Zoning Showdown Looms

WHEELING – Washington Avenue residents believe the future of their neighborhood will be at stake Tuesday when City Council chooses between clashing visions for development.

On one side of the debate is Jonathan Bedway, who is seeking to build a three-story, 36-unit apartment complex on Washington Avenue, and nearby Wheeling Jesuit University, which says it needs housing for some of its more than 400 graduate students.

On the other side are neighbors who worry about increased traffic, parking problems and just who will move into the apartments if WJU can’t fill all the available units. Some residents also worry that the complex Bedway plans to build will be just the beginning.

During its meeting at noon Tuesday at the City-County Building, City Council members will vote on whether to rezone a large portion of Washington Avenue’s west side from R-1 single-family residential to R-4 high density residential. The measure would affect about 20 properties, from 200-406 Washington Ave.

Councilman David Miller – whose ward includes the area that would be affected by the zone change – and Councilwoman Gloria Delbrugge both have said they plan to vote against the measure. Everyone else, however, claims to be undecided.

Councilman Don Atkinson voted against the zone change as a member of the Wheeling Planning Commission, and counted himself a solid “no” vote on the rezoning just a couple weeks ago. Now, however, he says he’s unsure how he will vote.

“For me, it’s up in the air. … It’s a good project,” Atkinson said. “You can’t predict the future. … We can’t keep stopping everything.”

Despite vehement opposition from neighborhood residents, including a petition bearing about 120 signatures, Atkinson said he’s spoken with a number of people who support the project. He said it’s been “the same two or three people” speaking out against the zone change at recent council meetings.

“I think there’s some hatred toward the college, and there are some people who don’t like Mr. Bedway, and there’s some people that don’t like” council, Atkinson said. “You have to take the personalities out of it. …

“You have to look at it as a zoning issue, and nothing else. … Whatever way I vote, I’m going to make half of them mad. I just have to decide which half I want to make mad,” he said.

Ed Hinebaugh lives in the Steenrod Mansion, not far away from Washington Avenue, and is firmly against the rezoning. He owns a number of rental properties in the neighborhood, but said his opposition has nothing to do with potential competition.

Once the property is rezoned, he predicts many of the property owners in the affected area will eventually sell their homes, and the area will then be cleared to make way for additional multi-story apartment buildings.

“You’re not going to see just that one go up. You’re going to see a bunch of them go up. … Not one person, unless they stand to make money on this, wants this on Washington Avenue,” Hinebaugh claimed.

As a landlord in the neighborhood, Hinebaugh also is skeptical about the level of demand for apartments from WJU students.

“I rarely get a call from a Wheeling Jesuit person … maybe once a year I’ll get that call. Is there really a need for this?” he said. “They don’t need it, and we don’t want it. Aren’t they supposed to be listening to us?”

Tina Birkett lives at the southern end of the proposed rezoning area at 406 Washington Ave., right across the street from the Interstate 70 eastbound exit ramp. She said she often can’t back out of her driveway as it is, and believes the situation will become unbearable if a 36-unit apartment complex is built just up the street.

“We want to maintain the integrity of the neighborhood. The traffic is deplorable now,” Birkett said.

University officials have cited a need for living space within walking distance of the main campus and said if the zone change fails to pass, they have no other options. But Birkett disagrees.

“I know they are developing the Stone Center, and there is plenty of property available downtown. … What better place? I would like to have a river view, be close to the bike path and WesBanco Arena,” she said.

Birkett, who has spoke against the project at several City Council meetings, said she has attempted to contact council members directly but hasn’t been able to reach some of them.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen. I just hope (council goes) the way the people in the neighborhood want it to go,” Birkett said. “I guess we’ll see.”

Even if council approves the zone change, there would still be another step of regulatory review for the development. Because of its size, the proposed apartment complex would still be subject to a site plan review by the Planning Commission.

That body was sharply divided over the zone change, voting 4-3 to recommend City Council approve it.

Commission members Thomas Mauck Jr., Russell Jebbia, Michael Leo and Barry Crow voted in favor during the Aug. 12 meeting, with Thomas McCullough, John Clarke and Atkinson against. With commission Chairman Howard Monroe absent, Mauck’s vote as acting chair was needed to break an initial 3-3 tie.