WHEELING - At least four Wheeling City Council members say they cannot support rezoning 95 acres of wooded hillside along Bethany Pike for commercial use until property owners Kevin Coyne and Doug Grayson are willing to reveal specifics of a plan to develop it.
The city Planning Commission voted 6-1 to deny the zone change during its Monday meeting, a heated, nearly three-hour affair that saw more than 125 people crowd into council chambers at the City-County Building, seeking answers that Coyne, a Wheeling resident, and Pennsylvania resident Grayson weren't ready to provide.
The property owners' attorney, Jamie Bordas, said it's difficult to market the property to commercial developers without assurance a project would be allowed to proceed, but believes divulging too much in a public forum "puts the project at risk." Planning Commissioner Barry Crow said he couldn't recall ever approving a zone change with no information about the nature of a project.
Photo by Scott McCloskey
This hillside overlooking Bethany Pike has caused a stir in the Woodsdale area of Wheeling as its owners want the land rezoned for potential commercial use.
But the Planning Commission only has the authority to make recommendations to council, which ultimately will decide the matter.
Councilman David Miller, who represents Ward 4, where the property is located, said "a lot more information would have to come forward about a project of that size" before he could consider voting in favor of a zone change.
He said constituents he's spoken with are understandably concerned about the potential impact of commercial development on their surroundings, traffic and their own properties in a primarily residential area.
"None of that was discussed or answered" at Monday's Planning Commission meeting, he said.
Miller also added, however, that regardless of what council decides, the land's present R-1A single-family residential zoning designation wouldn't prevent the owners from creating a large-scale housing development on the land, provided they obey all laws in doing so.
Councilwoman Gloria Delbrugge also said she would not vote to overrule the Planning Commission's decision.
"To me, Mr. Coyne is asking us to give him a blank check, more or less. ... I'm not into that," she said of asking for a zone change without defining the scope of the project.
And even if additional information about proposed development comes to light, Delbrugge said she can't guarantee she will support it. She said the situation reminds her of when someone built on a hill overlooking Hildreth Avenue in Warwood, and residents at the foot of the hill have experienced problems as a result.
"Every time it rains, that hill slips a little more, and it's not good ... I have to think about the people who have to worry about the hillside coming down," Delbrugge said.
Atkinson, who is council's representative on the Planning Commission, was the only member to vote against denying the request outright - but he said his vote should not imply that he supports the rezoning, as he also believes the city cannot rezone such a significant amount of land without knowing what to expect there.
Atkinson said he voted against denying the request outright because he believed it deserved more study. Unless council takes action to approve the zone change, Coyne and Grayson will have to wait another six months before they can renew the request before the Planning Commission.
"I didn't believe in shutting him down without giving him the benefit of the doubt," said Atkinson, who had instead proposed sending the matter for further consideration by a zoning subcommittee of the Planning Commission, an idea his fellow commissioners didn't support.
Vice Mayor Eugene Fahey said he believes residents' voices have been heard and city officials need "a lot of education" about proposed use of the land and what impact it may have on those who live nearby.
Coyne and Grayson, he said, have "a right to do what (they want) with the property. What (they don't) have the right to do is damage other people's property." But he also pointed out Wheeling is surrounded by hills, and people would be "naive" to believe some of that scenery won't change at some point.
"We're out of buildable land. ... Sooner or later, people are going to build on these hillsides," Fahey said.
Mayor Andy McKenzie and Councilmen Ken Imer and Robert "Herk" Henry could not be reached for comment.
With Monday's denial of the zone change request, the only way it can be reintroduced in the next six months is if a member of City Council objects to accepting the Planning Commission's report and makes a motion to introduce the matter to council. If council accepts the report as presented, the issue is moot until the waiting period is up.
Had planning commissioners approved the zone change, it would have appeared on council's agenda in the form of an ordinance.