City Approves Ground Floor Zoning Measure

Wheeling City Council’s Development Committee approved a proposal Tuesday that would allow people to live on the ground floor of buildings in the downtown area.

The committee – which includes Mayor Andy McKenzie, Councilwoman Gloria Delbrugge and Vice Mayor Eugene Fahey – voted unanimously to recommend the plan. Current zoning code restricts dwellings to the upper floors of most downtown structures.

The amendment would lift the restriction in the city’s D-1 and D-2 districts, which include everything between the Fort Henry Bridge and 16th Street from the east side of Main Street to the west side of Eoff Street, and also the west side of Main Street between the bridge and 11th Street. A third downtown district, which includes most of the land between Main Street and the Ohio River from the Suspension Bridge to 22nd Street, already permits street-level dwellings.

Assistant Director of Economic and Community Development Tom Connelly said the restriction, enacted in 2002 to preserve the integrity of downtown Wheeling as a commercial hub, may not make sense anymore as many buildings continue to sit vacant. And the potential increase in foot traffic that would come with more people living downtown may make it a more attractive place to do business, he noted.

With the recommendation from the Development Committee, the proposal now must go through two readings before the full City Council.

Before voting on the matter, committee members heard from Heather Slack of St. Clairsville, who is interested in developing rental property in downtown Wheeling and said lifting the current restriction would be beneficial to that effort.

Slack said she has found buildings higher than three floors to be cost-prohibitive for her because of the expense involved in implementing fire safety measures such as sprinkler systems and elevators. But for a building of three or fewer floors, she said, closing off at least one-third of the available space – particularly in a time when commercial tenants are difficult to find – makes investing in those structures less appealing.

“We all know the commercial spaces (available) are greater than the commercial leases right now,” Slack said.

Following the meeting, Slack declined to identify specific buildings she is interested in, but said she has looked at several downtown properties that could be rehabilitated and converted to living space.