WINFIELD, W.Va. — The Putnam County Board of Zoning Appeals meeting Thursday will once again not be an ordinary one, as the board expects to make a decision on whether to allow a hotly contested special permit for a Walmart Neighborhood Market on Route 34 in Teays Valley.
The over 42,000 square foot grocery store and fuel station has been the subject of controversy among residents for months. A group called “Keep the Promise Coalition” doesn’t want to see the current zoning laws changed and fears the traffic the store might cause. Bencor, Inc., the contracting company hoping to build the store, has insisted the smaller version of a full-sized Walmart would serve the community and not cause as much traffic as a super-center.
On June 16, after four hours of testimony from lawyers and citizens on both sides nearly went into the next morning, the BZA decided on a 3-2 majority to postpone a decision until its July 9 meeting.
“We needed the time to digest all that,” said BZA President Stephen Sluss. “I don’t know if you saw how much we received, but it was about 500 pages of additional information. We’ll come back in on Thursday, discuss and deliberate among ourselves and then take the vote.”
Sluss said no new testimony will be heard on Thursday, and as the law requires, all proceedings will be discussed in a public forum.
“The Open Meetings Act requires that public business be done in the open. That’s what we’ve always done and that’s what we intend to do here,” Sluss explained. “We won’t be going behind closed doors for deliberation or for the vote.”
He didn’t expect that the motion, which is first on the agenda as it was on June 16, would take quite as long to deliberate as it did that night.
“We’ve already closed the taking of further evidence. So it will just be discussion among the members and then a vote on the individual items that are required by the ordinance for us to grant a special use permit,” he said.
There are eight criteria that Walmart and Bencor, Inc. must prove in order to have the zoning laws changed in their favor.
The June 16 hearing saw the old courtroom of the Putnam County Courthouse in Winfield almost filled to capacity in anticipation of a decision on the permit. As testimony dragged on later into the night, many residents filed out.
Thursday’s hearing will be at the same place and the same time, 7 p.m. The decision the BZA makes will be far from a final one. Whether the permit is allowed or not, the ruling would likely result in an appeals process.