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Zoning board OKs new building for Martinsburg mission

September 02, 2009|By KATE S. ALEXANDER

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- The Martinsburg zoning appeals board gave its seal of approval Tuesday for the Martinsburg Union Rescue Mission to build a larger building at its King Street campus.

The mission has been rehabilitating homeless and addicted citizens since the 1950s by offering housing, food and social services.

Representatives of the mission presented revised plans for building a new 78-bed building at its property in the 600 block of West King Street. The plans included 33 additional parking spaces near the railroad.

The mission came before the board Tuesday requesting a special exemption under city code to construct the building in the commercial business zone. They also requested two variances that would allow them to construct fewer parking spaces than required and to build it within less feet of the property line than allowed.

A 2008 denial by the zoning board forced the mission to look at its future from a different angle, said Hoy Shingleton, attorney for the mission.

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"Quite frankly, we believe that the denial in February 2008 was a good thing for us," Shingleton said. "Everyone went back and looked at how to do this differently, perhaps do it better and we came back with a plan we think will work and that the city will like and approve."

The mission scaled back its proposed building from a $3 million facility with 98-bed capacity to a $2.5 million facility with room for 78 beds and classroom, counseling and communication areas. It also plans to demolish the old building and construct parking for 33 vehicles.

"We listened to what people had to say and took it to heart," said Terry Lindsay, long-range planning chairman of the mission board of directors.

No one spoke Tuesday evening against the proposed changes.

All those who addressed the board spoke in favor of the mission's objective and place in the community.

The stigma of homelessness and addiction has historically fueled negative commentary against the mission, said Patrick Futrell of Victory Lane in Hedgesville.

"Homelessness is a hard thing to get your arms around," he said. "They're human beings, brothers and sisters, who need a hand up, who happen to be broken. It would be a sad day in Martinsburg if this were denied again."

"I believe it is the heart of these people that they want more programs, but they need space to have these programs," said Stephanie Wolford of State Circle, asking the board to approve the request.

"In the present condition of the world today the mission is needed more than ever," said Lou Ann Ponton of North Street.

The work of the mission influenced the board's decision, said Board Chairman Matthew Coffey, adding what the mission would do with more space in a new building affected the board's vote in favor of the exemption.

There was a notable change in detailed services between the application in 2008 and 2009, he said.

"I believe in 15 to 20 years from now this will be one of those things that people say 'oh man that was one of the greatest things to happen,' or 'why did we let that through,'" he said. "I truly believe it's the execution of not just building the building but what goes on in it that will tell the tale."

To ensure the city's interest in the project, the board approved the exemption on the conditions that the mission secure a bond for the parking lot construction and agree to annual security inspections by city staff.

The mission has scheduled parking as the final phase of its plan.

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