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Wheeling shows off plan for future

AP Photo
In this Wednesday Dec. 11, 2013 photo, residents chat and look over suggestions and conceptual maps that will be used to develop Wheeling's next comprehensive plan during an open house at West Virginia Northern Community College in Wheeling W.Va.

By Ian Hicks

The Intelligence and Wheeling News-Registers

WHEELING -- Although it will be several months before it's actually implemented, Wheeling's next comprehensive plan is beginning to take shape.

During a three-hour open house at West Virginia Northern Community College's B&O Building on Dec. 11, residents had the opportunity to review conceptual maps and a list of 10 broad goals for the plan developed from information compiled during earlier public meetings. Those goals were:

* Make use of Wheeling's assets, such as low cost of living, low crime rate and access to education and recreation;

* Be more inclusive in decision making, including incorporating "new blood'' with appointments to various boards and commissions;

*  Protect and maintain Wheeling's strong neighborhood identities;

* Maintain and develop a "well-connected, multi-modal'' transportation system that also enhances the city's walkability;

* Preserve historic integrity by saving historic buildings where possible and encouraging in-fill development that's consistent with surrounding historic structures;

* Capitalize on the city's arts and culture heritage by creating a formal arts district downtown and developing more spaces for artists to display their work;

* Minimize "red tape'' for providing services such as child care, health care, job training and low-income housing;

* Improve communication between the city and its various stakeholders, including incorporating more technology;

*  Modernize outdated infrastructure and increase access to high-tech infrastructure such as fiber optics and wireless technology;

*  Continue maintaining high-quality recreation opportunities.

Planners also identified a number of suggestions specific to Wheeling's various neighborhoods. Some ideas included developing more mixed residential- and commercial-use properties downtown, improving the city's streetscapes, expanding the commercial area surrounding Lowe's in Center Wheeling, developing housing around Oglebay Park and affordable housing options above flood elevation on Wheeling Island, and ensuring adequate buffers between residential areas and expanding commercial developments in Wheeling's newer neighborhoods, such as Woodsdale and Elm Grove.

North Wheeling resident Chuck Wood, who successfully rehabilitated a house originally constructed in 1831 on Main Street that had been condemned for 10 years, liked that many of the goals included preserving Wheeling's historical assets.

"I think the only future Wheeling has is its history,'' Wood said.

Jeremy Morris, executive director of the Wheeling National Heritage Area Corp., also was pleased by the focus on preservation, and he also agrees better communication as a city is a must.

"That's something we don't do very well at all,'' Morris said.

Councilman Don Atkinson, who also sits on the Planning Commission, believes what was presented earlier this month is an accurate reflection of the concerns and ideas residents expressed during previous meetings. He also said credit is due to those who turned out to participate.

"There are some things that might be hard to implement,'' he acknowledged. "It's a guide.''

Fellow Planning Commission member Jeff Mauck said the commission ultimately will use the document to guide such decisions as whether to recommend zone changes to City Council.

Wendy Moeller, owner of the city's consulting firm, Compass Point Planning, acknowledged many of the goals presented at the Dec. 11 open house were broad in nature.

She said the draft plan, which should be presented in the spring, will include specific strategies for implementation, but additional research over the next few months will allow her firm to recommend realistic courses of action.


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