Proposed Washington Avenue Medical Office Clears First Hurdles

Image Provided – This artist’s rendering shows the exterior of a proposed medical office facility off of West Washington Avenue in Wheeling. Last week, members of the Wheeling Planning Commission voted to recommend to City Council that the property be rezoned to allow development of the facility on this piece of land, situated in a residential neighborhood adjacent to Wheeling University.

WHEELING — Proposed plans for the development of a new dentists and doctors office complex on West Washington Avenue continue to move forward, overcoming a handful of hurdles so far.

During this month’s meeting of the Wheeling Planning Commission, a majority of commissioners voted to support a proposed zone change request for three lots along 200 and 1108 W. Washington Ave. A report on the recommendation is being forwarded to Wheeling City Council next week. Council is expected to hear first reading of the zone change request on Nov. 17 and to vote on the matter during its first meeting in December.

Meanwhile, city staffers noted that property owner Chris Duplaga is working on a proposed site plan for the development, which also must receive support by a recommendation from the Wheeling Planning Commission.

Duplaga intends to build a medical office building at the site — located near the intersection of West Washington Avenue and Washington Avenue. The new building is expected to be around 6,200 square feet in size and would house two or three medical practitioners such as doctors and dentists. Initial designs call for professional landscaping and a façade that blends in with the neighboring residential structures.

Designs call for a parking lot for 30-40 cars to be situated behind the building.

There has been some opposition to the proposed development. The Wheeling Planning Commission received public comment about the proposed zoning change from R-4 Residential (two of the three lots) and R-1A Single Family, Low Density (the remaining lot) to EMO (Educational Medical Office commercial district). Of those that submitted comments, two families in the neighborhood expressed opposition, while two others expressed support for the zone change.

In August, a special zoning committee meeting was held among city staff members, Wheeling Planning Commission representatives and the city’s legal department to discuss the complex history of the property’s past issues related to zoning, as the land formerly was owned by the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston and had been part of the former Wheeling Jesuit University until Duplaga purchased the 1.5-acre piece of land in January.

Under the city’s comprehensive plan, the three lots in question fall under two future land use categories — “Public and Institutional” and “Suburban Residential Core.” Tom Connelly, assistant director of Economic and Community Development for the city of Wheeling, indicated that in the past, this property had been viewed as a potential site for expansion of housing for students if the university would have grown to need it.

If the zone change is not approved, officials said the developer has indicated they could consider a change of plans to bring a new apartment complex to the property instead, and the existing zoning for the property would not prevent them from doing so.

Those speaking in opposition to the zone change have noted that this is a residential neighborhood situated in a high-traffic corridor that connects Interstate 70 with National Road in this part of town. There have been several traffic accidents nearby, including a pedestrian fatality along Washington Avenue earlier this year.

There has been a sprinkling of opposition among members of the Wheeling Planning Commission about the rezoning as well. Outgoing Wheeling Planning Commission Chairman Jeff Mauck said he was opposed to the measure, with concerns that this could set a precedent and open the floodgates to more zone change requests in this area. However as chairman, Mauck only casts a vote in the event that a tie would need to be broken.

Commissioner William Schwarz voted against the request, and Commissioner Howard Monroe has recused himself from discussions regarding this matter to avoid any semblance of a conflict of interest because of shared business ties with the property owner’s legal representative.

However, the planning commission by a vote of 6-1 — with Monroe abstaining — approved the zone change request.

“I do think that we’re going to open ourselves up to a lot of additional possibilities here,” Monroe said. “All I’m suggesting is that we all need to be thinking about what’s going to come next. I think that area is going to be under pressure to make some changes. Now that we’ve said ‘yes’ once, I’m not sure what happens next, but I would anticipate we’ll get more of these.

“I feel confident this will begin to change the whole character of that neighborhood.”

Mauck indicated that he agreed, noting that, “more than likely it will only be on that side, but it goes all the way up to the interstate.”


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