Ground-Floor Zoning Altered

WHEELING – As city leaders prepare to chart a course for the future by updating Wheeling’s comprehensive plan for the first time in more than 15 years, City Council acted Wednesday to remove a restrictive zoning measure that at least one developer says may be keeping some downtown buildings vacant.

Council voted unanimously to remove language from the city’s zoning code prohibiting residential space on the first floor of most downtown buildings. Citing a continuing lack of commercial tenants seeking downtown space, developer Heather Slack of St. Clairsville several weeks ago asked council’s Development Committee to consider eliminating that restriction, enacted in 2002.

Buildings taller than three stories are cost-prohibitive, she said, because of the expense involved in elevators and sprinkler systems. But those with three stories or fewer aren’t good investments because the ground floor often sits empty for lack of a commercial tenant and generates no income, Slack said.

The area affected by the change includes 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.

Vice Mayor Eugene Fahey also asked for an update on the city Planning Commission’s efforts to revise Wheeling’s comprehensive plan. A 2004 state law requires West Virginia cities to maintain such plans and update them every 10 years.

Wheeling hasn’t adopted a new plan since 1997, but does not have to complete a new plan until 2014, or 10 years after the law was passed. Councilman Don Atkinson, who serves on the Planning Commission, said the group is seeking proposals from outside consultants to help develop the document and assembling a steering committee to guide the effort, which they hope will be complete by the end of this year.

During his report, Mayor Andy McKenzie reflected on what he termed a financially strong 2012 for the city and offered optimism for the new year regarding the progress of a couple major projects that moved forward over the past year.

“Hopefully we’ll come to some conclusion with the redevelopment of East Wheeling and the 1100 block” of Main and Market streets, said McKenzie.

In other business, council approved spending up to $2.37 million for design and engineering of a new water treatment facility in Warwood, scheduled to replace the current 1923-built plant sometime in 2015.

They also voted in favor of spending Community Development Block Grant funds to demolish buildings at 45 Pike St., 1222 McColloch St., 1222 Baltimore St., 340 Highland Ave. and 53 Jones St. Several of those buildings will require asbestos abatement.