Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

October 25, 2012

Portion of College Avenue: City’s planning commission mulls rezoning

By KATE COIL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — Click here for video

The city’s planning commission has moved one step closer to rezoning a portion of College Avenue.

The eight-member planning commission voted unanimously Wednesday to set a public hearing for Wednesday, Dec. 5 at 3:30 p.m. at the Bluefield Municipal Building. During the hearing residents and property owners on College Avenue will be able to weigh in on whether the street should be changed from a multi-family dwelling zone to a single-family dwelling zone east of Maryland Avenue.

During a discussion of the proposed rezoning, Bluefield Economic Development Director Greg Shrewsbury said the city has received complaints about the decline of College Avenue.

“There has been notable changes in the structures in this area, and there is a trend of houses going up for sale and being transformed into multiple housing units,” he said. “It changes the make up of that area. In many cases, you have new landlords that are no longer keen on the upkeep of their property. We have received a number of complaints about property depreciation on College Avenue, and it is a big concern. College Avenue is the heart of Bluefield.”

Shrewsbury said the present zoning has led to a decrease in property values in the area.

“Anyone who has multi-family dwellings currently would be grandfathered in under the zoning,” he said. “This would only impact future property owners. This is a huge economic development issue for our city. Our citizens should know this is the first step in an effort to combat property depreciation across our city. From an economic development standpoint, this is one of the several areas we want to look out. The city has to be proactive with zoning rather than reactive. Let’s change this now so we don’t have to worry about it in the future, so some board isn’t struggling with this ten years down the road. This is just a simple step. Zoning won’t fix all of our issues, but it is one thing we can do.”

Mayor Linda Whalen said other areas of the city have seen similar decline.

“This is a big area,” she said. “Going with this line of thinking, we are thinking about eliminating all future multi-family dwellings on College Avenue. You look at Union Street and Preston Street, and see we have received so many complaints about the decline and decreased property values in those areas. We see College Avenue headed down the same path. This is another tool in our tool box to prevent College Avenue from declining like so many other areas of our city.”

Blaine Braithwaite, president of the South Bluefield Neighborhood Association, told the board he felt there was already zoning in place to prevent multi-family dwellings but that this zoning was not being properly enforced.

“It is proven that converting single-family homes decreases the value of all single-family homes in the city and decreases all taxes collected by the city and county,” Braithwaite said. “We want to preserve the equity value in this area, but I’m not sure this is the way to do it. There is already the South Bluefield Historic District, which encompasses College Avenue and gave the zoning board of appeals the ability to deny multi-family dwelling permits in order to preserve the historic district of homes built before 1920 in this area. The rules are there for the city to prevent the proliferation of conversion of these homes, and the rules are on the books allowing the city to enforce regulations in this area. When you get a building permit for the conversion of a multi-family dwelling in this area, we have city codes dating back to 2004 preventing that conversion.”

Art Riley, who resides on College Avenue, said he believes the city should do more to enforce current restrictions in the area.

“Since 1945 I have lived in or owned a house on College Avenue,” Riley said. “In the last 15 years, a lot of single-family homes have been converted into multi-family homes despite not being big enough for one family. We want to confirm this board’s understanding that these homes should not be converted and ask the city to more strictly enforce ordinances we already have. Those who live on College Avenue would like to see a moratorium on the development of multi-family dwellings on the east end of College Avenue.”

The following the public hearing in December, the planning commission will vote on whether or not they recommend the city board change the zoning on College Avenue.  If the city board choooses to pass the zoning ordinance, property owners will be prevented from constructing or converting current homes into multi-family dwellings.

— Contact Kate Coil at kcoil@bdtonline.com