Wellsburg continues plan work

WELLSBURG – Reducing flood insurance costs, improving transportation to the city and drawing new businesses, residents and visitors are all goals set for Wellsburg officials in the comprehensive plan under development.

The city’s planning commission met Monday to review a portion of the plan developed by Jared Anderson, a professor with West Virginia University’s Land Use and Sustainable Land Development Clinic, and his students with input from city officials and residents.

The group hopes to review the remainder of the plan at its Aug. 11 meeting at 6 p.m. at Wellsburg City Hall, then set a date for a public hearing. After it’s been approved by the planning commission, the plan will undergo another public hearing before being considered by Wellsburg Council.

Anderson noted the plan is seen as a guide for the city’s development and may be amended over time. It must be updated every 10 years, he said.

In recent months residents and business owners have expressed concern about hikes in premiums for the federal flood insurance program. The increases were spurred by millions of dollars in claims filed following Hurricane Katrina, Superstorm Sandy and other recent disasters.

Anderson said the city can help to reduce those costs by participating in the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Community Rating System.

Through the program, the city can help to reduce flood insurance costs citywide by thousands of dollars through such simple measures as maintaining flood insurance maps at the local library and keeping copies of all base flood elevation certificates at City Hall.

Anderson said cities also can cut flood insurance rates by monitoring applications for any building construction in flood zones to ensure they comply with established restrictions.

City Manager Mark Henne said he and other city officials have attempted to do that.

The proposed comprehensive plan also notes that 10 homes and businesses are set to be demolished through the FEMA Buyout program, which provides funds for eligible property owners to relocate from flood-prone areas. The program’s goal is to eliminate repeat claims for flood damages to the same properties.

The plan also noted efforts by the city to redevelop the former Brooke Glass factory site using federal funds secured to determine environmental cleanup required there.

Henne noted with the help of the Brooke-Hancock Regional Economic Development Council, the city secured a $400,000 grant for a Phase 1 environmental assessment also of the former Genpak Plastic site and is seeking additional funds for further investigation there.

Anderson said in developing the plan, he and city officials will determine if existing zoning ordinances are consistent with each other and comply with state codes.

Henne said some changes in zoning may be needed to ensure development of brownfields such as the Brooke Glass and Genpak sites is compatible with the property that surrounds them.

The proposed comprehensive plan suggests city leaders promote the benefits of living and working in Wellsburg.

“Let people know about Wellsburg and why it’s a great place to live,” Anderson said.

The plan cites low cost of living as one benefit, comparing the median property tax for West Virginia of $464 to Ohio’s ($1,836) and Pennsylvania’s ($2,223).

It also notes the city is less than 35 miles from Pittsburgh International Airport and within an hour from downtown Pittsburgh.

Anderson said one way the city can promote itself to outsiders is a website, which can be used to inform current and potential residents and visitors of city meetings, special events and general information about Wellsburg.

Brian Tennant, the planning commission’s chairman, said Henne and Dena Verner, a clerk with the city; have set up a template for a website and he plans to work with them to fill it with information.

Anderson said since promoting tourism, including recreational opportunities on the Ohio River, was a goal, efforts should be made to attract more city-based lodging, including bed and breakfasts.

Anderson suggested city officials or groups might capitalize on the Wellsburg Applefest and the city’s ties to the Grimes Golden variety of apple by displaying ceramic apples painted by local artists outside various businesses.

Taking a cue from Baltimore and its own ceramic crabs, the apples could be auctioned off to raise money for a particular cause, he said.

Other goals noted in the plan included pushing for the development of a new Ohio River bridge south of Wellsburg and improvements to the turning radius at the intersection of state Routes 2 and 27, renovations to City Hall to address leaks and make it handicap-accessible and the separation of combined sanitary and stormwater sewer lines, as ordered by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Anderson said he and the planning commission will set priorities and identify potential funding sources at its next meeting.

“A lot of this costs money, but there’s money out there. It’s just a matter of finding it and tapping into it,” he said.