Commission OKs WJU Apartments

WHEELING – Following months of debate, developers are one step closer to gaining permission to build a 36-unit apartment complex for Wheeling Jesuit University graduate students near the campus along Washington Avenue.

The Wheeling Planning Commission on Monday voted 5-1 to approve the site plan presented by Double J Realty representative Jonathan Bedway. Pending the approval the commission’s minutes by City Council at a yet to be determined date, this should allow the housing complex to be open in time for the 2014-15 academic year.

“One of my concerns has been that we retain the residential feel of this neighborhood,” Commission Chairman Howard Monroe told Bedway in reviewing the plan. “I feel you have done this.”

Voting for the plan Monday were Commissioners Barry Crow, Michael Leo, James Mauck Jr., Wheeling Councilman Don Atkinson and Wheeling Public Works Director Russell Jebbia. Commissioner Thomas McCulloch voted against the project. Commissioner John Clarke was absent, while Monroe only votes in the event of a tie.

“My concern is this being the start of other ventures in this area,” McCulloch said.

Prior to the Monday site plan approval, commissioners had to recommend rezoning Washington Avenue, from Interstate 70 to Alice Avenue, from R-1 single-family residential to R-4 high-density residential. This also required approval from City Council.

In previous meetings, multiple Washington Avenue residents complained that they did not believe WJU should be allowed to expand its housing, alleging the university did not properly maintain some of its facilities. But no one showed up to voice any objection Monday.

Tom Connelly, assistant director of the Wheeling Economic and Community Development Department, said developers could now build similar projects in the area, pending commissioners’ site plan approval.

Though some expressed concerns about stormwater runoff and drainage from the construction site, Jebbia said the city’s infrastructure should be able to handle this.

Earlier this year, WJU officials relocated about 100 physical therapy doctoral students to the Stone Center in downtown Wheeling. At the time, The Rev. James Fleming, WJU president, said the university must build more housing.

“Every bed we have is filled. We have no official residence for graduate students,” he said.

Initially, Double J Realty will own the new building, with WJU responsible for maintenance and security. But Bedway said the plan calls for WJU to eventually assume ownership.

The 33,900 square-foot structure will have 12 apartments on each of its three floors. Eighteen of the units will each feature a single bedroom, while the other 18 will have two bedrooms.

“I think this is going to be a tremendous addition to Washington Avenue – a tremendous addition to Wheeling Jesuit,” said Crow. “It does not look like a dormitory. It is upscale.”

The commission will next meet at 5 p.m. Jan. 13 in City Council Chambers on the first floor of the City County Building, 1500 Chapline St.