Rezoning request incites controversy

The Philippi City Council this week again tabled a request to rezone an area downtown that would allow a new hotel to move into the historic district.

Shawn McPherson has plans to build Battlefield Inn & Suites on North Walnut Street behind the Barbour County Courthouse in Philippi. But the rezoning he needs to accomplish this has met with some opposition from residents.

Philippi City Council heard arguments at a previous meeting from citizens on both sides of the proposal, though it did not make a decision on the requested zoning change. Mayor Jerry Mouser said that city officials were still in the process of researching all of the facts and were not ready to make a decision.

“Zoning can be changed. Zonings are made to be changed,” McPherson said at a previous council meeting. “If we didn’t change zoning, Philippi wouldn’t be here today because zoning occurred after Philippi was built. We change because we want to be a progressive society like Buckhannon and Elkins. We don’t want to shut out business. We want to welcome business.”

McPherson is seeking to change the area from residential to commercial.

Gordon Church, the owner of The Covered Bridge Bed and Breakfast in Philippi, which is currently listed for sale, provided a written statement to council Tuesday to further address his opposition.

“No one has ever said that Philippi does not want or need another motel/inn. What is being objected to is the location in the center of a residential area,” he wrote in a statement which also listed crime, drug activity, increased traffic on narrow streets, asbestos contamination, night lighting, commercial signs, parking and the possible decline of surrounding property values as reasons for his opposition to the rezoning.

McPherson said that by proposing the hotel, he is trying to bring business to downtown Philippi and keep people downtown where they can spend their money.

He said many guests to Alderson-Broaddus College stay in bordering counties. They also spend their money in those other counties. While many support McPherson’s plans to use the land for a hotel, others in the community are opposed.

“I heard there were a few citizens that were against it. It really appalled and embarrassed me because I think of all the work that A-B has going into this college,” resident Lisa Burner said, adding that when she heard about the project she was excited. “That’s what Philippi needs.”

Not everyone is as excited about the location of the project, however.

“His profit’s coming out of my pocket,” said Ralph Neal, who owns a home next to the property. He said he lost a buyer because of the hotel idea.

In other matters, Church also commented on another issue before council.

The street-sweeper currently owned by the city is no longer operable, and Philippi officials are considering the purchase of a new one.

The council is looking at buying a street-sweeper from West Virginia Tractor Supply for $161,000. Church asked if it would be possible for City Council to accept donated funds that would be used specifically for that purchase. He said he knew people who would want to support that cause.

Mouser said council members would have to look into that being an option. Councilman Terrence Boyd suggested researching the purchase of a used street-sweeper that might be more affordable.

City Council had to resort to casting ballots after it received two nominations for municipal court judge Tuesday.

Larry Jett received the majority vote. He was nominated by Councilman Barbara Bryan. But just prior to voting, Boyd spoke up to nominate Lemuel Jones.

Councilman Ed Larry was not in attendance. After the ballots were cast, Jett was appointed as the new municipal judge by a 3-2 vote. The most recent city judge, Terry Upton, passed away Jan. 30.

City Council also addressed a request to help fund the purchase of pea gravel for Philippi Elementary School. Because of insurance requirements and financial issues facing the Barbour County school board, some of the playground equipment has been shut down. The council will support the request with $1,200.

“We wish we could help them more,” Mouser said. “It is somewhat of a community project.”

A cruiser that was totaled in a wreck involving city officer Shane Miller in June 2012 will finally be replaced. Mouser said there is enough insurance money from the wrecked cruiser to purchase two refurbished cruisers from Florida. A 2008 Chevrolet and a 2008 Ford will be purchased by the city for $9,000 each.