Blue Ridge Watershed Coalition
Several subdivisions on the Blue Ridge Mountain were designed with lots platted and recorded before subdivision regulations first came into effect in Jefferson County in 1972. Most of these Mountain communities were planned and approved from 1940 through the 1970’s. The communities pre-date the later adoption of a range of County land development regulations and ordinances establishing subsequent standards to guide development, including standards for lot size, standards for water supply and wastewater treatment, and standards to assure the proper development and construction of road systems and management of storm water run-off. The result today is a range of issues and problems with continuing infill development. Even greater impacts are anticipated by residents of these communities as future development continues.
The Blue Ridge Mountain region of the County today has major problems with roads, water, sanitation, and a lack of environmental protection measures. Much of the established lotting pattern, recorded prior to the adoption of standards years ago, is not conducive to future development. Lots are often less than adequate in size to support private wells and septic systems, are located on steep slopes, and are inadequately supported by road access. These are all conditions that limit opportunities to improve the conditions of some of the mountain communities or neighborhoods within certain communities.
Left alone the area will likely continue to deteriorate in quality of life and develop ever more serious problems for the County, the area's residents, and the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The current downturn in the economy may provide a window in time for addressing these issues before a new round of growth takes place that could further exacerbate problems within the region.
The proposed planning area is bordered by the Shenandoah River to the West, the Appalachian Trail and Virginia State line to the East, the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers to the North, and the Clark County, Virginia state line to the South. Ranging from 1 to 3 miles in width as the Shenandoah curves at its base, the altitude of the area drops from a high of 1700 feet at the top of the ridge to 400 feet at Harpers Ferry. Numerous mountain streams wind their way through the various communities as they fall from the ridge to the Shenandoah River. Public springs and artesian wells that have been in use for over a century continue to be visited regularly, regardless of warnings from public health officials that they may not be safe.
Most of the subdivision road systems predate engineering specifications. These roads do not incorporate storm water management and are often on slopes that would not be approved under current regulations. As a result, erosion is a problem which contributes to the degradation of stream water quality while also making roads impassable for the growing number of residents. Several of the largest communities dissolved their Home Owners Associations many years ago, with the result that the roads are now considered “orphan” by the West Virginia Department of Highways and receive only minimal maintenance.
Of the 15,500 acres of land in the study area, nearly one third is currently protected as owned by the Federal Government, the State of West Virginia, or non-profit organizations. The federally owned areas are associated with the Appalachian Trail Corridor on the eastern border and the Harpers Ferry National Park to the north. Another forty percent of the total acreage (just over 6,000 acres), is subdivided into lot sizes varying from 1/10th of an acre to 2 acres in size, with a majority less than an acre.
An estimated total of 11,000 of these lots are recorded in the various communities on the Mountain, with approximately 3,000 homes occupying various lots or combinations of lots. Development in some communities is currently limited by a State moratorium which was placed due to water quality concerns. A plan is currently underway to bring public water into these areas for the benefit of underserved residents, with the expected result that the moratorium will be lifted.
Jefferson County is seen as a leader in community planning in West Virginia, and the Blue Ridge Mountain Communities Area Plan will continue recent efforts. With assistance from the Fresh Water Institute, the county completed a Green Infrastructure Assessment in April, 2008. The County Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend a study of the Blue Ridge Mountain Communities as one of two planning initiatives to be undertaken this fiscal year. The planning effort will continue into the next fiscal year.