Not many Washington, D.C. area residents are familiar with Berkeley County, West Virginia. Over a 100 mile drive from downtown Washington, the county isn’t even served by a highway that reaches the city — residents must take I-81 north to I-70, or south to I-66, to get to the District. However, they may be surprised to learn that in the last five years the Census estimates county has added almost 20,000 residents, far more than the District has, making it the fastest-growing county in the state.
The sheer volume of development recently approved in Berkeley County is impressive. In this county without any zoning (although there is a proposal to change that), new developments must only meet minimal subdivision requirements before approval by county officials. According to official reports, between 2004 and 2006 the county approved subdivisions creating 6,985 lots consuming 3,653 acres of land. Another 5,847 lots have received preliminary approval. In total, since 2000 the county has approved subdivisions creating 10,511 lots taking up roughly 13 square miles of land. The size of subdivisions since 2000 shows a clear upward trend, although it should be noted all these lots won’t necessarily be developed:
Harder to track is commercial development. As an indicator, the area is already home to two Wal-Marts (Martinsburg and Charles Town) and Berkeley County Planning Commission unanimously approved another 180,000 square foot store at a contentious meeting in December. (DOC) The store will be located just off I-81 north of Martinsburg, near the residential development seen above.
In an interesting contrast, while Montgomery County Maryland’s agricultural preserve and transfer of development rights programs have helped keep the county’s far western and northern portions rural, fewer such controls exist in West Virginia, causing the sprawl to “leapfrog.” Despite the rapid pace of development, the majority of the area remains rural and the county has made tentative steps towards more deliberate growth. The Post reported last year on citizens who had launched a grassroots campaign against growth, and the county recently completed a master plan. Although it included a “growth management” area (shown on the left in yellow), the area is considerably larger than the existing urbanized area (on the right, in pink), leaving plenty of room for D.C. sprawl for years to come. From a regional perspective, we should remember this growth during debates about density in and around the District.
> Berkeley County Planning Commission
> W. Post: “Suburbia Catches Up with Unger, W.V.”
> Chesapeake Bay Journal (1999): “WV’s Eastern Panhandle Coping With Problems Caused by Growth“