary for thorough land use analysis, and what specific additional items should be added to allow an Updated Comprehensive Plan to function effectively.



The question is what is the relationship between the maintenance requirements of an Updated Comprehensive Plan and the available fiscal budget for staff resources.


This task provided for the Consultant to seek out various officials and citizens to the extent he felt necessary, to obtain information supplemental to that contained in the record of the Planning Commission's neighborhood meetings and the written materials submitted by various organizations. It was understood that this information gathering exercise should not become a de facto repetition of the forums already held in 2000. Rather it should be limited to initiatives taken by the Consultant to permit him to understand as clearly as possible the nature of the situations the county should address in its Comprehensive Plan Update.

To date, the Consultant has held approximately forty meetings with various groups and individuals, including: two large groups of about twenty five persons each; three small groups; four private citizens; fifteen public officials within the county; and ten public officials outside the county, in addition to numerous phone calls and research on data sources potentially useful to the project. Officials outside the county include those in Loudoun County, Clarke County, Berkeley County, Frederick County, Lancaster County, American Farmland Trust, Urban Land Institute, Soil Conservation Service, Nature Conservancy, and other national organizations with relevant information.

In addition to meeting with groups, individuals, and officials, the Consultant has made numerous field trips to the county and its environs, including walking streets and visiting commercial establishments within the five municipalities, and driving most of the roads within the county plus many without the county in the surrounding region from Washington to Hagerstown to Winchester to Leesburg. Maps and data have been collected from a variety of sources. This task also has included time spent analyzing the information gained from these meetings, trips, and readings, plus the time necessary to assemble and produce the material contained in this Reconnaissance Report.

The 1994 Comprehensive Plan

As a point of departure for Phase Two of this project, the Consultant has analyzed the existing Comprehensive Plan document. This document contains 165 pages of text, which includes a lot of useful background information about conditions considered relevant in 1994. With exception of two (Highway Classification System and Sewer Systems), the maps in the Plan are all descriptive rather than prescriptive. There is no proposed future land use map. Thus, the normative content of the Plan is contained almost entirely within the text of the separate chapters.

The part of this text that represents recommendations for action has been compressed by the Consultant into a nine page list of 186 specific recommendations for some kind of action to be taken. Reproduced below is this list of these recommendations, plus the complete set of maps contained in the 1994 Plan.

An effort has been made in this digest to separate the recommend-ations that appear to be focussed on a specific project from those that are more general in nature, with the former shown in bold type face. The resulting set of two lists represents, of necessity, a subjective opinion, since the plan does not indicate how to distinguish between things that would be of general benefit from those that could be given a more concrete focus in space and time. In short, the plan text is rather vague, and the separation of its recommendations is an effort to sharpen its focus for purposes of evaluation in Phase Two.

The compressed list of recommendations has been divided into five sections, called Transport, Community, Nature, Housing, and Jobs. This clusters the individual recommendations of the Plan into the five generic elements common to all comprehensive plans, as outlined in the author's diagrammatic model called The Smart Growth Navigator. (See copy attached to report following maps at end of this section. Copyrighted, and so not posted on the web) Included with the Navigator is a chart showing how the thirty issues outlined in Section 3 of this report also fit into the Navigator framework. Readers interested in comparing current issues with the previous recommendations of the Plan may use the five Navigator planning elements as a common frame of reference.

The attached "to do" list is set up in tabular form, so that each of the more focused recommendations can be measured on a scale of achievement ranging from "effort begun", through "effort succeeded" or "effort failed" to "effort not begun". Visual observation of the county suggests that many, if not most, of the Plan's recommendations have not been achieved so far. This is not an unusual situation in communities experimenting with planning as a new endeavor, where the final document is assembled by volunteer committees in a milieu that is not conducive to critical pressure being brought to bear on the feasibility, cost, and effort of implementing the recommendations, which are all made with the best of intentions. It is, in fact, typical of most pioneering planning efforts that, in the nature of things, they begin with an emphasis on the listing of possibilities for improvement, and only later, after the passage of time and the gain of experience, become candidates for improvement with regard to effectiveness.

