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Official says building usage plan helps area

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - An ordinance that would allow a city board to approve uses for nonresidential buildings in residential areas would help spur development while protecting neighborhoods, a Charleston councilwoman said.

Currently, such structures can be used only for a school, daycare facility or community center, City Planning Director Dan Vriendt said.

A plot must be rezoned if a developer wants to use the structure for anything else, he said.

Rezoning is time consuming, Councilwoman Mary Jean Davis said. The at-large Democrat also pointed out that once a parcel is rezoned, it could be used for anything permitted in that zone.

For example, perhaps an area is rezoned for a retail use because an individual wants to open a specific type of shop in a non-residential building. That parcel could be used for any retail purpose if the shop were to close, Davis said.

She has introduced a bill that would allow the Charleston Board of Zoning Appeals to issue conditional use permits for non-residential structures that developers wanted to turn into art galleries, assisted living facilities, bed and breakfasts, medical or dental clinics or museums.

The board also could allow multifamily dwellings, nursing homes, professional service establishments and professional offices to open in non-residential buildings in residential areas, according to the ordinance.

It states that the structure proposed for reuse must have "historic, architectural or economic value to the city."

The Board of Zoning Appeals would have to approve any future change of the property's use, Davis said. Changes would have to be discussed during public meetings. 

"This is good for the developer, good for the building and good for the neighborhoods," she said.

The ordinance was endorsed by Charleston City Council's Planning Committee on a unanimous vote Monday night. Davis is chairwoman of the committee.

It will be forwarded to the full council during an upcoming meeting, she said.

"I can't imagine anyone opposing this," she said.

Currently, developers wanting to redevelop non-residential properties in residential areas must apply to have the parcels rezoned. The process can take at least two months, Davis said.

When asked what buildings she sees this bill benefiting, Davis pointed to two West Side elementary schools that soon will close. 

J.E. Robins Elementary and Watts Elementary will close once the new Edgewood Elementary opens.

Once the schools close, city leaders will have a vested interest in finding uses for the buildings, Davis said. Her proposed ordinance could help spur the redevelopment of these two buildings by streamlining the process, she said.

Large buildings such as the two schools can become safety hazards and eyesores if left vacant for long periods of time, Davis said.

She believes it would be better to have the buildings redeveloped than demolished.

The ordinance, if passed, also would encourage the development of former church buildings, Davis said. An example is the former Church of the Good Shepherd in Kanawha City, she said.

A day care currently operates in the building. However, Davis' ordinance would help promote future development of the building and prevent it from falling into disrepair if the day care were to close.

Charleston developer Chris Sadd, who is working to convert the former Glenwood Elementary School into senior housing, said he was in favor of the plan.

The project on the West Side is slated for completion by September, Sadd said.

Since he was changing the use of the building from a school to a multifamily dwelling, he had to apply to have the parcel rezoned.

And although his efforts were successful, he said he had no guarantees throughout the process.

"The mayor was behind getting this done and so were the local councilmen," Sadd said.

A denial of the rezoning request could have meant the property would not have been developed, Sadd said. 

The proposal to allow the Board of Zoning Appeals to address proposals would greatly benefit local developers looking to reuse older buildings.

"It's really good to hear the city is taking steps to make this easier," Sadd said.

This proposal shows developers the city is serious about having properties reused, he added. Having to jump through rezoning "hoops" can be very discouraging for developers, Sadd said.

Vriendt pointed out that city officials do not like spot zoning, when specific parcels of land are rezoned.

The proposal to have any development plans addressed by the Board of Zoning Appeals is a much better approach, he said.

"I think this is a great idea," Vriendt said. "It will allow for the adaptive reuse of the property, and it offers safeguards for the neighborhoods."    

Contact writer Paul Fallon at paul.fallon@dailymail.com or 304-348-4817. Follow him at www.twitter.com/PaulBFallon.


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