Planning Commission to take up rezoning issue

A rezoning request was discussed at a special Philippi Planning Commission meeting Tuesday, but no decision was made other than scheduling the topic to be discussed at two more meetings.

The request, that would allow the Battlefield Inn & Suites to be established on what is currently a residential lot in the historical district of Philippi, will now be discussed at a regular Planning Commission meeting at 7 p.m. May 14 at City Hall and at a public hearing at 7 p.m. May 15 at City Hall.

Commissioners announced that a decision would be made after the public hearing, but said the written opinions that will be sent to Philippi City Council will not be made public.

Shawn McPherson made the request for a historical lot on Walnut Street to be rezoned from residential to commercial. Three buildings that were located on the proposed lot were removed in mid-April.

Gordon Church, owner of the Covered Bridge Bed and Breakfast in Philippi, located near the proposed motel site, said that the zone change goes against a section of city code or city charter that requires any change in the historical district of Philippi to be reviewed and signed off on by the Barbour County Landmark Commission prior to its approval by other entities. Church could not cite what part of the code or charter refers to that issue.

Church claims that if the zone change is passed, it could leave City Council and the Planning Commission open to lawsuits.

McPherson’s lawyer disagreed.

“Mr. McPherson has done everything completely above the board with this operation,” McPherson’s attorney, David McCauley of Buckhannon, said, adding that all of his permits are in place for the project. “There was a lot of misinformation that was disseminated during the meeting tonight.”

McCauley said the motel would greatly expand the tax base for Philippi and Barbour County. He said Philippi is not the same place it was more than 50 years ago.

“Change is difficult,” he said.

Originally, McPherson asked for a C3 commercial zone which would allow for the motel, but Philippi City Council denied the request April 16. Council then asked the Planning Commission in the last week to revisit the commercial zone type proposed for the property.

City Council decided to ask the Planning Commission to review the possibility of adding small motels to the criteria for a C2 zone.

Council members said this would give the city more control over the specifications of the proposed motel and further restrict the types of businesses that could utilize the lot in the future.

Planning Commission Secretary Craig Cobb suggested that commissioners review the possibility of zoning to a C1 instead with the added provisions for a small motel. A C1 commercial zone would not allow for a gas station or liquor store that residents found undesirable.

“This is a small business town. If you change that, you change the entire character of the city,” Church said.

Church’s business is currently listed for sale. He claims that the motel project devalues the sale of his home business by more than $100,000.