Unless comprehensive plans are followed up with assigned responsibilities, designated resources, and sometimes programmatic schedules, it is no one's fault that the exhortations for further actions, to follow up the possibilities expressed in the plan, fall by the wayside. However, the fact that all of this Plan's recommendations have not been implemented in the seven years since its last update need not diminish the value of its pioneering effort to bring vision and coordination to the county's approach to its future.

The collective momentum of the many listed recommendations still represents an important base of departure, on which to build a more focussed vision and implementation mechanism, based on the experience gained in the intervening years since its original adoption. Critics of pioneering plans often can best assist the development of better ones by remembering the old maxim that it remains important to avoid making the best the enemy of the good.

A decade ago, Jefferson County took pioneering steps to begin to confront the pressures of urbanism approaching from the east. As one of the first counties in the State of West Virginia to face such challenges, it has experienced the difficulty, common to all pioneers, of explaining the true nature of its problems to related others who do not yet face similar issues. The transition from rural to urban, from greenfields to grayfields, is the new frontier of American experience. Perhaps Jefferson County can find inspiration in its frontier history, and its citizens once again come together to forge a legacy that will last for generations.


Jefferson County, West Virginia

The following list of recommendations are compressed and edited versions of longer statements in the Comprehensive Plan adopted in 1994. They are listed in the order they occur in that document. The items in bold type face are those that recommend a specific action be initiated, as contrasted with the others which are less focused and more general in their expression. The section headings in bold type face repeat the section headings of the consultant's Growth Management Anatomy Model. The sub-section headings in italics repeat the section headings in the Comprehensive Plan.


