BUCKHANNON — It was a “full house” inside Buckhannon City Council Chambers on Thursday, April 15, for Council’s regularly scheduled meeting to discuss a potential neighborhood zoning change.
Mayor Robbie Skinner and City Attorney Tom O’Neill began the meeting by addressing a request for the rezoning of 67 South Kanawha Street, and outlining the process for the consideration of the matter.
Buckhannon native and business owner Dr. Burton Abel purchased a plot of land located at 67 South Kanawha Street in 2009, where he initially intended to open his own business, relocating from a building on North Kanawha Street. Dr. Abel’s plans changed, and the land has remained vacant since he purchased it. In recent months, he has entered into discussions with BCBank, Inc., based in Barbour County, and currently operating at Northridge Plaza. The bank is interested in constructing a full service bank branch on the property.
The reason for the meeting, however, was the current City of Buckhannon zoning ordinance prohibits the construction of a bank on the property. When the original City zoning ordinance was passed, the area in question was designated as a historical residential (R-2) zone, prohibiting the construction of several commercial facilities.
Ryan Curry, President and CEO of BCBank, Inc., attended the meeting, and spoke favorably on behalf of the bank. Curry wanted to reassure neighbors and community members of the many benefits that the bank would bring to the neighborhood.
Many neighbors and community members also attended the meeting, but collectively disagreed with the benefits presented by both Dr. Abel and Mr. Curry. One-by-one, the residents in attendance addressed City Council expressing their opposition to the change in zoning, and ultimately, the construction of the new bank. Their collective concerns included, but were not limited to: light pollution, traffic jams, lack of safety for pedestrians, and the potential devaluation of homes surrounding the property.
Jane Godwin, a resident of Island Avenue, and a former member of the city’s Historic Landmarks Commission, cautioned council members of the negative impact the bank would bring to the neighborhood, and how awful it would be if the historical charm of the neighborhood were to be disrupted.
William Wilson, a resident of nearby West Lincoln Street said, “Had I known [that the zoning laws could change] I never would have bought in this area.” Wilson continued, saying that he was “dumbstruck” by the proposition, and claimed that when he bought his home on West Lincoln Street, he was assured by realtors that the city would “never change the zoning.”
Jackson Kelly attorney and legal counsel for BCBank, Brian Jett stated, “The current zoning allows for businesses like barber shops, convenient stores, fraternity and sorority houses, but not a bank. It is a residential zone, but some businesses could open there without a change.”
Dr. Abel persisted, pushing for the change in zoning laws claiming that he, “only wants to see Buckhannon grow.” Many who attended in opposition of the issue continued to vocalize that, “Buckhannon does not need another bank.” Regardless of the opposition, Abel has his sights set on the property being developed, claiming “something will go up there. It will not stay vacant forever.”
Before the discussion ended, Joyce Ann Law, another concerned citizen who lives directly beside the plot stated, “If we try to sell our house with a bank next door, it would be worthless. Please pray for us.”
Pursuant to the City zoning ordinance and West Virginia state code, City Council unanimously voted to refer the matter to the Planning Commission for further review. The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing, and review the matter, before referring it back to City Council for final consideration. If the Council votes favorably to move forward to change the zoning in the area, an ordinance will be drafted. It will undergo a three-reading process, and another public hearing. A date and time have not yet been set by the Planning Commission to further consider this matter.