Downtown Vision, Water Top Agenda

Wheeling City Council will ring in the new year by deciding whether to lift a restrictive downtown zoning rule in hopes of filling vacant buildings – and whether to spend $2.4 million for engineering work on a new water treatment plant.

Those two items are among those up for a vote during council’s first meeting of 2013 at noon Wednesday in City Manager Robert Herron’s conference room on the third floor of the City-County Building, 1500 Chapline St.

Renovation work in council’s new chambers on the first floor of the building continues, and is expected to be complete sometime in January.

The proposed zoning change would strike language from City Code that prohibits residential use on the ground floor of most downtown buildings. It would affect 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, D-3 Riverfront – which includes most land between Main Street and the Ohio River from the Suspension Bridge to 22nd Street – already allows street-level residences.

Council’s Development Committee voted to recommend that change after hearing from Heather Slack, an interested St. Clairsville developer who said it is tougher these days to find commercial renters than residential tenants.

Forcing building owners to forego a large chunk of potential rent income while looking for a business to rent to, she said, makes people think twice before investing in downtown property.

Approval of CT Consultants Inc., an Ohio firm with an office in Wheeling, to perform engineering and design work for the planned $36 million to $37 million water treatment plant in Warwood would represent the first major step toward construction, which officials hope will begin this coming summer.

If that timeline remains intact, residents also will see their water bills increase by 53.1 percent this summer.

In lowering the city’s rate increase from the 70 percent council passed last year following a protest from some of Wheeling’s water resale customers, the Public Service Commission of West Virginia ruled the rate increase could go into effect as soon as construction begins.

Wheeling’s water treatment facility is 89 years old and is past its useful life, according to Herron.

Council will also vote on the following items Tuesday:

– Rezoning property at 891 Ivy Ave. in the Woodsdale area from R-1A Single-Family to R-2 Two-Family to allow owner Dennis Bashaw to convert his house into an owner-occupied duplex;

– Spending $36,090 in federal Community Development Block Grant funds with Dump Truck Inc. of Wheeling to demolish buildings at 45 Pike St., 1222 McColloch St., 1222 Baltimore St., 340 Highland Ave. and 53 Jones St.; and

– Spending $9,185 with Edgco Inc. of Lansing for asbestos abatement at each of the above listed structures except 1222 Baltimore St.