‘Leapfrog’ Sprawl In West Virginia

Residential Development in West Virginia

Berkeley County West VirginiaNot 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:

Growth in West Virginia

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, West Virginia Growth Management Plan MapBerkeley County, West Virginia

> 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

Author: Rob Goodspeed


  1. The hivemind evolves.1

    [1] In the biological sense, evolution implies a population of hiveminds. Proving the existence of multiple mating hiveminds is left as an exercise to the reader.

  2. Pingback: The Bellows » Speaking of Regional Planning

  3. My weeks-old comment is both cryptic and glib. It makes perfect sense to me that sprawl would flow to areas that do not systematically prevent it, much as its cost-effective to move manufacturing to countries with weak labor laws.

    My analogy to biology (referring to sprawl as the hivemind) is tortured at best. I meant to say that sprawl, when viewed as an organism, will adapt to its environment to assure further propagation. In this case, it has found a spot of least (or lesser) resistance. Of course, sprawl is not an organism – it’s really the product of the actions of many different parties. It’s an organism as much an economy is an organism.

    I’ll shut up now.

  4. Where are the grassroots organizations that are supposedly preventing sprawl? The amount of development going on should be everyone’s topmost concern… Not only are they building cheap, ugly houses, but they are building them near historic parks and on beautiful open spaces. This will make the lifestyle here change for the worse… higher taxes, road taxes, increase use of energy, electric and water shortages. This are should be preserved as an historic district with the added attraction of open spaces and hiking, biking, water sports etc. Soon there will be nothing like that except memories unless people start trying to stop the developers from making money.

  5. Mary, thanks for your comment. While I did not include it in the post there actually are groups that work to oppose sprawl and support smart growth across our cities and regions. While I don’t know of any groups in West Virginia, the Coalition for Smarter Growth does work in DC and Loudoun County, Virginia. In Maryland, the 1000 Friends of Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation advocate for smart growth. I did find one group that works in the area of farmland protection in West Virginia. Lastly, the Sierra Club nationally has been involved in the issue, and there may be people with the state chapter who are interested.

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