Zoning Update Moves to Council

The Elkins Planning Commission officially presented city council with its proposed update to city zoning laws in June, capping seven years of work by commissioners. State code stipulates several additional steps council must now follow before the new zoning ordinance can become law. These include a public comment period and two public hearings. The earliest date on which the ordinance could become law would be August 18.

The Planning Commission has held about 50 noticed, public meetings on this topic since 2015. The commission has also held three open houses to collect public input (January 2018, September 2018, and December 2021). As reflected in the commission’s meeting minutes, commissioners carefully considered, and often made changes in response to, every comment or suggestion received at these open houses, in addition to written and verbal comments from the public and from other elected officials.

Council will accept written comments on the proposed ordinance, which should be routed through the Office of the City Clerk, through July 15. On July 26, council will hold a daytime hearing at 1 p.m., followed by an evening hearing on July 28 at 7 p.m. The July 28 hearing will be followed by a regular council meeting, at which the ordinance is scheduled for first reading. As mentioned, the second and final reading is tentatively scheduled for August 18.

Zoning laws regulate how land may be used inside a jurisdiction. These laws divide jurisdictions into sections, or zones, and stipulate the kinds of businesses and housing that are allowed in each of these. Zoning laws also cover topics like where buildings may be situated on a lot and how many accessory buildings (e.g., sheds) are allowed. Other matters that zoning laws might cover include rules for urban livestock and agriculture, as well as requirements for buffer zones between commercial and residential properties.

Elkins zoning laws were first approved in the 1950s and have not been significantly updated since the 1970s. Starting in 2015, the Elkins Planning Commission has been preparing a comprehensive update to the city’s zoning laws. The objectives articulated by the Planning Commission for the update include attracting more personal and commercial investment into the city, encouraging small-scale businesses (including low-impact home businesses in some residential zones) and retail spaces, protecting neighborhood character, and preparing the city for new kinds of businesses that were not on the radar when the city’s current zoning laws were drafted.

Because the city’s zoning laws were so far out of date and, in part, no longer in compliance with state and federal laws and court rulings, the commission elected to start drafting its update from scratch. Some of the biggest changes in the new law would regulate the type, size, and placement of signs; encourage the creative repurposing of former schools and churches, which can be difficult under current city zoning rules; preserve vital retail space downtown by forbidding the conversion of storefronts into residences; and require “buffers” between commercial areas and residences, such as landscaping or fences.

Legally operated businesses and rental units would be “grandfathered” under the new law. This means that, even if the type of business or style of residence conflicted with those allowed in a particular zone under the new law, these “non-conforming uses” would be allowed to continue, even if the property is sold, unless abandoned for a year or longer. The proposed ordinance includes no design or historic-preservation requirements.

To ensure that the update incorporated proven, effective practices and complied with all applicable state and federal laws, the commission has throughout this process relied on the advice of planning and legal professionals from the Land Use and Sustainable Development Law Clinic, a program of the West Virginia University College of Law. Elkins is one of 20 West Virginia communities that clinic staffers are currently assisting with zoning ordinances at no cost.

Under the process stipulated by state law, planning commissions proposing new zoning ordinances must do by creating a document referred to as a Study and Report on Zoning. This document includes analysis of current conditions and an explanation of why changes to zoning laws are needed. The report then includes two appendices, one containing the proposed new ordinance and one containing the proposed new zoning map.

For more information and to download the Study and Report on Zoning (including the proposed zoning ordinance and map), visit: www.cityofelkinswv.com/zoning-update.

Vacancy on Planning Commission

There is a vacancy on the Elkins Planning Commission, and officials are accepting applications from city residents interested in being appointed to fill this volunteer position. Applications, which may be downloaded on this page, should be submitted to the city clerk’s office as soon as possible.

The Elkins Planning Commission, which meets approximately once a month, is an independent body that advises city council on matters having to do with planning and zoning. Membership consists of the mayor and one member of council, joined by five citizen members, all of whom must be residents of Elkins.

