Officials discuss zoning update

The Inter-Mountain photo by Brad Johnson Land use planner Christy DeMuth, left, and Elkins Mayor Van Broughton display a zoning map during a public meeting at the Elkins Depot Welcome Center Thursday.

ELKINS — About 30 people attended an informational meeting Thursday about the Elkins Planning Commission’s efforts to update the city’s zoning ordinance.

Christy DeMuth, the land use planner from the West Virginia University Land Use and Sustainable Development Law Clinic, presented information to the public during Thursday’s meeting in the Caboose Room of the Elkins Depot Welcome Center.

She noted her agency has served as a consultant to the city in updating the ordinance, and WVU’s participation has been free of charge to Elkins. If the city had to pay for similar services, the cost would likely be between $50,000 and $60,000, she said, adding the agency is currently working with about 40 West Virginia communities.

DeMuth told those in attendance the information being provided was “still very much in draft form, nothing is permanent.”

“What you see right now, nothing is set in stone,” Mayor Van Broughton added.

DeMuth noted the city of Elkins passed a comprehensive plan in 2015, a copy of which is available on the city website, cityofelkinswv.com. A comprehensive plan is a legal requirement in order to have zoning, officials said. After the passage of the plan, the Elkins Planning Commission began working on updating the city’s zoning ordinance, which was first adopted in 1949.

Much of the ordinance is now out of date and unrealistic by modern standards, “so we pretty much started from scratch” in updating it, DeMuth said.

The zoning ordinance itself consists of text and a zoning map, officials said. The text lays out the separate zoning districts and sets rules for each district, such as minimum lot sizes, setbacks, height restrictions and so forth. The text also includes regulations regarding signage, parking, storage, lighting, buffers and landscaping.

The zoning ordinance also establishes standards and policies for specific uses in all districts that require particular considerations. The text also describes procedures for administration and enforcement.

At this time, Elkins has four zoning districts: a commercial district, an industrial district and two types of residential districts, one more restrictive than the other.

Under the current draft seeking to update the zoning ordinance, Elkins would have eight zoning districts:

• a Single Family Residential District (R-1);

• a City Residential District (R-2);

• a Recreational District;

• a Central Business District;

• a General Commercial (B-1) District;

• an Institutional (I) District;

• an Industrial (I-1) District;

• and a Railyard District.

During the meeting’s questions and answers segment, local businessman Mark Doak asked whether eight districts was the right number for “our size city — you usually see five or 10.”

“That’s a good question,” DeMuth said. “We came to the decision that we needed more zoning districts to protect the character of the town.” She added that the draft can still be revised.

When a resident asked whether there would be an official zoning officer to handle enforcement of the ordinance, Broughton said, “We’re going to take a look at it … Times change and we’re trying to change with the times.”

Michael Kline of Elkins asked about whether the current draft takes into account a predicted “influx of industrial workers” if the proposed Atlantic Coast natural gas pipeline construction runs through Randolph County.

City Attorney Gerri Roberts said, “We are looking at what is reasonable and what will work,” and noted that there is currently only one trailer park located within Elkins city limits. She added there are already restrictions on placing a trailer or a camper intended as a residence within city limits.

“I think most of the lodging of those workers will be outside the city unless it’s in a hotel or motel,” she said.

One resident asked about signage regulations under the current draft.

“That’s the one chapter that we have not worked on yet,” DeMuth said. “We will be updating the sign ordinance to reflect” current legal regulations, she added.

The meeting ended with attendees being given the opportunity to peruse the proposed zoning map and the current draft text. Officials noted that public input on updating the ordinance is welcome and encouraged.

When the Elkins Planning Commission feels it has a suitable draft for the zoning ordinance update it will be presented to Elkins City Council, at which point it will be voted on and a public hearing will be held. Asked by residents Thursday when the draft might be submitted to council, DeMuth said there is no timetable and noted that the current draft is not complete and still needs much work.

Elkins Planning Commission members include Mayor Van Broughton, who has been on the commission since 2013; Elkins City Council member Marly Hazen, who has been on the commission since 2017; Judy Guye-Swanson, Greg Schumacher and Nanci Bross-Fregonara, who have been members since 2012; Kate Somers, a member since 2015; and Sutton Stokes, who has been on the commission since 2016.

Roberts also attends every Elkins Planning Commission meeting.

All planning commission meetings are open to the public. The commission does not meet on a regular schedule, but information on future meetings will be available by calling Elkins City Clerk Jessica Sutton at 304-636-1414.

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