BUCKHANNON – Buckhannon City Council is poised to amend the city’s zoning ordinance to allow for the placement of condominiums within Buckhannon’s general residential district.
At its May 5 meeting, city council approved on first reading a new ordinance that calls for the city’s original zoning ordinance, Ordinance 244, to be amended to explicitly permit condominiums or other unit property within the R-2 general residential District A zone. The R-2 zone differs from the R-1 zone, which only allows single-family residences.
However, after listening to public feedback, council members agreed to amend a draft of the ordinance so that condominiums would not be permitted in the city’s historic districts.
The discussion got under way with city attorney Tom O’Neill explaining the new ordinance would amend Section 502(A) of Ordinance 244 to include condominiums or other unit property. O’Neill said although the zoning ordinance as it’s currently written does not prohibit condominiums, it doesn’t explicitly allow them.
The change originated at an April 18 meeting of city’s Planning Commission, which voted to recommend the amendment, which says Section 502(A) of the zoning ordinance would states, “Condominiums or unit property as defined in Chapter 36A of the West Virginia Code of 1931, as amended; Provided that such condominiums must have an active council [a homeowner’s association] as defined in WV Code 36A-1-2(e).”
“This does not change any of the characteristics of the structures permitted in the R-2 zone,” O’Neill said. “It does not change any of the rules relating to the R-2 zone; it only … clarifies that [condominiums and other unit property] are permissible and they do have to live by the same rules as any other structure under the R-2 zone.”
“Any apartment building can be turned in to a condo,” he added. “The only difference between an apartment building and condominium is who owns it. Does one entity own it? Or does one entity per unit own it?”
Other structures already permitted in the R-2 zone include two-to-six family dwelling units or apartments; beautician and barber shops; fraternity and/or sorority houses; boarding houses; tourist homes; bed-and-breakfasts; child day care centers; funeral homes; professional offices; and nursing homes and long-term care centers, among others.
College Avenue resident Dr. Timothy Reese said he’d like to weigh in on the amendment, which initially did not exclude historic districts. Two historic districts – the Central Buckhannon Residential Historic District and Downtown Historic District – are located within municipal limits.
“If nothing else, I would like to see these condominiums restricted from the historic district,” Reese said. “The historic district was built before people had cars and the parking with this type of thing is going to be an issue. If we could just exclude the historic district from this, that would be fine, but I would further recommend that we form a committee to decide how the ordinance is applying to these other buildings and stuff that have been allowed there since the ordinance [Ordinance 244] originated in 1988.”
“I’m not really pleased with just sticking this in the ordinance and saying all the other things will [still apply],” Reese added. “That’s not the same anymore as it was in 1988.”
O’Neill said the R-2 zone has off-street parking requirements, which mandate that one space of off-street parking must be provided per living unit.
“The difference is just the nature of the ownership,” he said. “A condominium is a unit ownership property so each unit in the building is owned by a separate party, whereas in an apartment building, it’s all owned by the same person. I should also mention this ordinance requires any condominium [complex] to have an active homeowner’s association – I know from personal experience that you can have all the covenants on your deed that you want, but if you don’t have a homeowner’s association to enforce them, then you don’t really have anything. I would recommend that an active homeowner’s association be in place so that the city has a party to deal with.”
Mayor Robbie Skinner said he understood Reese’s concerns. Skinner also explained that the impetus behind the amendment is that a developer wants to construct a new condominium complex somewhere in North Buckhannon.
“I understand his concerns, and I can tell you this is nothing against the developer, but aesthetically, if he were to take that development from where he’s planning on putting it in North Buckhannon and put it on Meade Street, I don’t think you’d like it,” Skinner said to council. “Because it’s not aesthetically going to be a historically accurate kind of structure. It’s going to fit well over there … I think North Buckhannon needs some good positive development.
“I don’t know that that same development works in our historic district,” he added, “and I think we do as a council need to be cognizant of that and try to maintain the integrity of our historic district going forward because those designations can be easy to lose. We have two very well recognized historic districts.”
Due to the number of houses that have been torn down there and how much of North Buckhannon is situated in the flood zone, Skinner said council should be “all for” any positive development in North Buckhannon.
O’Neill said council could amend the ordinance on first reading to exclude historic districts from places condos would be permitted.
Councilman CJ Rylands made a motion to amend the ordinance, which was seconded by councilwoman Shelia Lewis-Sines prior to passing unanimously. Council then unanimously approved the amended ordinance on first reading. A second reading will take place at council’s Tuesday, May 17 meeting and a public hearing and third reading is set to June 2.
If approved on third reading, the ordinance allowing condos would go into effect 30 days after passage, or July 2, 2022.
In other city news, council also unanimously approved on first reading Ordinance 456, which establishes the Buckhannon Parks and Recreation Advisory Board. The second reading of that ordinance will also take place at the May 17 meeting.