Action delayed on move to block duplexes
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Members of the Charleston Planning Commission delayed action on a request that would block construction of duplexes near Woodbridge Drive.
The meeting, held Wednesday at the City Service Center in downtown Charleston, was attended by so many people that several were forced to stand in the halls outside the room.
City Councilwoman Shannon Snodgrass, a Democrat who represents the area east of Greenbrier Street, told commissioners the construction of multi-family homes would damage the neighborhood's character.
The proposed development would be built on 94 acres near a subdivision on Woodbridge Drive.
She asked that the land be rezoned from a high-density, multi-family district to a single-family district.
"We're asking you to rezone to keep with the current character of the neighborhood," she said prior to a unanimous decision by commissioners to table the matter.
Commissioners took that action to give city planners time to look into the legalities of rezoning the parcel.
Planning Department staff also would like to look at the city's comprehensive plan before offering an opinion on whether the parcel should be rezoned, Planning Director Dan Vriendt said.
The city's comprehensive plan, which is currently being drafted, outlines which areas should be zoned for what purposes, he said.
The parcel, which is adjacent to Woodbridge Drive subdivision, is known as the Cannady tract. Allen Thompson's heirs own the property and have proposed selling it to local developer Allen Bell.
However, Bell has yet to purchase the property.
The fact that the property owner is not the party asking for the rezoning is another issue Planning Department staff would like to explore, Vriendt said.
"This commission has never had a rezoning issue come before us where the applicant wasn't the landowner," he said.
Gerry Workman, Planning Commission chairman, said, "I haven't seen a request like this in 15 years."
Snodgrass and several others cited concerns about the effect the construction would have on infrastructure.
Streets in the subdivision would not be able to handle the additional traffic caused by construction of duplexes on 112 lots on the property, Snodgrass said. This means 224 units could be constructed in that space, she said.
She also expressed concerns about the effect the additional residents would have on neighborhood schools. Horace Mann Middle School is already at capacity, and Ruffner Elementary School has room for 39 more students, Snodgrass said.
"And there's no room to expand at Horace Mann," she said.
Ray Lovejoy, an attorney representing the property owners, said the issue comes down to property rights.
"It goes against the grain to come in and tell people what they can do with their own property," Lovejoy said. "This goes back to the right to sell our property."
Overcrowding in schools is an issue around the state, and school boards need to address the problem regardless of any new construction in the vicinity, he said.
He said the project would be an economic boon for the city and officials should welcome it.
The new construction could yield $450,000 in tax revenue for the county annually, Bell said during a previous interview.
Bell also addressed some Woodbridge residents' concerns that he could end up leasing the homes.
He said he would rent the homes if he couldn't sell them but all renters would have to pass background checks.
"I would rather sell them," Bell said.
"I care about what happens to my properties," he said. "All of the properties I rent now are well maintained."
Bell hopes residents concerned about the project take a look at his record, which includes The Ridges, an upscale housing development along Corridor G.
"I've done nothing but improve the areas where I build," he said.
Bell would also upgrade Cannady Drive, a gravel road leading into the 94 acres, to allow residents of the proposed project to access the area. This would keep them from having to use Woodbridge Drive, he said.
Many residents of the Woodbridge Drive area are not convinced.
Chuck Runyon, 58, has lived in the area for about five years. An employee with the state Department of Transportation, Runyon said he had engineer friends look at Cannady Drive to see if it could be upgraded.
The upgrade could cost about $1 million and require removing some of the hillside, and that could cause landslides, he said.
If that happened, residents of the new development would be forced to use Woodbridge Drive, he said.
Runyon said he was not opposed to someone building single-family homes on the property.
Bell has stated that is not feasible.
Alice Taylor, 60, has lived in the Woodbridge Drive area for about 16 years. She also opposes the construction. She and her husband moved there because they loved the character of the neighborhood and its fine homes.
"We searched for four years before we bought a house in Woodbridge," she said.
Taylor pointed out that although the entire piece of property is about 94 acres, Bell plans to build on about 25 acres. The duplexes would be close together and not appealing, she said.
There are currently about 10 duplexes at the beginning of Woodbridge Drive, Snodgrass said. However, they are not officially in the subdivision, which starts around Falls Mills Road, she said.
"And we don't mind 10 duplexes," Snodgrass said. "We mind 112 duplexes."
Residents also expressed their concern that Bell would begin construction on the property before the rezoning issue was addressed.
Vriendt said that was very unlikely, as Bell must go through a lengthy permitting process before he can begin construction.