Groups Appeal Development in New River Gorge, WV
Conservation Groups Appeal Fayette County’s Approval of Housing Development within New River Gorge
Washington, D.C. – The Plateau Action Network, National Parks Conservation Association, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, and National Committee for the New River filed a legal appeal on May 11th, 2006 of Fayette County’s decision to approve the first phase of Land Resources Corporation’s (LRC) “Roaring River” housing development, proposed along approximately 9 miles next to the New River Gorge National River. The “Roaring River” development would be the largest development built in Fayette County.
“People travel here to enjoy the authentic and unique experiences offered by the natural and historic resources of the New River Gorge, not to see suburban developments,” said Erin Haddix, Mid-Atlantic Field Representative for the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association, a national nonprofit park advocacy group with more than 1,000 members in West Virginia.
An analysis commissioned by the National Park Service shows that the New River Gorge National River, along with the Gauley and the Bluestone, has a total economic impact of more than $130 million spending which supports 3,550 jobs, and generates more than $49 million in income.
A technical analysis by the Park Service revealed that 76 out of 484 houses in the developments’ first phase will be visible from popular scenic overlooks and other vantage points in the park. The analysis takes into account variables such as the height of the trees, slope of the land, height of the houses, vegetation, and lot size. In response to an outpouring of public concern at a public hearing last August, the County Commission committed to protecting the gorge and working with Park Service staff to ensure that the development would not impair the scenic views of the New River Gorge.
While county and LRC officials stated in public meetings and in writing that “no houses will be visible from any ground level vantage point in the park and that this development will not impair the scenic views of the New River Gorge,” neither has provided technical analysis to support this conclusion.
“Economic development and the conservation of the New River Gorge are compatible,” said Gene Kistler, a member of the board of the Plateau Action Network, a Fayette County-based citizens group dedicated to responsible environmental management and economic development. “However, we need sensitive development that does not harm an existing economic engine like the New River Gorge National River.”
The appeal filed today identifies several flaws in the county’s approval. Of fundamental importance, the zoning office discounted the Park Service’s technical analysis, and concluded that the development would not impact the park’s viewshed. This conclusion is based on unspecific site visits, discussion with an unnamed firm, testimony from an unnamed optical expert, and a sightline test provided by LRC in which balloons were set up on approximately 25 lots. However, none of the 25 lots in the sightline test were among the 76 lots identified as in the scenic view by the Park Service technical analysis.
The county’s approval also states that it did not have the ability to remove lots from the plan because of the impact on scenic views, although this right is clearly defined in the County’s Unified Development code which states that “reasonable requirements for the preservation of outstanding natural features [including exceptional views] may be specified.” The protection of scenic views is also referenced in the County’s Comprehensive Plan. The county’s approval also incorrectly asserts that the removal of any building lots in the plan could possibly require the county to compensate the developer. This is contrary to a ruling by West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals that “land use regulations will not constitute an impermissible taking of property.”
“We would not oppose the first phase of this subdivision if LRC honors its commitment to protect New River’s priceless scenic views by removing the 76 lots of concern from its plan,” said Haddix and Kistler. “We need greater protection for our national parks.”
Erin Haddix, National Parks Conservation Association, 202-744-3532
Gene Kistler, Plateau Action Network, 304-663-2521