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Richwood conversation highlights oddity in Morgantown zoning code

MORGANTOWN — Discussion surrounding the Richwood redevelopment project has put the spotlight on what could generously be described as an oddity in Morgantown’s zoning code. 

The city has four zoning codes that carry the “Business” designation: B-1 (neighborhood business); B-2 (service business); B-4 (general business); B-5 (shopping center). 

If you had to guess which of those zoning classifications allowed the largest variety of housing types, you’d likely pick the one with “neighborhood” in the name. The same one that city code defines as an area intended to “meet the daily shopping and service needs of the residents of an immediate neighborhood … designed to be compatible with the surrounding neighborhood.”  

You’d be wrong. 

In fact, the city’s neighborhood business districts are more restrictive when it comes to housing than both its B-2 (think Earl L. Core Road through Sabraton) or B-4 (downtown) districts, both of which allow multi-family dwellings and townhomes outright or through conditional use, meaning with approval of the city’s zoning board.  

The only housing type permitted in a neighborhood business district is mixed use, which typically means business at street level and residential above. 

But that may be about to change. 

“The idea that a duplex or multi-family unit is prohibited in a neighborhood business district is crazy,” Morgantown City Councilor Danielle Trumble said, explaining the Woodburn Association of Neighbors intends to put forward a zoning text amendment that would allow a B-1 district to take on “more of a neighborhood feel.” 

This issue came about as the Monongalia County Development Authority comes to Morgantown City Council requesting the 10-acre Richwood redevelopment area be rezoned from R-1 (single family) and R-2 (single and two-family residential) to B-1. 

The city’s planning documents have long identified the Richwood area next to the city’s downtown as a prime location for mixed-use development, private investment and more commercial use. 

But with the zoning change request have come concerns, both during the planning commission’s review and now from members of council, that because of the restrictive nature in which B-1 is currently defined, residential options will be an afterthought. 

Trumble conceded that while she would like to see more housing types permitted in the B-1 zone, allowing them doesn’t guarantee the developer will ultimately choose to include them. 

Structures in a B-1 district must be between two and four stories above street level but cannot be more than 40 feet in height.

The old homes that currently fill that area formerly represented some 300 beds of student housing. 

Jay Rogers, of Omni Associates, previously explained the vision of master developer Biafora Holdings is not student housing, gas stations and fast-food drive-thrus, but an area adjacent to the city’s downtown focused on livability, walkability and neighborhood-oriented businesses, like coffee shops, restaurants or taverns. 

Erik Carlson, representing MCDA, has said having people live in the newly developed area is not only desired, but necessary to make it a success. 

“We would be very much in favor of a text amendment and/or the overlay to allow more housing options into this area and/or into the B-1,” he said. 

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