Morgantown Council votes 6-1 in favor of Richwood rezoning

MORGANTOWN — In the end, it’s a question of trust. 

And at least on first pass, the majority of Morgantown City Council seems to trust the Monongalia County Development Authority when it says housing will be an integral component of the Richwood redevelopment project.   

Council voted 6-1 on first reading Tuesday night to approve an ordinance rezoning the overwhelming majority of the 10-acre redevelopment area from R-1 (single family) and R-2 (single and two-family residential) to B-1 neighborhood business. 

Councilor Brian Butcher voted in the minority, calling the change “worrisome.”  

Despite casting a nearly inaudible vote in support, Councilor Danielle Trumble stated outright that she doesn’t like the move and feels the neighborhood, which she represents, was sold a false bill of goods. 

The project, which has been three years in process to this point, was initially to be a planned unit development. In recent months, the PUD was scrapped and replaced with the zoning change. 

The issue comes down to housing.  

The old homes that currently fill that area formerly represented some 300 beds of primarily student housing. The hope was that the newly developed area will replace that student housing with a variety of housing options.

But as city zoning code is currently written, B-1 only allows housing as part of a mixed-use building. So buildings can be all commercial/office or a mix of commercial with residential above. 

The buildings in a B-1 zone cannot be one story but also cannot be more than 40 feet above street level. 

Representatives of the MCDA have repeatedly said that housing is not only desired in the redeveloped area, but essential. 

Further, the MCDA has said it fully supports what looks to be a forthcoming zoning text amendment that would increase the variety of housing types allowed in the B-1 zone. 

Erick Carlson, representing MCDA, reiterated that point Tuesday. 

“There will be absolutely housing components put into this to replace at the very least the number of housing units that will be demolished and have been vacant for some time,” Carlson said. 

Pushed on that point, Carlson said he wasn’t necessarily guaranteeing housing that would replace the current number of bedrooms but expressing the intent of the developer to do so. 

That’s the rub. 

Butcher said he hopes people pay attention and remember that despite what’s being said, there’s nothing requiring any housing be included in the development.

Trumble agreed.

“I’m just struggling with the fact that we say, ‘the intent, the intent, the intent,’ but we can’t give any kind of guarantee. I can tell you now, as the owner of my property, I can guarantee to my neighbor what I’m going to allow to be done on my property and what I’m not going to allow to be done on my property. I own it. I can say that,” Trumble said.  “The development authority is the owner of this property.”