Comments on Wellsburg plan reviewed

WELLSBURG – Members of the Wellsburg Planning Commission reviewed public comments for the city’s comprehensive plan while making a few of their own Monday.

Jared Anderson, a professor with West Virginia University’s Land Use and Sustainable Land Development Clinic, shared feedback from about two dozen who attended an open house for the plan.

Anderson noted those attending the open house held Feb. 24 at the Wellsburg Salvation Army social hall were asked to identify the city’s strengths and weaknesses.

Anderson was joined by Kate Ridgeway and Megan Patrick, law students with the clinic, in presenting the public comments.

Anderson said many suggested the city make more of its location along the Ohio River by promoting opportunities for boating and other recreational activities.

“That’s something we heard over and over again,” Anderson said.

He and the students said many touted Wellsburg as an affordable place to live, with close proximity to major metropolitan areas, such as Pittsburgh, and local colleges.

Weaknesses cited by attendees included an increase in drug abuse occurring in the Ohio Valley, the threat of flooding, particularly to its downtown business district and a dramatic flood insurance hike caused by reforms to the National Flood Insurance Program.

Federal lawmakers have introduced legislation attempting to repeal changes to the flood insurance program wrought by the Biggerts Water Act, which was passed in an effort to address billions of dollars in claims filed by victims of Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy.

The WVU trio noted suggestions included extending the city north and south, promoting its historic past and festivals held in and near Wellsburg, and preserving and improving upon the city’s parks. Another was to establish an ice skating rink at the 4th Ward Park.

Carol Churchman, commission member, said she has observed people using the portable ice rink set up at the Betty Carr Recreation Site this winter.

Second Ward Councilman Brian Tennant, commission chairman, said there is plenty of space for a more permanent rink at the 4th Ward Park.

City Manager Mark Henne said the rink would be more durable than the current one, whose liner has been damaged.

To further efforts to develop the comprehensive plan, Anderson asked the planning commission to comment on the availability of housing and housing needs in the city.

Mayor Sue Simonetti said the city’s population has remained static in recent years but she believes that will change when a new bridge over the Ohio River is built south of the city. Still in the planning stages, the span is not fully funded.

Churchman said she knows many retirees who would move to Wellsburg if single-story homes or handicap-accessible dwellings were available.

Simonetti said condominiums and apartment complexes could be built for seniors and others.

It was noted the city’s federally required floodplain ordinance limits construction in the city’s flood zone, but Churchman said the new housing could be built over parking garages.

The possibility of creating apartments on the upper floors of vacant buildings also was mentioned.

The planning commission also discussed available modes of transportation, including state Route 2, the city’s Yankee Trail for pedestrians and bicyclists and the nearby Wheeling-Ohio County Airport.

Plans were made to discuss economic development at a future meeting on a date to be announced.

Anderson said two public hearings will be held for the plan, one before it’s adopted by the planning commission and another before it’s considered by Wellsburg Council. Plans call for it to be completed by June 11.