Effort Begun

Effort Succeeded

Effort Failed

Effort Not Begun



1 Provide for collector roads in subdivision planning

2 Support walking/cycling modes by village centers

3 Provide commuter/vanpool parking in large subdivisions

4 Zoning & Subdivision allow for commuter/vanpool parking

5 Provide more road categories in LESA adequacy criterion

6 Do not locate commercial/office uses on two lane roads

7 Explore by-pass around Shepherdstown

8 Bring private roads up to State standards

9 Adopt road right-of-way preservation plan

10 Advocate, to State, locations for limited access roads

11 Replace Harpers Ferry parking lot (with State) if needed

12 Get new development to help pay for handling its traffic

13 Seek federal funds to supplement State and County funds

14 Seek more State funds

15 Target federal ISTEA program for road & transit funds

16 Establish process to prioritize traffic improvements

17 Recommend to State to use specific maintenance priorities

18 Get Governor to enlarge Bakerton RR underpass to 3 lanes

19 Support improvement of Potomac & Shenandoah bridges

20 Support addition of services to Duffield rail stop

21 Support existing transit services, especially PanTran

22 Encourage crossing gates on all railroad crossings

Water Supply

23 Establish program to monitor well water quantity/quality

24 Do 2-5 year study of supply to west flank of B. R. Mountain

25 Plan. Com. prepare annual report on groundwater resources

26 Require proof of adequate water before approving new lots

27 Determine if water system design standards are adequate

28 Adopt policy of limiting central systems to fit Comp. Plan

29 Adopt fire suppression standards for all new development

30 Adopt a storm water management program/ordinance

31 Adopt an erosion and sediment control ordinance

32 Require soil/water study as condition of central systems

Waste Water

33 Require water saving devices in all new construction

34 Seek federal/state funds for central wastewater treatment

35 Develop plan to handle domestic septic systems at risk

36 Provide for septage disposal in all central systems

37 Set up system for County review of State discharge permits

38 Evaluate septic limits of soil in approving residential lots

39 Do study to relate housing density & septic field efficiency

40 Explore other methods of sewage discharge than septics

41 (Establish that) soil type will dictate permissible lot size

Solid Waste

42 (Take steps to) maximize recycling participation

43 Permit Leetown facility to use its site for recycling

44 Explore setting up 'green box' & other drop off locations

45 Support a regional approach to landfills & recycling


Law Enforcement

46 Make local police needs integral part of Comp. Plan

47 Give towns a major role in relevant highway plans

48 Develop standards for equipping/training police

49 Develop ways to retain trained personnel

50 Collect & publicize data on crimes & traffic problems

51 Investigate thoroughly the limitations of State law

52 Prepare a consultant plan for law enforcement services

Fire Services

53 Standardize fire hydrants & fire hose threads

54 Develop county wide identification system

55 Offer incentives for residents to join volunteer fire units

56 Investigate fees to replace present donation system

57 Provide funds to train personnel

58 Ensure subdivision regulations promote fire hydrants

59 Ask State for more flexibility in Building Code

Emergency Medical Services

60 Replace all ambulances when they are 7 years old

61 Develop a county wide emergency plan

62 Encourage county residents to receive first aid training

63 Develop emergency services for Blue Ridge area

64 Seek alternative revenue for EMS personnel

65 Participate in developing Enhanced 911 service


67 Conform to State standards in design/construction

68 Reevalute present ES/JHS/SHS grade allocation

69 Build a vocational-technical facility

70 Provide shop facilities at Jefferson High School

71 Provide an alternative school for bad behavior students

72 Improve service to Educationally Mentally Impaired

73 Conform to State requirements in curriculum

74 Put library/music/phys ed/rec. programs in all schools

75 Put computer laboratories in elementary schools

76 Make school bus service a factor in subdivision review

77 Assist BOE by assessing school impact of new develop.

78 BOE begin process of CIP and land acquisition plan

79 Build SHS addition and then new Middle School

80 Change grade clusters to K-5, 6-8, & 9-12

Parks, Recreation, Culture, & Arts

81 Employ part or full time Parks & Recreation Director

82 Employ coordinator of recreational services

83 Distribute information on recreational opportunities

84 Prepare master plan with schedule re park acquisition

85 Utilize resources of Shepherd College Park Admin.

86 Survey education/church facilities for use by county

87 Form private association of recreational groups

88 Include recreation space in school land acquisition

89 Study & plan for indoor regional facilities

90 Study user fees to provide for park maintenance

91 Require developers to set aside land for recreation

92 Ensure private recreation areas are maintained

93 Acquire Shannondale Springs tract for recreation

94 Clear squatters off river banks and enforce health

95 Set up study of how to acquire Sam Michael's farm

96 Provide hiking trails and bike paths to enjoy scenery

97 Organize year round programs to serve teenagers

98 Develop a bike path system connecting all centers

99 Inventory RR & other potential greenway connections

100 Develop open space & resource protection trails

101 Reserve land for greenways through subdivision

102 Put parks in county to maintain town's character

103 Preserve sensitive natural environmental areas

104 Develop an inventory of good sites for recreation

105 Work with hotels to use parks to extend tourist stays

106 Explore how parks can help Industrial Park

107 Promote cluster & design studies to provide open space

