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Senate committee OKs bills dealing with growth and county zoning, business-improvement impact fees, and state building code

MORGANTOWN — Three bills with impact on Monongalia County advanced out of the Senate Government Organization Committee Thursday morning.

SB 530 deals with impact fees related to population growth and public service needs that designated growth counties are permitted to levy.

To qualify as a growth county, it must have population growth exceeding 1% averaged across five years. State code lists seven requirements for a growth county to be allowed to impose an impact fee.

The bill removes one of those: adopting a comprehensive zoning ordinance.

Committee counsel didn’t know how many counties are considered growth counties, speculating maybe two or three. But 2020 census data showed that Monongalia was the second-fastest growing county, after Berkeley and before Jefferson.

Mon County does not have a comprehensive zoning ordinance. Reporter Ben Conley wrote in January that the County Commission has been pondering a Subdivision and Land Division Ordinance for a couple years, but it remains uncertain when it will act.

A SALDO regulates infrastructure while zoning regulations regulate land use: A SALDO doesn’t tell you what you can or can’t build on your land, but it will tell you what you must do to support what you build on your land.

The committee approved the bill without debate and it goes next to Finance.

SB 551 deals with business-improvement service fees levied by cities with business-improvement districts. Committee counsel knew of only two cities with such districts: Charleston and Morgantown.

Current code requires that any surplus money in business improvement funds be applied to lower the fees for the next fiscal year. Counsel explained that the bill removes that requirement so that the district may save it to plan and budget for future improvements.

Counsel said that the Charleston Alliance and the city of Charleston both support the bill.

The committee approved the bill without debate and it goes to the full Senate.

SB 629 concerns the state building code, which is implemented by the state Fire Commission and fire marshal. Currently, only six counties and 36 municipalities have adopted it.

Starting July 1, 2025, the code would govern construction in all 55 counties and all municipalities. It would not be retroactive but would apply going forward from that date.

The bill does not require any inspection or enforcement mechanisms for counties and cities that don’t already have them in place.

State Fire Marshal Kenneth Tyree told the committee that he is not permitted to endorse or oppose it, but the bill would allow an equal playing field when it comes to builders.

Sen. Chandler Swope, R-Mercer, said he worked in the building trade and supports the bill. “I really believe you’re doing property owners a favor.” The cost of complying far outweighs the risks and dangers of not complying.

The committee also approved this bill without debate and it goes to the full Senate.


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