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Design Review Sought for North Wheeling Historic District

Photo by Eric Ayres Any proposed work on historic buildings along the stretch known as Victorian Old Town in the North Wheeling Historic District may soon be subject to design review and approval by the Wheeling Historic Landmarks Commission.

WHEELING — Wheeling City Council members are set to vote next week on a measure that will require a design review process for any proposed improvements to structures in the North Wheeling Historic District.

A new ordinance was introduced before council last week requiring “the adherence to the procedures for Certificates of Appropriateness” as outlined in the city code for things related to exterior facade and architectural feature modifications. The legislation is expected to receive a second reading and a vote before council on Aug. 3.

Tom Connelly, director of Building and Planning for the city, said this action comes as a result of a grassroots effort that began about two years ago with members of the Victorian Old Town Association. Since then, the matter has proceeded through a process that included a public hearing and comment period by the city’s Historic Landmarks Commission, which is recommending that city council adopt the ordinance.

The stretch of Main Street in North Wheeling is peppered with historic residential structures dating back to the early to mid-1800s. Most of the private Victorian Old Town homes along this corridor are beautifully maintained by their owners, but a handful of the buildings in the neighborhood are vacant and most people would contend that some of the buildings are in need of attention to revive the charm of their architectural appeal.

This neighborhood was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988, as filed by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s records with the National Park Service. Boundaries of the North Wheeling Historic District were expanded in 2007 to what they are today — including Main Street from 6th Street to the north to the Interstate 70 westbound on ramp, as well as a portion of the adjacent block along Market Street.

According to the historic district map, structures along both sides of Main Street are included in the district, along with structures on the west side of Market Street between Sixth Street and I-70.

In all, a dozen neighborhoods in Wheeling have officially been placed on the National Register of Historic Places for historic and architectural significance. The program is designed to help coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate and protect America’s historic and archeological resources.

However, Connelly explained that just because a district is designated as historic does not automatically trigger a design review process for proposed improvements or for other construction or even demolition work.

“There are currently only two historic districts in Wheeling that have design review requirements on the local level,” Connelly said. “Those include the Centre Market Square Historic District and the Chapline Street Row Historic District.”

Connelly said the effort to elevate a historic district like North Wheeling to require design review by the Historic Landmarks Commission is one that officials prefer to see come from the property owners themselves — as opposed to action being initiated by the city. He said it is preferred to have this action come from the “bottom up” instead of from the “top down,” as the majority of homeowners in the neighborhood push to support the measure in order to help protect the historic integrity and character of their properties and their neighborhood as a whole.

While owners of historic properties within design review-required districts must adhere to certain procedures when making changes or improvements to their structures, the historic designation can also help qualified properties receive preservation benefits and incentives in these and all other historic districts in the city. In Wheeling, qualifying structures within historic districts also qualify for matching funds from the city’s popular Facade Improvement Program.

Councilman Ty Thorngate, who serves as city council’s representative on the Historic Landmark Commission and is also a member of the Development Committee of Council, applauded the fact that the measure was being considered before city council.

“The goal of the design review guidelines is to protect the historical and architectural integrity of our North Wheeling Historic District,” Thorngate said. “If approved by city council, the adopted guidelines would provide residents with the appropriate measures that should be used when restoring or repairing the exterior of existing properties or constructing new property within the North Wheeling Historic District.”

In related action, members of Wheeling City Council unanimously approved the re-appointment of award-winning local architect Victor Greco to the Historic Landmarks Commission. Greco’s term recently expired, and Wheeling City Manager Robert Herron recommended his re-appointment.

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