Fayette County Commissioner Matt Wender asked for the resignation of the chairman of the county’s planning commission Monday.

Reading a prepared statement at a regular commission meeting, Wender took the chairman, Leon Cooper, to task for his actions centered on the River Ridge housing development in the western end of the county. A recent Sunday Gazette-Mail article highlighted Cooper’s involvement, as a then-employee of United Bank, in helping individuals secure loans to purchase lots for the proposed development overlooking the Kanawha River.

“Recently, it has been brought to our attention that activities by Leon Cooper, currently chairman of the planning commission, are inconsistent with the level of trust and professionalism that the county commission expects from an appointed board member,” Wender said. “Leon Cooper has a thorough knowledge of the necessary steps and requirements to properly record the lots within a proposed subdivision. Having his level of expertise on the UDC (unified development code) and his insider knowledge of the status of the River Ridge project, including the many problems the project was encountering trying to meet the subdivision requirements, gave him every opportunity to know that the lot owners could not obtain a building permit.”

Wender asked the commission, which appoints members of the planning commission, to ask Cooper for “his immediate resignation and, if that resignation is not forthcoming, the prosecuting attorney will explore other alternative courses of action.”

Wender said his statement arose from his individual perspective as a commissioner and was not the feeling of the commission as a whole. No action was taken by fellow commissioners on his request, so the motion died for lack of a second.

“There was minimal discussion, and the motion died,” he said. “But I felt it was the right thing to do” because he felt Cooper displayed a “reckless disregard for the integrity of the process.”

In the May 27 article in the Charleston newspaper, Cooper said he has done nothing wrong. “We were 100 percent done with the zoning before I ever made any loans,” he said. He also said the planning commission has no “legal authority” but simply makes recommendations to the county commission.

Cooper, who stressed that he didn’t personally vote on any of the developments, could not be reached for further comment Monday.

In his statement, Wender said the commission was updated last fall on River Ridge, first proposed by Atlanta developer John Hosch in October 2004. “The status of the River Ridge project, along with its many problems, initially came to the county commission’s attention on Oct. 23, 2006. In two separate meetings, it was confirmed that $3 million in mortgage loans from United Bank have been made to purchasers of 55 lots in the River Ridge project. We also know that the recording of the lots was done out of order and circumvented the approval process required under the Unified Development Code.”

Many originally embraced River Ridge due to it offering a possible economic windfall for the Upper Kanawha Valley area, as well as the notion that the communities of Boonesborough and Kanawha Falls could piggyback onto the water system planned for the upscale houses to secure a long-desired public water source for themselves.

Representing River Ridge Monday, John Campbell discussed with commissioners methods to fund portions of the project.

Wender said commissioners asked Prosecuting Attorney Carl Harris to pen a set of procedures to follow in situations where the commission could seek recall of a planning commission appointment.

— E-mail:

skeenan@fayettetribune.com

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