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Charles Town property owners may face new regulations

November 27, 2001

Charles Town property owners may face new regulations



By RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer, Waynesboro


CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Property owners in the city's central business district could face new regulations for demolition of buildings and signs if the Charles Town Council adopts recommendations of the Charles Town Planning Commission for a new historic overlay zone.

The council is expected to act on the proposal at its Dec. 3 meeting.

If adopted, property owners would have to apply for approval before they could demolish a building in the new district. The same rules would apply to signs, said Annette Van Hilst, the city's planning and zoning administrator.

Property owners who are denied permits could appeal to the city council. If the council denies their request, they could appeal in circuit court.

Letters were sent out to all property owners in the proposed district. If 50 percent of the owners sign a petition against the proposal the city would have to drop the idea, Van Hilst said.

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The proposal is the first step in the city's attempt to add tougher restrictions for historic preservation by creating a protective zone.

The easiest way to start the process is with signs and demolition, Van Hilst said. Rules governing alterations to buildings could come later, she said.

A similar proposal was defeated 15 years ago, she said.

Several planning commission members expressed concern that overly restrictive rules might drive some businesses out of the downtown and into malls.

"The downtown must be attractive to business and not make them go through too many hoops," Van Hilst said.

She said many downtown business owners rent the spaces their businesses are in and are more concerned with signs than with buildings.

The new district, if adopted, would include all buildings, private and public. No fees would be charged property owners to apply for permits.

The goal is to preserve historic buildings, Van Hilst told the planners.

"That's why it goes through the extra process," she said.

Buildings less than 50 years old would not be considered historic and would be more likely to be recommended for demolition.

"Not every property is historic. It's real important to remember that," Van Hilst said.

Owners wishing to raze older buildings of historic significance would have a harder time getting demolition permits.

Van Hilst said there would be no demolition of contributing buildings except for extraordinary reasons. A building deemed unsafe by a fire marshal following a fire could be razed, she said.

Proposed boundaries for the historic overlay zone run generally north from Congress to West North streets, west to West Street and east to North Samuel Street, and would include the library.

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