Following two hours of presentations and the airing of local grievances, Fayette County commissioners on Friday unanimously approved a change in zoning classification of 744 acres for a planned housing development.

The area, to be known as Wild Rock West Virginia, surrounds the current headquarters of Class VI River Runners in Ames Heights, whose owners are partners in the proposed project with Optima Properties WV LLC.

Carl Frischkorn, a general partner in Optima, provided commissioners with a brief presentation on the concept, emphasizing the endeavor would not come to fruition overnight. He added that Friday marked the fourth time in two weeks he had presented the details of the proposed development to the community.

Responding to community concerns about traffic flow, Frischkorn noted a traffic impact study concluded that no more than 1,300 or 1,400 daily trips would be made by vehicles on Chestnutburg Road once all 160 homes were completed. The road, according to state Division of Highways officials, is designed for 2,000 such trips.

Frischkorn also claimed only five houses would be visible within the New River Gorge viewshed, and that would be only during “leafless” conditions, when the public is primarily not using the New River Gorge National River.

“Change is hard, and the status quo seems to be a pretty good thing,” park Superintendent Don Striker said.

“Change is coming, though. It’s incumbent upon us to plan for it. The viewshed is not as big an issue here (as it is with other housing developments near the gorge). This is upriver and over the ridge. We really are satisfied with what we’ve seen thus far.”

Fayetteville attorney James Blankenship, who spoke on behalf of the developers, insisted the process of development was a slow one that would come only in phases. “Optima is very cognizant of the responsibilities it will have. There’s still a long row to hoe (procedurally).”

Blankenship added developers had allocated 25 percent of the acreage to so-called “green space” and that recreational activities typically surrounded such a development.

A number of area residents remained unconvinced. Many of their worries revolved around preserving the community’s character and preventing traffic problems on narrow Chestnutburg Road.

Prior to Frischkorn’s presentation, Fayette County Zoning Enforcement Officer Tim Richardson tendered to commissioners a petition containing 200 signatures against the project.

The petition, from which Richardson read aloud, stated that “second-home owners are not our neighbors” and asked, “there are already several developments on the gorge. Do we really need another?”

On Monday, the Fayette County Planning and Zoning Commission voted overwhelmingly to endorse the project and forward it to the county commission for Friday’s public hearing.

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