GC&P Development Hearing Sept. 14
WHEELING — Members of the Wheeling Planning Commission are hopeful a public hearing on a proposed comprehensive plan amendment for GC&P Development LLC will take place on the evening of Sept. 14 at WesBanco Arena.
For the greater part of this year, the Wheeling Planning Commission has been attempting to hold a public hearing to gather input from neighborhood residents on the proposed development. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions on public gatherings, plans for the public hearing have been either delayed or cancelled over the past few months.
The public hearing is expected to be well-attended, and commissioners have weighed many options on how to proceed with the process in light of challenges the pandemic presents.
“I know that the commission for the last several months has talked about wanting to have this in person, if at all possible,” Tom Connelly, Wheeling’s Assistant Director of Economic and Community Development, said.
During Monday night’s monthly virtual meeting of the Wheeling Planning Commission, Connelly presented the online panel with several different options that could allow them to finally move forward with a public hearing while still following pandemic-related safety guidelines set forth by state and local health officials.
Planning Commission members opted to schedule the public hearing at 6 p.m. on Sept. 14 at WesBanco Arena.
Connelly said he has spoken to WesBanco Arena Executive Director Dennis Magruder and Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department Administrator Howard Gamble about the possibility of holding the public hearing there. Although the current West Virginia guidelines restrict indoor public gatherings to 25 people or less, officials indicated that the purpose of the event and the large size of the venue would allow for such a hearing to take place.
“We are an essential service as a government organization, so we can have more than 25 people,” Connelly said. “The arena can accommodate us, and the staff is available there.”
GC&P Development plans to develop a 50-plus acre site on the hilltop above Woodsdale.
The plan calls for the creation of a mixed-use development with residential and commercial sites, as well as office space.
For several months, a special area plan and comprehensive plan amendment for the proposal by GC&P Development LLC have been on the top of the agenda at planning commission meetings. However, a public hearing must take place in order for commissioners to move forward with a recommendation to city council about the plan.
Before the proposal can proceed, GC&P Development will have to successfully navigate through a number of additional stages to obtain approvals — including site plan and zone change approvals after recommendations from the planning commission and final adoption by city council. Officials have noted that the plan remains in the preliminary stages.
Last month, a public hearing was set to move forward at the White Palace at Wheeling Park, but the entire meeting was cancelled after a city councilman tested positive for the coronavirus and W.Va. Gov. Jim Justice rolled the public gathering limit from 100 people back to 25 people.
Initially the commission looked at West Virginia Northern Community College as a possible site for the public hearing, but that was scrapped early during the pandemic.
Most recently, officials considered either holding the public hearing entirely in a virtual setting or having it outdoors. However, holding the meeting virtually online with many people wishing to speak would pose serious technical challenges, officials said.
Connelly noted that attorney Michael Hooper, representative for GC&P Development LLC, had suggested Oglebay’s Anne Kuchinka Amphitheater as a possible site for the hearing, and Connelly did suggest this venue as an option Monday. Although the Glessner Auditorium at Oglebay was available as a backup in case inclement weather prohibited the event from taking place outdoors on that date, Connelly indicated accessibility and technical issues also would have to be addressed for this option.
Planning Commission member Howard Monroe said he appreciated the suggestion of having the public hearing outdoors at Oglebay, but noted that the weather and other possible challenges would make that option too problematic.
“WesBanco Arena sounds like a reasonable alternative, but I will tell you that I’m still not sure that come Sept. 14 that I’ll be out and about for anything,” Monroe said, noting that people in high-risk health categories may still avoid any and all public gatherings if the pandemic continues to linger. “I’d really like to be there in person for something as important as this. But we need to keep a close eye on the COVID numbers as time goes by.”
Officials said they also planned to offer online and call-in participation for those who were not able to attend the hearing. Comments that are emailed in advance are also taken into consideration and entered into the record.