CHARLES TOWN – Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge David Hammer has rejected efforts by Rockwool factory opponents to raise a new legal complaint in a lawsuit initiated nine months ago over whether Ranson officials provided proper public notice before granting the factory site industrial zoning in 2017.
Hammer ruled that the original legal issue that citizens against the factory complained about has been resolved. He wrote that the issue became legally “moot” after Ranson officials — following the judge’s suggestion to avoid lengthy and costly litigation in the technical matter — conducted new rezoning procedures.
Earlier, the judge found that the city should have publicized the factory site’s rezoning back in 2017 twice. City officials had published only one notice.
After holding a public hearing, Ranson’s council voted 5-1 in June to approve the industrial zoning a second time. The council’s action determined that the rezoning meets the objectives and standards of the city’s comprehensive plan.
In a document summarizing the city’s rezoning decision, Ranson officials pointed to this goal stated in the municipality’s comprehensive plan: “Encourage manufacturing and assembly-line facilities to locate in Ranson. The City will designate ample land that is well-suited for industrial facilities and will ensure that industrial facilities do not adversely affect the health, safety or welfare of the community.”
Rockwool’s 460,000-square-foot factory has been formally under construction on the outskirts of Ranson, near Kearneysville, since the mineral wool manufacturer held a groundbreaking ceremony in June 2018. The factory, which has encountered weather and pandemic delays, is slated to open next spring.
Hammer wrote in a 15-page court filing issued last Friday that the citizens group, Jefferson County Vision, should have raised their new complaint when they originally filed their lawsuit.
In July the citizens sought to challenge whether the rezoning adequately conformed to the city’s comprehensive plan.
Among other legal reasons, Hammer wrote that the citizens were “dilatory” in seeking to raise their challenge related to the comprehensive plan. He wrote that the Charles Town lawyer representing the citizens, Christopher Stroech, acknowledged in court in June 2019 that the lawsuit could have raised other potential complaints that were not pursued.
Significantly in part for that reason and others, Hammer wrote that the citizens were too late raising any new issues. Ruling otherwise would be judicially unfair to Ranson, which took voluntary action to resolve the case based on the procedural issue originally raised in the lawsuit, the judge wrote. He also dismissed the case to prevent any further litigation.
“Under West Virginia law, a party that has been dilatory cannot rely on the liberal standard for amendment and, instead, bears the burden of demonstrating some valid reason for its delay,” Hammer wrote.
“To accept Plaintiffs’ argument would be to accept piecemeal litigation in which plaintiffs would reserve substantive litigation pending the outcome of any substantive challenges — thereby prolonging cases and increasing expense,” he also wrote.