Split Council OKs Apartment Zoning

WHEELING – A bare majority of City Council voted Tuesday to rezone a large stretch of Washington Avenue for high-density residential use despite the strident objections of many residents who fear a negative impact on their neighborhood.

The measure passed 4-3, with Mayor Andy McKenzie, Vice Mayor Eugene Fahey and councilmen Robert “Herk” Henry and Don Atkinson voting in favor. Council members Gloria Delbrugge, David Miller and Ken Imer each cast “no” votes.

The rezoning affects about 20 properties on the west side of Washington Avenue from Interstate 70 north. Council’s decision clears the biggest hurdle standing in the way of a proposed three-story, 36-unit apartment building on Washington Avenue, billed as an opportunity for Wheeling Jesuit University to offer housing to its more than 400 graduate students.

The building would be owned by developer Jonathan Bedway, who would be under no obligation to rent exclusively to WJU students. That was one of many concerns residents who oppose the project had expressed over the last several months, in addition to parking, traffic and the potential for the neighborhood landscape to change if additional, similar structures are built.

Miller, whose ward includes the portion of Washington Avenue affected by the zone change, said his reason for voting against the measure was simple.

“The overwhelming sentiment from the residents was in opposition to the zone change,” Miller said.

However, now that the decision has been made, Miller said his next step will be to work closely with the city Planning Commission to ensure the apartment complex is built in the “most amenable” and “least intrusive” manner for neighborhood residents. Because of the proposed apartment complex’s size, it would have to come before the commission for site plan review.

Atkinson voted against the rezoning as a member of the Planning Commission, but last week said he was undecided. What changed his mind, he said following Tuesday’s meeting, was that he perceived much of the opposition to be based on personalities, rumors and “accusations.”

“Most of the arguments I received had nothing to do with the zoning issue,” Atkinson said.

Following the vote, Valley View Avenue resident Randy Berisford – who unsuccessfully ran for council last year – expressed his disappointment about the outcome to city officials.

He said if Wheeling Jesuit needs additional housing, it should have sought to build it downtown, along National Road or on the former Mount de Chantal Visitation Academy property, which is now owned by Wheeling Hospital. He claimed two people in the neighborhood already have sold their homes because they feared council would approve the rezoning, and he believes more will follow.

Berisford also took issue with Atkinson’s comments published in the Sunday News-Register saying he would anger half the people no matter what way he voted.

“The real truth is only two people would have been disappointed if you had voted against it,” he said.

Bedway and the Rev. James Fleming, WJU president, left the council meeting shortly after the vote was taken. Neither could be reached for comment following the meeting.

In addition to multi-family dwellings, an R-4 classification allows for as tall as three stories or 45 feet with up to 60 percent lot coverage. It does not require any rear or side-yard setback, and there must be a minimum of 1.5 parking spaces per dwelling unit – 48, in the case of the proposed Washington Avenue apartment complex.

Bedway and WJU originally sought a zone change for just the five parcels on which the apartment complex would be built, from single-family residential to EMO, or education, medical and office use. However, Planning Commission members didn’t like the idea of “spot zoning” in the middle of a residential neighborhood or approving a zoning classification that would allow for a building as tall as six stories, so they referred the matter to a zoning subcommittee which proposed the larger, R-4 district as an alternative.

The full Planning Commission was divided over the issue, ultimately voting 4-3 to recommend council approve the zone change.