The Buckhannon City Planning Commission meets Tuesday to consider their recommendation for a rezoning request from property owners Dr. Burton and Elaine Abel for a parcel located at 67 South Kanawha Street. The Abels filed the request to change the zoning from R-2 residential district A to C-2 highway commercial district and said they planned to sell the parcel to BCBank so they could install a drive-thru facility. Pictured, from left, are city recorder Randy Sanders, planning commission president Dr. Susan Aloi and planning commission members CJ Rylands, Vincent Smith and Curtis Wilkerson.

Don’t bank on it: Planning commission recommends city deny request to rezone Kanawha Street as commercial

BUCKHANNON – The Buckhannon City Planning Commission on Tuesday voted unanimously to recommend that Buckhannon City Council deny a request for a zoning change on Kanawha Street that would allow BCBank to relocate and construct a drive-thru.

Property owners Dr. Burton Abel and his wife, Elaine Abel, had applied to the Planning Commission asking that their request to have the lot at 67 South Kanawha Street rezoned from an R-2 general residential district A to a C-2 commercial district. In the application submitted by the Abels to the City of Buckhannon, the detail said this change was requested because it would enable Dr. Abel “to sell the mentioned property to BCBank for construction of a financial branch of BCBank.”

Buckhannon City Attorney Tom O’Neill told the City of Buckhannon’s City Planning Commission Tuesday during their meeting that it was his advice to the commission as its legal counsel is that the request more than likely constitutes ‘spot zoning’ if other adjacent or contiguous properties are not also rezoned.

Buckhannon City Planning Commission member and immediate past president Curtis Wilkerson said the group needed to look at two key questions.

“Zoning changes deal with one of two things,” Wilkerson said. “Does it reflect the reality that is catching up to it or is it to satisfy the larger need of the community? I would argue that it does not because of the number of institutions (banks) already in town.”

Wilkerson said the other piece to consider is whether or not the rezoning request aligns with the goals of the city’s 2025 Comprehensive Plan recently authored by the Planning Commission.

“While I do feel for you guys (Dr. Abel and those present representing BCBank) because I want to see economic development here in town and I want to see vacant residential lots in residential lots developed – we have that in our plan – this does not fall in line with the 2025 Comprehensive Plan,” he said. “I am not sure it meets any of the criteria in the best case. And in the worst case, it is illegal, so, I am not sure how we can approve this.”

Following Wilkerson’s remarks, Abel thanked the Buckhannon City Planning Commission for their time before leaving. Buckhannon City Planning Commission members told Abel that “It was nothing personal.”

Rich Clemens, who attended the Buckhannon City Planning Commission virtually, made a motion “that we deny this request on the basis of spot zoning (which is illegal) and the lack of contiguous connection with a C-2 zone.”

Buckhannon City Planning Commission President Susan Aloi seconded the motion but said she would like to amend Clemens’s motion.

O’Neill advised the motion should first be reformulated to say the commission’s recommendation that the city deny the rezoning request. The city attorney said the Planning Commission itself cannot approve or deny a rezoning request, but it may only make a recommendation to Buckhannon City Council, which then has the ultimate say.

Aloi said she wanted to amend Clemens’s motion to say the Planning Commission recommended that Buckhannon City Council deny the request.

“I would like to add to your rationale that this request does not contribute to the goals of the 2025 Comprehensive Plan,” Aloi said.

In the beginning of Tuesday’s meeting, O’Neill explained some key considerations.

“State code, particularly West Virginia Code 88-7-9, invests the Planning Commission with the ability to advise the City Council on decisions it would make in response to petitions that have been filed to amend the city’s zoning ordinance,” O’Neill said. “There is an application for rezoning of this particular parcel that has been filed. Under State law, that is kicked to the Planning Commission for your consideration – you are an advisory body to the City Council. You do not have the power to make any binding decisions tonight. All you are determining tonight is to make recommendations on the agenda items that are in front of you.”

O’Neill said in order for the application for rezoning to be granted, the City Council – operating based upon the Buckhannon City Planning Commission’s advice – must find that the application to amend the parcel is consistent with the adopted Comprehensive Plan.

“The Comprehensive Plan is the holy grail,” O’Neill said. “That is what you make all of your decisions and recommendations in light of. The (Buckhannon) City Council will take up your recommendation at a future meeting and make a final decision.”

O’Neill explained since the application was for one parcel only, another factor the Planning Commission needed to consider is if the application would be considered ‘spot zoning.’

“Spot zoning is a practice where you have a rezoning of one particular parcel that is not contiguous with (i.e., adjacent to or bordering upon) similarly zoned parcels at all,” O’Neill said. “Spot zoning is illegal. You will have to find the [requested] rezoning is consistent with the Comprehensive Plan and that it does not constitute spot zoning.”

The issue of rezoning was originally discussed at the April 15 Buckhannon City Council meeting. During that meeting, Buckhannon residents living near the proposed rezoning gathered to voice their objections to the rezoning and sale of the parcel on South Kanawha Street where a new bank drive-thru would be opened. Residents objected to rezoning, citing concerns about increased traffic congestion, light pollution and diminishing property values that might occur due to the rezoning and building of the bank drive-thru.

The lot, owned by Abel, is located adjacent to the North Central Episcopal Church between South Kanawha’s intersections with Boggess and West Lincoln streets. The change would allow BCBank to relocate from their current headquarters in Northridge Plaza.

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