WHEELING - Some Wheeling property owners who may want to open up their land for temporary housing to accommodate the local natural gas drilling boom now will be able to do so, after City Council unanimously passed new rules regarding trailer camps within city limits.
Prior to Tuesday's vote, Wheeling code did not permit any such new camps in the city, and the only existing one is on Bow Street. In amending an ordinance that hadn't been updated since 1955, council raised the annual license fee for temporary trailer camps from $2 per rental unit to $750, and the fee to transfer a license from $10 to $100.
Members also established several restrictions on such facilities aimed at alleviating concerns over safety and appearance, such as those that prompted Triadelphia Town Council to ban trailer camps earlier this year.
Photo by Ian Hicks
New Wheeling councilman Ken Imer is sworn into office during a ceremony prior to City Council’s meeting Tuesday at West Virginia Independence Hall.
City Manager Robert Herron said new camps must be located on property zoned I-2 Industrial, be situated on a plot of land at least 1 acre in size divided into units no smaller than 1,200 square feet, comply with floodplain regulations and demonstrate adequate access to water and electricity and sewage and garbage disposal.
"Part of that permit process is they have to submit a restoration plan," Herron added.
When the issue first came before the city's Finance Committee in May, Assistant Director of Economic and Community Development Tom Connelly said he'd received several inquiries from interested property owners, including two in the areas of Rock Point Road and Peninsula Street.
Council also voted to leave tabled an ordinance to install stop signs on Valley View Avenue at its intersection with Biltmore Avenue and Betty Street, thus creating a four-way stop. Council tabled the ordinance at its last meeting in order to allow the new council - officially sworn into office during a ceremony prior to Tuesday's meeting - to decide the issue, with new members Ken Imer and David Miller joining veterans Gloria Delbrugge, Robert "Herk" Henry, Don Atkinson and Eugene Fahey.
Miller, whose ward includes the affected neighborhood, said he's received one letter in favor of the stop signs, two phone calls against and two "calls of concern." He asked council for more time to consider the issue.
After sorting through some confusion over whether the motion was to table the matter or remove it from the table, council ultimately voted to delay voting on the ordinance. Mayor Andy McKenzie said the issue will be brought up again.
"I think the best thing would be for us to go there collectively, as a group," said McKenzie, noting that seeing the problem firsthand would give officials better information to make what has turned into a controversial decision - with many residents near that intersection in favor of the stop sign because they're concerned over motorists speeding, but others elsewhere on the street believe the signs would eliminate too much parking and increase congestion.
In other business, council voted to send an ordinance calling for a no parking zone on Gaewood Avenue back to the Traffic Commission; spend a total of $306,842 with seven different companies for various chemicals for the Water Treatment Plant; and provide the Wheeling Area Chamber of Commerce $17,500 in support of the 2012 City of Lights Festival.
Delbrugge also said something needs to be done about the debris in front of Construction Building Specialties' building on W.Va. 2 in Warwood that has been there since Friday night's severe thunderstorms. She said efforts to locate the building owner have thus far been unsuccessful.
"It looks horrible," she said. "Centre Foundry already has cleaned up the mess that they had."
Council also heard from residents Robert Hitchman, Randy Berisford and Bill O'Leary. Hitchman, who co-owns a parking lot at 12th and Water streets with his wife, said he wants to lease his lot to vendors who want to provide food service during entertainment and other special events at Heritage Port - but when he's tried to do so in the past, he said he's been "threatened" by event organizers, though he didn't identify anyone by name.
Berisford reiterated his opposition to the Valley View Avenue stop sign ordinance, and O'Leary said he opposes a proposal that would move council meetings from their current 7 p.m. Tuesday time slot to Mondays, alternating between noon and 5:30 p.m. Although the Rules Committee has yet to meet to discuss any such change, McKenzie announced the plan during council's last meeting two weeks ago.
Wheeling's City Charter states "Council shall hold a regular meeting on the first and third Tuesday of each month," but does not stipulate a time.
That means council could move the meeting time through normal legislation, but would have to amend the charter in order to change the meeting day from Tuesdays to Mondays.
O'Leary also said he'd like to see council be more responsive to residents who voice concerns during meetings, and he doesn't think there should be a three-minute speaking limit.
"If our neighborhood watch told people they only had three minutes to speak and no one would answer their questions, there would be no neighborhood watch," O'Leary said.
Council did not publicly address any of them following their comments, though McKenzie did thank all three for speaking.