Planning Commission Talks Updates and Improvements

13 Feb

At its regular meeting last week, the Morgantown Planning Commission reviewed proposed zoning changes that would increase housing density, improve pedestrian safety, and make transportation easier in one particular area of downtown.

The Woodburn neighborhood and surrounding area, including North Willey, Snyder, and Richwood streets is mostly single-family homes that have been converted to apartments. As a result, the residential properties are on small lots and there are many narrow streets.

This area is one of sixteen “areas for future study” identified by the planning commission in 2013 where current zoning rules could prevent development. The commission will outline a plan for each of these areas based on community input and then present it to City Council for approval.

The city is working with AECOM, an engineering and construction firm. Chet Parsons, a project manager at the firm, presented the new zoning plans to the Planning Commission.

One of the biggest goals for the Woodburn area, known as Area 2, is to provide a variety of housing types that will attract not only students, but also young professionals and first-time homeowners.

This area is currently home to one thousand residents and has nearly two-hundred buildings.

Councilman Ron Dulaney, Jr. of the fifth ward represents this area.

In an interview, Dulaney said zoning changes would allow residents to upgrade their apartments and expand their lots, thus making their properties larger and more modern.

“It’s a way to incentivize updating the neighborhood, updating the quality of the houses and the quality of the streets,” Dulaney said.

The new zoning regulations would be less restrictive, meaning buildings could be taller and bigger.

Community members voiced their opinions at four forums presented by AECOM. The issues most important to them were improved street lighting, better sidewalks, and easier walking access to downtown.

The commission plans to address these issues by widening lanes, completing unfinished sidewalks, adding street lights, and providing bus stops.

Dulaney believes there are two potential problems in executing the plans for Area 2: navigating the hills and finding interested property owners.

“Integrating the buildings into the topography and with the streets and roadways is going to lead to [challenges],” Dulaney said.

The councilman said it is important that the developers find homeowners who are willing to buy more lots and make changes to existing apartments.

It could take six to twelve months for all of the proposed changes to occur.

Dulaney said the Planning Commission still has to work out more details on the plan before presenting it to City Council for approval.

“At some point you want to know, especially for the city and the municipality, what it’s going to cost the city and the public to actually redevelop this area,” Dulaney said. “Without a real firm plan, you can’t really do that.”

As Morgantown continues to grow, the current housing and infrastructure in areas like Woodburn must be updated. Not only will these changes allow for more residents, but they will modernize an area that looks outdated.

My main concern is the cost of the updates.

The Commission seems very excited about the plan and, if they can execute it in a timely manner and at a reasonable cost, it will be beneficial to the city.

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