108 Explore feasibility of a Cultural Arts Center

109 Comply with American with Disabilities Act of 1992

110 Encourage local citizens to use county parks

Historic Preservation

111 Use Historic Landmark Commission studies to plan

112 Promote access to sites through hiker-biker trails

113 Establish Architectural/Historical Review Committee

114 Protect sites by easements

115 Use tax incentives to preserve historic structures

116 Publicize resources available to property owners

117 Apply Main Street Program in towns

118 Provide storage space for archives in county offices

119 Encourage discussion at compatibility stage of projects

120 Make the Historical Maps available to public

121 Increase weight of historic factor in LESA system


Natural Resources

122 Develop program to identify/register resources

123 Develop incentives to preserve natural habitats

124 Establish conservation districts for significant areas

125 Develop policies to mitigate habitat damage

126 Prepare Erosion & Sediment Control Ordinance

127 Control location of quarries, timbering, mines, etc.

128 Establish procedures to protect sink holes

Agricultural Land Use

129 Implement Transferable Development Rights if possible

130 Cluster lots on less farmable parts of farms

131 Put new development near services & at higher densities

132 Revise LESA to encourage less dense lots in Rural Zone

133 Seek State aid for alternative crops & market access

134 Appoint a farmer to the Development Authority

135 Elected officials work to achieve good labor relations

136 Change tax laws to provide incentives for agriculture

137 Hold seminars on estate planning re farm sales, etc.

138 Modify LESA to preserve the most valuable farmland

139 Explore ways to preserve/expand historic craft business

140 Encourage expansion of villages to serve farm areas

141 Allow working farms to process their own ag. products

142 Find ways to allow housing for farm employees


Residential Land Use

143 Encourage a wide variety of housing types & costs

144 Provide a choice of suburban, semi rural, & rural areas

145 Separate residential areas from industrial/commercial

146 Concentrate new housing near existing public services

147 Press State to allow local building code adoption

148 Establish sewer/water districts to fit higher densities

149 Discourage scattered development

150 Periodically review Zoning Ord. (e.g. buffer adequacy)

151 Periodically review Subdivision Ord. (e.g. cluster)

152 Channel new development into zoned growth areas

153 Enforce buffer zones, setbacks, and density controls

154 Develop incentives for developers to provide amenities

155 Adopt a building code for the county

156 Promote a broad spectrum of housing prices

157 Identify and rehabilitate existing substandard areas

158 Expand county staff to administer these new activities

159 Allow existing villages to have small com./ind. uses


Industrial and Commercial Land Use

160 Concentrate commercial uses near existing retail centers

161 Allow small commercial uses in smaller communities

162 Put commercial uses adjacent to sewer/water & roads

163 Limit access from high speed roads; build parallel ones

164 Establish site planning policies for setbacks/landscaping

165 Identify sites for industrial uses near RR and bypass

166 Keep existing industry within site plan standards

167 Put industrial uses near sewer/water & roads

168 Give priority to industrial areas for new water/sewer

169 Encourage expansion of existing industrial firms

170 Attract medium sized companies with diverse products

171 Encourage growth in tourism

172 Upgrade Route 9 to attract industry from I-81

173 Initiate action to get a more flexible building code

174 Require final inspections & occupancy certificates

175 Develop signs integral to harmonious design

176 Direct industrial lighting away from residential areas

177 Regulate traffic access, circulation, & parking

178 Consider cost/benefit ratios of new industries

General Land Use

179 Allow more, less dense, lots + cluster in Rural Zone

180 Rename Rural/Ag. Zone to Rural/Conditional Use Zone

181 Allow pre-existing industry to expand

182 Allow limited (specific) expansion of villages

183 Expand services in areas with poor farming soils

184 Prohibit/reg. exotic dancers, gambling, jails, quarries

185 Draft Cottage Industry Standards

186 Revise Home Occupation Standards


Allocated by Component Elements of the consultant's copyrighted "Smart Growth Navigator Management Map"

Management Map Categories

Community Issues (numbers keyed to Section 3)



People (demographics, migration, etc.)

2 pace of change

22 perception of community

Jobs (farm, industrial, retail, service, etc.)

3 employment location patterns

4 economic development strategies

Housing (type, size, cost, etc.)

24 housing density

25 housing affordability

Transport (roads, water, sewer, utilities, etc.)

11 traffic congestion/road construction

12 water & sewer system extensions

14 homeowner association maintenance

Community (schools, police, fire, health, etc.)

8 cost / quality of schools

19 historic preservation

Nature (geology, water, soil, flora, fauna, etc.)

5 farmland and farming

13 capacity /quality of groundwater

20 parks, trails, and open space

21 scenic vistas and spatial character



Land Policy (Comprehensive Plan)

23 adequacy of plan to meet trends

26 smart growth concepts

27 role of plan (guide or control)

Regulations (zoning, subdivision, etc.)

16 pdr, tdr, apfo and related systems

17 community impact statement system

18 land evaluation-soil analysis system

Judicial Environment

1 definition of the Dillon Rule

Capital Improvements Program

9 impact fees

10 local powers act

15 extent of public services

28 tax rates

Local-State-Federal Relationships

6 role of state and federal governments

7 county/municipalities relationships

Fiscal Policy

29 analytic data base

30 staff capacity