WHEELING - The city has lost 6,527 residents since 1990, but the development guidelines in Wheeling's current comprehensive plan are based on having that larger population.
Now, officials with the Wheeling Planning Commission and the city's Economic and Community Development Department are crafting an updated plan, one they hope will more closely meet Wheeling's needs.
"We want a plan that not only establishes goals, but establishes ways to achieve those goals," said Tom Connelly, assistant director of the development department, while speaking after the Monday commission meeting.
Photo by Casey Junkins
Wheeling planning commissioners John Clarke, left, and Barry Crow listen during the Monday commission meeting.
"We don't want to just say, 'Hey, here's a plan.' We want to be able to implement the plan."
West Virginia law requires cities to maintain comprehensive plans, while updating those plans every 10 years. However, Connelly said Wheeling has not adopted a new plan since 1997 because the city received permission to wait 10 years from the time the requirement was adopted in 2004 - meaning the new Wheeling plan must by finished by 2014. He hopes to complete the new strategy before the end of 2013.
The 1997 plan used 1990 Census data, showing the Friendly City as having 34,882 residents. However, the latest Census estimates show only 28,355 residents, a drop of 6,527. Connelly said the 1997 comprehensive plan is obsolete for other reasons, such as: all City Council members are now different; all city development department officials are now different; the mayor and city manager are now different; and the only planning commissioners remaining are Thomas McCulloch and city Public Works Director Russell Jebbia.
"When someone on (City) Council or at the planning commission refers to the plan, they should have more accurate, up to date information available to them," Connelly said.
The current plan's obsolescence also shows in that it describes the possibility of developing the J.B. Chambers I-470 baseball complex and the Hope VI housing project in North Wheeling. Both of these have been complete for several years. During the past several years, many plans - including the Downtown Conceptual Plan, the Wheeling 2020 Plan and the Gateway Center - have come and gone in Wheeling, some of which have been more successful than others.
Also, in the early 2000s, city officials wanted to spend millions of taxpayers' dollars to renovate and refurbish 112 downtown buildings for the Wheeling Outlets Project. Also known by some as the Victorian Outlet Mall, the project would have transformed the downtown into 550,000 square feet of retail space. But the outlet mall failed to come to fruition when the state Legislature decided not to provide $70 million for the project.
Connelly said the plan he is working on is completely different from all of these because it covers the entire city, rather than focusing only on one area.
"This is a city-wide plan, covering everything from Warwood to South Wheeling to Elm Grove. It deals with transportation, recreation, playgrounds ... a variety of areas. Most of those other plans dealt with a single, specific area," he said.
The new plan must include provisions for land use, housing, transportation, public services, recreation, economic development, urban renewal, financing and historic preservation, among other areas.
During the meeting, commission Chairman Howard Monroe asked fellow Commissioners Barry Crow, James Mauck and City Councilman Don Atkinson to work with him as a subcommittee to determine how to proceed with the new plan. Monroe said he would like to meet again before the next regularly scheduled commission meeting that is set for Dec. 10 to share thoughts.
Connelly said he did not know what the plan would cost the city, noting it depends on how much work the commission decides to do.
Monroe and Connelly said they will likely need to hire an outside consultant to help craft the plan, noting a cost for this is yet to be determined.
The commission's next meeting is slated for 6 p.m. Dec. 10 on the third floor of the City-County Building, 1500 Main St.