City Getting In On The Ground Floor

Wheeling officials hope a new strategy will encourage downtown development by allowing more people to get in on the ground floor, so to speak.

A proposed change to the city’s zoning code would open the street-level floors of downtown buildings to residential use. A multi-family dwelling is listed among acceptable uses for downtown buildings in the current code, but only on upper floors in most cases.

Council’s Development Committee will meet to discuss this proposal and make a recommendation to council at 11:30 a.m. today in City Manager Robert Herron’s third-floor conference room at the City-County Building, 1500 Chapline St. The full council will meet at noon in the same location.

The areas that would be subject to the proposed change are 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.

Assistant Director of Economic and Community Development Tom Connelly said council enacted the restriction limiting residences to the upper floors of downtown buildings in 2002, presumably to protect the integrity of the area as the city’s commercial hub. But the recent trend has been an exodus of businesses from the downtown area, some moving to outlying developments such as The Highlands and others closing entirely.

“After 10 years of that being in the code, we still have a number of buildings downtown that are vacant,” said Connelly.

More people living downtown means increased foot traffic, which in turn means a more attractive place to do business, Connelly noted.

“Then you may see some more interest in opening a small shop downtown,” he said.

Connelly added commercial property generally commands higher rent than owners can get from residential tenants, so he believes most landlords ultimately would prefer to rent space to businesses. But opening up the opportunity to “bridge the gap” by generating income from the entire building rather than just a portion of it could make downtown property a more attractive investment, he said.

The full council has only one item up for a vote today – the proposed purchase of about 500 wireless water meters for the Clearview area, extending a pilot program aimed at improving accuracy in tracking water usage. Council earlier this year approved buying about 200 of the devices, which can be read remotely from the street, for the neighborhood surrounding Wheeling Park High School. The new batch of wireless meters would cost $55,885.