The planning commission’s primary duties  include planning and making recommendations for the city’s physical development; recommendation of zoning, or land use, and subdivision laws; and consideration of requests to amend the city’s zoning laws. The commission is not involved with code enforcement or the enforcement of zoning or any other laws.

The Elkins Planning Commission completed the city’s first comprehensive plan, a policy document describing the community’s development goals, in 2015. Under West Virginia law, comprehensive plans are required before any city or county may implement and enforce zoning laws. These plans must be updated every ten years. (Learn more about the Elkins Comprehensive Plan by clicking here.)

Since 2015, the Elkins Planning Commission has been working on an update to the city’s zoning laws, which have not been significantly amended since initial adoption in the 1950s and a revision in the 1970s. The commission’s proposed changes are not yet under consideration by council, and the commission is currently considering and making changes to its draft ordinance in response to public comments. (Learn more about the zoning update by clicking here.)

Follow the below links for more information.

Submit applications to:

Elkins City Clerk
Jessica R. Sutton
jsutton@cityofelkinswv.com
Phone: (304) 636-1414, ext. 1211
401 Davis Avenue, Elkins, WV, 26241

Zoning Presentation and Q&A Slated for December 7

The Elkins Planning Commission will present information about and hear public input on the latest draft of its proposed zoning code at a public forum with a question-and-answer period. The event is scheduled for December 7 at 6:00 p.m. at the Phil Gainer Community Center.

Zoning laws in Elkins have not been significantly updated since the 1950s. Starting in 2016, the Elkins Planning Commission, with the assistance of the WVU Land Use Law Clinic, has been working to update the city’s zoning laws. This work is now drawing to a close, and the commission will present its proposed new zoning code to city council for adoption in the coming months.

Zoning laws regulate how land may be used inside a jurisdiction. More specifically, these laws typically divide a jurisdiction into zones with different rules about what types of buildings, businesses, and residences are permitted there. The goals of zoning include protecting the character of existing neighborhoods, preserving and improving quality of life, and encouraging new investment.

The purpose of the December 7 forum is to familiarize the public with proposed changes to the city’s zoning laws before the beginning of the formal approval process. The program includes a presentation about the main components of the proposed new law and an open forum during which members of the public may ask questions and engage in back-and-forth conversation with commission members and city staff. The proposed zoning code, along with other background materials, may be downloaded from the city’s website: www.cityofelkinswv.com/zoning-update.

Some of the proposed changes in the planning commission’s draft ordinance include regulation of style, size, and placement of signs; frameworks to encourage high-quality reuse of properties such as disused churches and schools; regulations for new types of businesses that did not exist when the city’s current zoning laws were adopted; and requirements for landscaping and buffers between new commercial areas and residences.

The new zoning code would “grandfather” almost all existing uses, meaning that no current businesses or residences would be required to make changes, even if a property is sold. The exception is that, under the new code and as required by state law, if a “non-conforming” use is “abandoned” for one year, it cannot return to the non-conforming use.

The proposed laws do not impose design or historical-preservation requirements anywhere in the city.

The December 7 forum is the latest in a long series of opportunities for public input during this multiyear process. Since 2015, the commission has held about 40 public meetings (only 9 on Zoom, during the pandemic); two open houses for the purpose of collecting public input and concerns (January 2018 and September 2018); and an online survey (September 2016).

After the December 7 forum, the commission will review public input and make any needed changes to its proposed zoning code. After these final changes have been made, the commission will then formally present the proposed zoning code to council. After this formal presentation, there will be two more opportunities for public input at separate daytime and evening hearings held by council. Then, council will vote twice, at two separate meetings, on whether to approve or reject the new zoning code.

Again, the proposed zoning code, along with other background materials, may be downloaded from the city’s website: www.cityofelkinswv.com/zoning-update.

To stay up to date on this process, please follow the following channels:

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