By Lon Anderson
Special to the Moorefield Examiner
Three land planning officials from Hardy County recently attended a state land planning conference, and one of them, County Planner Melissa Scott, spoke to the conference on the challenges of implementing comprehensive plans for land use.
County Planning Commission president Lee Lehman, vice president Greg Greenwalt, and Scott attended the two-day Mountain State Land Use Academy’s 2nd Annual Statewide Conference held May 2 – 3 at the Stonewall Resort in Roanoke, W.Va.
The conference is growing every year, noted Scott, who said that about 100 attended and it is helping to grow understanding about the need for more planning throughout the state. She was honored at last year’s conference for her success in getting an updated Comprehensive Plan enacted in Hardy County.
Both Lehman and Scott referred to the strong keynote address delivered by Ohio State University Professor Peggy Kirk Hall that focused on issues involving land use in rural areas. “I thought it was really good that Hardy County is already doing much of what she discussed,” Scott said.
Lehman said her message about the need for rural communities to diversify their offerings, especially in agriculture and tourism areas really hit home with him.
Scott concurred, noting that one of the strong messages in the keynote address was that developing niche markets and diversification were very important in helping rural communities to increase their vitality.
[private] Both noted that many of the presentations and discussions there focused more on strategies for municipalities and towns, that because of their incorporation, have more ability to enact measures to control land use. As a county, she explained, Hardy County is unusual and is doing things much differently than everyone else. “We’re the only (rural) county in the state that has a full-time planner and that is doing active planning.”
At the conference, she noted, Hardy was also the only county included in the presentations, which were far more often focused on cities and towns. The three Hardy County attendees divided up to attend as many of the presentations as possible, which included discussions on zoning, flood pains, dilapidated buildings, fair housing, and tourism to name a few.
Planning Commission President Lehman said that he came away with a lot of ideas that were applicable to the Commission’s work in the county. One of the seminars he attended, “Advanced Zoning,” urged officials to think of zoning ordinances as “living documents” that need to be updated and revised regularly.
As an example, he said, when the same issue keeps coming up before the Board of Zoning Appeals, it likely means the zoning ordinance needs to be changed to eliminate the need for repetitive appeals.
While he found the “Dilapidated Buildings” session interesting, he said, much of it was not really applicable to Hardy County, which does not have the same ability and powers to regulate dilapidated properties the way cities and towns can.
Scott also attended a session on tourism and indicated “a lot of creative things are happening throughout the state. In Weston, she said, the town had a parcel of land and put some trails on it. Those trails have become a major driver of tourism activity there. Lee noted that it’s important to take full advantage of such assets by being sure to address locally all of the supporting needs for those activities.
The conference was sponsored by the Land Use and Sustainable Development Law Clinic of the WV Law School. “Much of the progress in land planning in the state is because of the work of the Law Clinic,” Scott said, noting that Hardy County relied upon the Clinic heavily in its recent successful update of the county’s Comprehensive Plan.