Zoning Update

Last modified on June 16th, 2022 at 04:03 pm

Background

Zoning laws regulate how land may be used inside a jurisdiction. These laws divide jurisdictions into sections, or zones, and stipulate the kinds of businesses and housing that are allowed in each of these. Zoning laws also cover topics like where buildings may be situated on a lot and how many accessory buildings (e.g., sheds) are allowed. Other matters that zoning laws might cover include rules for urban livestock and agriculture, as well as requirements for buffer zones between commercial and residential properties.

Elkins zoning laws were first approved in the 1950s and have not been significantly updated since the 1970s. Starting in 2015, the Elkins Planning Commission has been preparing a comprehensive update to the city’s zoning laws. To ensure that the update incorporates proven, effective practices and complies with all applicable state and federal laws, the commission has throughout this process relied on the advice of planning and legal professionals from the Land Use and Sustainable Development Law Clinic, a program of the West Virginia University College of Law.

In early June 2022, the Planning Commission completed drafting its proposed update and officially presented it to Elkins Common Council. State law imposes a series of required steps that council must now follow before the update can be approved. These steps are described further down on this page.

The Commission’s Goals

The Planning Commission has articulated the following objectives for its update to the city’s zoning laws:

  • To reflect the goals of the city’s 2015 Comprehensive Plan
  • To prepare the city for new/future uses not contemplated when the original laws were drafted (e.g., medical marijuana, agritourism, etc.)
  • To protect the character of existing neighborhoods
  • To protect the viability of and encourage small-scale businesses (including low-impact home businesses in some residential zones) and retail spaces
  • To attract more personal and commercial investment in the city

Highlights From the Proposed Ordinance

The Planning Commission’s proposed zoning ordinance is a lengthy document, and city residents, business proprietors, and property owners are encouraged to review it carefully. (It is available for download further down this page.) Some of the most significant new components are:

  • Regulations concerning type, size, and placement of signs
  • Frameworks for modern uses and higher quality re-use of existing properties (e.g., disused schools/churches, etc.)
  • Limits on conversion of commercial storefronts into residences
  • Requirements for “buffers” between commercial areas and residences, such as landscaping or fences

Keep in mind that state and federal laws have a large influence on local laws such as this one. Many terms, definitions, and phrasings appearing in the new ordinance are as required by these outside authorities and cannot be changed by a local planning commission. Here are two examples:

  • State code requires use of the term “single-family dwelling” to describe a building that has not been broken up into apartments. One public commenter worried about situations in which people share a house in common as roommates or in non-traditional family structures. However, under state code, in addition to referring to traditional families, the term “single family” is defined as including up to four unrelated adults.
  • One public commenter wanted special restrictions on political signs, such as that they may only be displayed within a certain period before an election. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that it is unconstitutional to regulate signs based on the messages they contain. The court says that the only allowed regulations of signs relate to size, shape, and location, not content.

Again, the proposed ordinance reflects extensive consultation with experts in land-use planning and law and represents the commission’s best understanding of modern planning practices.

Grandfathering

One important feature of the Planning Commission’s proposed ordinance is that it “grandfathers” existing uses. This means that, even if the new law prohibits a certain type of business in a certain zone, any businesses of that type already legally operating in that zone would be allowed to continue doing so. Similarly, any existing legally operated multi-family rental properties would be able to continue operating, even if located in a zone that the new law reserves for single-family dwellings.

This “grandfathering” would remain in effect even if the property is sold. If one of these non-conforming uses were to be “abandoned” for one year, however, state law would prevent it from returning to the non-conforming use.

No Design or Historic Preservation Requirements

The proposed laws do not impose design or historic-preservation requirements anywhere in the city.

Public Input

The Planning Commission has held about 50 noticed, public meetings on this topic since 2015. The commission has also held three open houses to collect public input (January 2018, September 2018, and December 2021). As reflected in the commission’s meeting minutes, commissioners carefully considered, and often made changes in response to, every comment or suggestion received at these open houses, in addition to written and verbal comments from the public and from other elected officials.

Now that council’s phase of the adoption process has begun, state law requires two more public hearings before the new law can be passed, one during the day and one during the evening. (See schedule further down on this page.)

The Commission’s Proposed Ordinance

Under the process stipulated by state law, planning commissions proposing new zoning ordinances must do by creating a document referred to as a Study and Report on Zoning. This document consists of the following sections:

  • Section 1: Introduction
    • Legal Requirements for Study and Report on Zoning
    • Enactment of a Zoning Ordinance
  • Section 2: Study of the Land
    • Evaluating the Existing Conditions
    • Current and Proposed Districting
    • Character of the Buildings and Lots
    • Desirable Use of the Land
  • Section 3: Report on Zoning
    • Review of the Study of the Land and the 2015 Comprehensive Plan
    • Summary of Proposed Zoning Ordinance
  • Appendices
  • Appendix A—Proposed Zoning Ordinance
  • Appendix B—Proposed Zoning Map

Below, you will find a link to download the proposed zoning ordinance (contained in the Study and Report on Zoning). There is also a link to a PDF of a presentation about the proposed changes, from July 2021.

Current Elkins Zoning Code and Map

For comparison, links to the current zoning map and code may be found here:

Final Adoption Process

The table below shows the remaining steps in the process of finally adopting the new ordinance.

DateAction
June 24-July 15Public comments accepted in writing to council, via the city clerk
July 26, 1 p.m.City council public hearing
July 28, 7 p.m.City council public hearing, followed by first reading of ordinance
August 18, 7 p.m.Second and final reading of ordinance

Comprehensive Plan Amendments

As part of the zoning update, certain amendments have been proposed to the city’s 2015 comprehensive plan. This is because the commission discovered small changes that were needed in the plan’s Future Land Use map to better match the new zones in the proposed zoning ordinance.

The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on these amendments July 18 at 7 p.m. City council will hold another public hearing September 1 at 7 p.m.

The proposed amendments may be downloaded here.

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Elkins City Clerk
Jessica R. Sutton
jsutton@cityofelkinswv.com
Phone: (304) 636-1414, ext. 1211
401 Davis Avenue, Elkins, WV, 26241

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