West Jeff: More concerns over development

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(Posted April 5, 2017)

By Sandi Latimer, Staff Writer

Darby Crest residents returned to West Jefferson council April 3 to express more concerns about potential development just east of the village.

Harmony Development Group recently presented a concept for a large housing development on land located near Darby Crest, a small housing development along Big Darby Creek, off of Route 40. Owned by Larry Miller, the land is up for annexation into West Jefferson, as is land for a small-format Kroger store across the road. Darby Crest residents first voiced concerns at the March 20 council meeting.

At the April 3 meeting, resident Marlene Gray was under the assumption the West Jefferson school district would receive acreage for a school within the proposed development. Karl Billisits of Harmony Development Group quickly shot down that claim.

“The schools are not sure what they want to do,” said Billisits. “No one is sure what the plans are.” Mayor Ray Martin backed him up. Plans are only at the concept stage at this point.

“We are concerned about the wildlife and the quality of the water,” Gray said after the meeting.

Martin talked about progress, as did council members.

“We walk through the village and people tell us what they want,” Martin said. “We’ve done well at filling spots, but we can’t tell the owners what to charge the tenants.”

Council President Steve Johnston reminded the audience that Kroger plans to pay for the water and sewer extensions so the land can be annexed. The village and taxpayers will not pay for the extensions.

Darby Crest resident Wendy Ryan said she appreciates West Jefferson’s small town feel.

“But once we cross over, we’re never going back,” she said, referring to the village being on the verge of having 5,000 residents and becoming a city.

Ryan also said local athletic teams are doing well against the current competition, but she fears that if the village grows, the teams will face larger schools and not do as well.

Council member Lori Cafagno said the concept would mean controlled growth and not sprawl. She also said her children want to live in the village, and a development on the east edge of town would mean an option for her to purchase a house.

“And this is not high-end housing,” council member Mike Conway said.

Arlene Castor, a longtime West Jefferson resident, said, “I raised two children here but they moved out because there was nothing her for them.”

Billisits cited data that shows the average age of West Jefferson residents is late-40s, and the number of people in their 20s is decreasing.

Martin said the village has brought in industry on Route 29 and, “People who work there want to live here, but their choices are limited.”

“Most of the properties we have are rentals,” Conway said.

Johnston reiterated that the development possibilities with Kroger and the Miller property did not spring up overnight. He said the Kroger project had been in the works for 18 months and went through 11 revisions before council voted on it in March.

“Have you had a town hall meeting to let people know what is coming down the pike?” asked Ryan.

“The first and third Monday night of every month,” said Martin, referring to regular council meeting dates.

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