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Council approves downtown zoning request in Martinsburg

October 13, 2006|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Martinsburg City Councilman Roger Lewis cast the only vote against a downtown rezoning request approved Thursday that supporters said would allow for a multi-faceted cultural center and be a boon for what has been a troubled neighborhood.

The City Council voted 6-1 to change the guidelines governing five properties at 324, 396, 398, 406 and 410 W. Race St. owned by Consuelo Newman to the city's Downtown Business zoning classification.

They had been zoned General Industrial, meaning the property could have been used for such developments as a fertilizer plant, which even Lewis acknowledged was undesirable.

"I'm not against the cultural center. My concern is the future," said Lewis, referring to plans to connect the end of nearby North Raleigh Street to Edwin Miller Boulevard.

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"That's going to be a major entrance to our city."

Only three residents spoke in opposition to the zoning change, which Lewis said now will allow as many as 120 uses.

In a comprehensive plan to correct the "mish mash" of existing zoning designations in the West Race and North Raleigh Street area and other parts of the city, Newman's properties would have been designated Central City II, Lewis said. That proposed zoning designation would have allowed Newman only four or five commercial uses.

But the rezoning plan was never adopted by council.

"I can't get to the bottom of that," Lewis said.

Newman, meanwhile, said she was at a loss to understand the objections of Lewis and three other residents to her vision to redevelop the properties for artist studio spaces, children's programs, art shows and events, a cafe and ideally a high-end market that sells produce, Amish meats and other hard-to-find products.

"This has taken so long that lot of the people that were waiting have backed out," said Newman, who has named the project Heiston Square. A sculptor and a violin maker, however, still are interested in moving to the center and she said others were waiting to see what happened with the request.

"I never thought this was going be difficult," she said of what has taken two years to accomplish. Newman even retained an attorney to help her cause and said many residents, including about 40 residing off nearby Boyd Avenue, signed a petition in favor of her initiative, which is being facilitated through her company, Calliope LLC.

"I think it will inspire people to do more, to be more creative," Newman said of her venture.

"As long as something is well done and of good quality, how can it be bad."

Newman has invested in other downtown properties and offered to purchase the historic Ryneal house off West Burke Street from Lewis a few years ago, the councilman confirmed. Lewis said he didn't consider Newman's offer to be serious because it had "so many stipulations." Newman ultimately purchased a Maple Avenue residence instead and the Ryneal house was sold to Jackson Kelly PLLC, the state's largest law firm.

Lewis insisted his decision against Newman's request was not personal.

"I vote what I believe," Lewis said. "I've voted alone many times in my life."

But Lewis Thursday readily criticized Newman's effort to restore a blighted home in another block of West Burke Street near his house.

"You don't put a pressure (treated) wood porch on the front of (an 1891 Victorian house)," Lewis said.

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