Wheeling City Council/Mayor: Say Yes to Progress: Approve High-Density Residential Zoning: Support of Wheeling Jesuit University's Effort to Expand
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Citizens of Wheeling:
One of the most important responsibilities of elected officials is to enact laws and ordinances that allow cities, states, and countries to change with the times. Any entity that does not change with the times eventually falls into ruin, and its residents are left dreaming of better days (Detroit, MI; Warren, OH; Johnstown, PA). For decades, I've heard about opportunities lost to my amazing hometown of Wheeling, WV that could have dramatically shifted the course and shape of the city: a beautiful mall to be built in downtown; outlet shops lining the store-fronts of Main Street; a massive gateway center/project near Lowes, ultimately falling apart for various reasons, resulting in additional businesses locating outside the city's taxable limits at The Highlands. Despite all this, Wheeling has managed to stay above the fray of decay for a long, long time. But I have to ask myself, "How long can Wheeling stay a cut above crumbling, neighboring small cities like Uniontown or Washington when we continue to shoot down opportunities presented to us?" Recently, Wheeling Jesuit University sought a residential zoning change for one side of Washington Avenue, which will allow them to tear down old houses (many of which they currently own) in order to build high-density residential complexes (ie: apartment complexes) for their graduate students. Jesuit, an important economic driver within the city limits, cites a desperate need to increase its inventory of available student housing in order to continue to grow the institution as a whole. In order to build this complex, the zoning commission has to pass a recommendation to council (which it did). Council then has to approve or deny the change. A vote is expected on either September 17th or October 1st, 2013. Understandably, many people in close proximity of the proposed zoning change are opposing the change, and their voices are being heard by council (The Intelligencer reported on September 4th that the change is expected to be denied). These residents cite a potential increase in traffic, parking, and noise as concerns. I would say those are all viable concerns if you live in the immediate surrounding areas, and I believe those residents are justified in wanting details from the developer as to their plans for on-site parking lots, as well as Washington Avenue access. These issues should be thought out and dealt with in the most efficient of ways. My concern, however, is that City Council will take a narrow view on this (and future) opportunities for development at the behest of a small group of neighbors who do not want any change coming to their neighborhood, and will vote the zoning change down. But what if every single neighborhood in the city denied development opportunities when they presented themselves? Where would we be? I truly believe that listening and catering to a "put it somewhere else, not in my backyard" mentality is a danger to any city, but it is especially damming when opportunities available to that city are as limited as they currently are in Wheeling. A broad view would be to look at the positive economic impact of a growing Wheeling Jesuit University on the community at large, not just the neighborhoods immediately surrounding the school. One study already indicates Jesuit has a $200 million economic impact as-is on an annual basis (http://www.wju.edu/about/adm_news_story.asp?iNewsID=1636&strBack=%2Fabout%2Fadm_news_archive.asp). Should we deny it the tools it needs to continue growing? Is Wheeling so well off that it can afford that luxury? At the end of the day, I get it. You're probably saying, "Dude, it's just an apartment building. In and of itself, it is not a regional game changer. Why the uproar?" I guess I don't see this as just an apartment building. As I mentioned earlier, change is absolutely vital to a community, and this apartment complex is one important change Wheeling Jesuit University needs to make in order to improve, expand, and stay competitive. And that's an issue we should all concern ourselves with. Without change or improvement, things eventually fall apart whether they're a neighborhood, a university, a car, or a city. I don't know about you, but I am not moving back to Wheeling from Akron to watch it fall apart like so many other cities I've seen in the rust belt. I am moving back to usher in change, to help make improvements, and to see this city become the best 30,000 person city that I know it can be! If you are of the belief that Wheeling needs to start thinking of its broader future for upcoming generations, and needs to start giving the few institutions we do have the tools they need to expand in order to increase their economic impact on this area (which will benefit us all in the long run), then please sign this petition and pass it on to a friend. It doesn't matter if you live in proximity of Jesuit, or in Warwood, in Woodsdale, Elm Grove, East Wheeling, Oglebay, the Island, or are in the process of moving home from another city like I am, please make your voices heard! As of this writing, council has only heard from the voice of opposition. By signing this petition, you will let City Council know that there are voices throughout the entire city of Wheeling that support efforts to move this city along, and that it is OK to vote yes! Thank you for reading, and for your support! Sincerely, Derrick McKee