Trinity Works, the Boy Scouts of America’s developer, has offered a monetary gift to the Mount Hope Planning Commission intended to help the city create a comprehensive plan.
“Trinity, recognizing that they are in part the catalyst for why we need to do this, and in an effort to be good neighbors, has agreed to provide some funding,” explained Mount Hope’s attorney, Anna Ziegler.
“The thought was that the city would take on the process and have full discretion, and funding would be available [from Trinity] if the city needs it, though not in the form of a blank check.”
No formal agreement has yet been signed, but at a planning commission meeting on Thursday evening a ballpark figure of $80,000 was used for planning purposes.
The city’s decision in January to hold off on annexing the 10,600-acre Boy Scouts of America (BSA) property that borders it was due in part to their desire to develop a comprehensive plan before the 2013 National Scout Jamboree.
If the annexation were to go through, Trinity Works, as The Summit’s main developer, would no doubt be impacted by Mount Hope’s comprehensive plan and the zoning ordinances flowing from it.
“[Trinity Works] has been very clear that this is city’s project and they haven’t asked or hinted that they want to influence the process,” says Ziegler.
Theresa Kirk, executive director of the West Virginia Ethics Commission, says public agencies can accept unsolicited gifts.
She says that how precisely the agreement came about, as well as the terms of the agreement, would in turn dictate whether it’s permissible under the West Virginia Ethics Act.
“Some of those decisions do ultimately lie with the public officials. It may be a public policy question as to whether the arrangement is in the best interest of the city.
“I can generally comment that, as with all decisions made by public officials, you weigh and balance all the factors involved.”
Michael Dougherty of the West Virginia Planning Association says state law authorizes planning commissions to accept gifts intended for purposes designated by the donor.
“If they started putting strings on it (...) or if they say you can do a plan, but you have to use our consultant, that’s when you start worrying about the ethics of it all,” he says.
He says Trinity Works’ gift is “defensible” because of the city’s real need to create a plan.
“Mount Hope is going to get swept up big time. It’s going to have to change and it’s going to see a lot of different development because of the presence of this facility,” says Dougherty
“The city scraped and scrounged and came up with $4,000, which is clearly not enough,” says Ziegler.
The city is considering doing the plan in-house, but the project’s accelerated time line — with a completion goal of Dec. 31 — would make that difficult, says Dougherty.
“You can’t do an in-house plan with no staff in six months, and that’s what they’re looking at,” he says.
With funding available, Ziegler says the city is inclined to hire a consultant to complete the plan, but Mayor Michael Martin says the commission will still be involved.
“It is imperative that this commission is involved,” he says. “I think we need to be in constant contact with the planning consultant.”
Ziegler says the Land Use and Sustainable Development Law Clinic at West Virginia University has also offered its assistance at no cost.
The commission worked Thursday night to put finishing touches on a request for proposals intended for potential consulting firms.
In an unrelated development, Mount Hope Planning Commission President Sandy McIntire has resigned, giving “no specific reason” in her notification, says Martin. Charles Kidd is currently acting as president.
The commission now has seven members, and on Thursday they discussed the possibility of recruiting several more.
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