Areas for future study a theme of planning commission session

MORGANTOWN — Areas for Future Study.

That phrase, identified in the city’s 2013 update to its comprehensive plan, was central to the most recent session of the Morgantown Planning Commission.

The comprehensive plan describes future study areas as places where further examination is needed, whether because existing zoning doesn’t align with existing land uses or existing zoning is not compatible with or does not fully support the desired future of the area.

During the commission’s meeting, both ends of the spectrum were represented.

On one hand, rather than offer a ruling on a resident’s zoning map amendment request, the commission opted to initiate a months-long examination of one of the 18 “Areas for Future Study” identified in city planning documents back in 2013.

In this instance, the city will look at Future Study Area No. 5, defined generally as: Stewart Street and Highland Avenue, adjoining the Wiles Hill and Highland Park Neighborhoods.

The zoning request dealt with property within the study area – 18 parcels at the corner of Stewart Street and Jones Avenue and asked the commission to consider a zoning change from R-2 (single and two-family residential) to R-3 (multi-family residential) as the increased structure size allowed in an R-3 zone would make development on the land economically feasible given its topographical challenges.

Representatives of the Wiles Hill Neighborhood Association spoke out against the request, noting that despite the change being in line with what the city’s planning documents say about the area and the planning department’s recommendation to move the request forward to city council, the land falls within one of the Areas for Future Study and should be further examined to better address what they desire for the area.

The commission ultimately tabled the request and asked City Planner Chris Fletcher to return next month with a plan forward for the study.

Fletcher said he anticipates the study will be difficult and lengthy with no guarantee of a productive outcome.

“This one, I would suggest, will the be the second most difficult to approach from an engagement standpoint. The first being study area two, which was completed last year. That was a long, difficult process,” Fletcher said, adding “There is a strong objection or opposition to any zoning changes in this study area, so it almost becomes a no-build scenario if that’s what the community wants.”

Fletcher said the purpose of the study area concept is to zero in on particular areas to determine why they’re underdeveloped or otherwise not working.

“If it’s been identified because it’s not working for X, Y and Z reasons, the first thing would be, okay, let’s look at the existing zoning. Should R-2 go to R-3,” he said.

On the other end, Chet Parsons, of AECOM, was on hand to provide the final report on what he described as one of the least complex future study areas — Study Area No. 18 — and what has been determined in the six to eight months since the study began.

The final recommendation is that the area needs to be rezoned.

Study Area No. 18 is generally described as the area between Don Knotts Boulevard and the Monongahela River, across from the Morgantown Industrial Park.

Parsons explained that the current I-1 (industrial) zoning doesn’t match with existing uses, which include a grocer, a thrift store, restaurants, medical offices and other businesses.

“The recommendation is to rezone that area to B-2,” Parsons said.

He explained that the study process included two public forums, with much of the community feedback focusing on concerns tied to transportation and access.

“It’s an opportunity to think about the future and take advantage of this property, which is prime real estate and really good place to showcase future development and future investment in the city,” Parsons said.

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