WHEELING – Members of the Wheeling City Council Development Committee held a marathon meeting Thursday night to discuss a myriad of proposals to spur economic development and make community improvements to the city.
At almost every turn, however, a double-edged sword was drawn showing how planning and zoning protections could be lost if the city acted on some of the proposals.
Members of the Development Committee – Mayor Glenn Elliott, Chairman; Vice-Mayor Chad Thalman, vice-president; and City Councilor Ty Thorngate – appeared to be primarily in favor of moving the proposals forward for consideration by City Council. Meanwhile, building and planning director Tom Connelly, city manager Robert Herron and city councilors Jerry Sklavounakis and Dave Palmer have expressed concerns about a number of plans and urged committee members to curb some of the ideas. Board members Ben Seidler and Rosemary Ketchum were not present at the committee meeting.
Among the discussions were proposed changes to the zoning code that would change the city’s regulations on accessory structures, allow the reconstruction of non-compliant structures in the city, and eliminate parking minimums for commercial properties. While committee members defended the proposals in the name of progress, economic development.
One of the topics discussed in detail on Thursday evening was a proposal to amend the city’s Ancillary Structure Regulation to allow the use of structures such as apartment garages in the city, including in low-density residential areas. .
“For me, it’s just about cutting red tape and giving people more freedom to improve their property, invest in the city and allow our neighborhoods to evolve instead of trying to freeze them in time. “Thalman said, noting that the code change banned these uses went into effect about 20 years ago.
âFrom what I understand from the pre-2001 rules dating back to 1968, accessory structures were generally allowed anywhere,â Elliott added, indicating that local realtors and brokers have expressed concerns about the regulations. urban planning and zoning which have become somewhat prohibitive in certain neighborhoods. . “What might have made sense in 2001 basically locked it in place – it’s the best and only way this neighborhood should ever exist.”
The mayor noted that the city’s population was more dynamic in the decades prior to the implementation of accessory structures regulations. Elliott said that in the context of a potential real estate sale, many potential buyers of properties may simply be told ‘this is not allowed here’, and the matter is never considered by the Appeals Board of zoning of the city, because – in many cases – the sale does not take place due to regulations.
âI don’t agree with the idea that our quarters should be locked down for decades at a time,â Thalman said.
Other city leaders indicated that the intentions of the proposal were good, but that the potential consequences of opening ancillary structures to R-1 neighborhoods could be detrimental to homeowners who have invested in their properties and rely on the protections of zoning to help maintain the character of their neighborhoods. .
Sklavounakis said the 2001 regulatory change must have been put in place for a reason. He also pointed out that parking is already a concern in residential areas such as Woodsdale and others, noting that if a handful of garage apartments suddenly became available, there would be even more motorists fighting for limited parking spaces on the street.
âI get frustrated when I hear things like ‘obstacles’ and ‘bureaucracy’,â Connelly said. âWe are trying to develop a city in a predictable way. Coming to a meeting once a month, for me, is not an obstacle or a roadblock. It just takes a little planning or forethought on the part of that particular candidate.
Connelly said planning officials want to see and help facilitate investment in the city, noting that processes are in place that allow landowners to seek exemptions, voice individual cases and weigh comments. from the public on proposals to waive planning and zoning rules. And waivers are granted all the time and are rarely denied, he noted.
On another topic of planning and zoning, the mayor said someone shouldn’t have to ask for a waiver to rebuild a property exactly as it was. For example, the deputy mayor noted that under the city code, the popular restaurant Avenue Eats – which was destroyed by fire – could not be rebuilt exactly as it was due to various requirements such as the availability of parking.
Officials noted, however, that the restaurant was able to operate because the owners had successfully secured an exemption.
âZoning comes down to health, safety and well-being,â Connelly said. âHe tries to space the buildings so that fires don’t jump out so easily, it avoids overcrowding. The idea behind zoning is not to be a burden on homeowners, it was developed for safety reasons.
Ultimately, the committee proposed to draft a resolution strongly recommending that city council consider concrete steps to reduce regulation and facilitate the process for both ancillary structure and reconstruction of non-conforming structures while addressing the issues. unintended consequences raised during the long meeting.
Following discussion and debate, the committee presented a recommendation to City Council to eliminate parking minimums for commercial properties.