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Joint Session Sought To Discuss Wheeling Zoning Code

Photo by Eric Ayres - Wheeling City Councilmen Ty Thorngate and Vice Mayor Chad Thalman, from left, speak before members of the Wheeling Planning Commission Monday night at the City-County Building.

A joint session has been proposed to give members of both the Wheeling Planning Commission and Wheeling City Council a chance to sit down together and openly discuss proposed changes to the city’s zoning codes.

Agenda items related to the zoning code reviews came before the Wheeling Planning Commission Monday night during its first regular meeting of the new year. Three different proposals came under new business as referrals from city council, seeking a review of these specific zoning codes pertaining to different issues. Those requests were to eliminate parking minimum requirements, to allow non-conforming structures to be rebuilt and to allow dwelling units in accessory structures.

Each of these three proposals generated lively discussions during recent meetings of Wheeling City Council and the development committee of council. Members of city council have voiced differing opinions about the zone changes that are being sought, and some have expressed concerns about the proposals.

Vice Mayor Chad Thalman and Councilman Ty Thorngate attended Monday night’s planning commission meeting to familiarize the members with the effort behind the suggested zone changes.

Thalman said the changes being suggested are becoming a trend nationwide.

Thorngate said they would like input from the planning commission as to whether the city should eliminate parking minimums in areas such as commercial districts, noting that this restriction can oftentimes prevent development from moving forward on certain properties.

“Basically, we have that downtown, but I’m looking to expand that to commercial districts throughout the entire city,” Thorngate said, noting that residential neighborhoods would not be affected.

Thalman said the city code should reflect this flexibility instead of having each individual case go through the process of seeking a variance.

In another zoning change request regarding non-conforming structures, Thalman said a handful of cases have come forward in which an existing structure in the city cannot be rebuilt because of the city codes and updated comprehensive plan and zoning maps. Structures like Avenue Eats on Washington Avenue — a popular local restaurant destroyed in a fire in late 2020 — had been grandfathered into the code when it was operating, but could not be rebuilt as it was after the fire because of the city code.

Accessory structures — also known as granny flats or mother-in-law suites — were permitted in Wheeling up until 2001, according to Thalman. These units are scattered all over the city, however, they are no longer permitted because of the updated regulations in the city.

“Some of the benefits are simply giving homeowners flexibility of what they can do with their property,” Thalman said.

Officials have noted that Airbnb units could be created and rented out, and expanded uses could trigger additional tax revenue, additional revenues for property owners and future incentives to invest in their properties.

Opponents to the accessory structure proposal have expressed concerns over introducing the need for additional on-street parking in neighborhoods that are already tight with parking availability.

“When I announced that I was going to run for city council, it was under that idea that not only would I do my best to make sure Wheeling is successful now, but to leave no stone unturned to make sure Wheeling will be successful in the future,” Thorngate said. “Obviously, trends change. These are ideas, we’re vetting them, and we’d love to work with you to come up with a solution that’s going to work for everyone.”

City leaders agreed that joint work sessions should be held to further discuss these proposals, air all concerns and seek compromises on some of the issues. A tentative work session between the full city council and planning commission is being planned for 5 p.m. Feb. 7 at a location to be announced. Because the meeting is inviting the full bodies of both entities, Sunshine laws would require prior notice of the meeting, which will be made public.

Officials suggested breaking the work sessions into separate topics, with the first session on Feb. 7 focusing on the parking requirements and non-conforming structures, and a separate work session to focus on accessory structures.

A single public hearing in the future could encompass all three topics.

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