Council Members on Fence Over Proposed Apartments

WHEELING – After hearing pleas from both sides once again Tuesday, a majority of Wheeling City Council members have yet to take a stance in the ongoing Washington Avenue zoning controversy.

They’ll have another two weeks to make up their minds, as they heard first reading Tuesday of an ordinance that would rezone a large portion of that street from R-1 single-family residential to R-4 high-density residential.

The change would affect about 20 properties, including five that developer Jonathan Bedway plans to clear to make way for a three-story, 36-unit apartment complex to house Wheeling Jesuit University graduate students.

After residents presented a petition to City Council on Sept. 3 bearing the signatures of more than 120 people opposed to the project, and hearing several residents speak out against it again Tuesday, WJU President the Rev. James Fleming expressed a bit of frustration as he defended the plan to council members.

“If there were any other options, we wouldn’t be here. … I don’t like having to defend the university, and myself,” Fleming said.

Fleming pointed the finger at absentee landlords in the area that he believes pose more of a threat to surrounding property values than a proposed apartment complex.

“Our graduate students are not a problem,” Fleming said. “We’ve been trying to be good neighbors.”

But it’s not necessarily the graduate students that worry neighborhood residents. The building would be owned by Bedway’s company, Double J Realty – not WJU, though the university would have first option to rent the units – and neighbors such as Tina Birkett wonder who will end up living there if the school can’t fill all the apartments.

“I’m not against Wheeling Jesuit,” Birkett said. “What I am against is a large apartment complex on our street which will definitely compromise the integrity of our residential neighborhood.”

“The one overriding concern of all the residents is that we need to preserve the character (of the neighborhood) and the safety of all the residents. … Clearly it’s in the interest of Wheeling in general, and the neighbors of the university, that they thrive,” said fellow Washington Avenue resident Amy Carlson Miesel.

Following Tuesday’s meeting, Mayor Andy McKenzie, Vice Mayor Eugene Fahey and Councilman Ken Imer all said they have yet to make up their minds on how they will vote.

Although he remains undecided, Fahey said he sees a need for the apartment complex. He said “change is difficult in any neighborhood,” and believes it would be wrong to scuttle potential development based solely on fear of the unknown.

“That’s not how you make decisions, by the fear factor. … It’s up to individual landlords, not City Council, to decide who lives where,” he said.

Councilman Robert “Herk” Henry previously said he was undecided as well, while Councilwoman Gloria Delbrugge and councilmen David Miller and Don Atkinson said they could not support the zone change, based on the level of opposition expressed by the neighborhood.

In other business, council voted to award an $81,000 contract to Compass Point of Blue Ash, Ohio, to update Wheeling’s comprehensive plan, and approved an agreement with Tyler Technologies of Lubbock, Texas, to set up online water, sewer and garbage bill payment for the city. They also voted to transfer property at 14 17th St. to the city’s development arm, the Ohio Valley Area Development Corp.